Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’,
On this, our wedding day.
Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’,
Wait; wait alone.
I do not know what fate awaits me.
I only know I must be brave.
For I must face a man who hates me,
Or lie a coward, a craven coward;
Or lie a coward in my grave.
Oh, to be torn ‘twixt love an’ duty.
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty.
Look at that big hand move along,
Nearing high noon.
This week’s visit to the Vault entailed a huge hit from 1952. And by “huge hit,” I mean a classic in every meaning of the word. ‘High Noon’ garnered seven Academy Award nominations. It took home Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Film Editing, Best Original Song (some lyrics listed above) and Best Score. In addition to the wins, it was nominated for Best Picture, Director and Writing. This movie starred a Golden Age of Hollywood all-star cast with folks like Cooper (‘Sergeant York’), Thomas Mitchell (‘It’s a Wonderful Life’), Lloyd Bridges (‘Sea Hunt’, ‘Airplane!’), Grace Kelly (‘Rear Window’, ‘To Catch a Thief’), Lon Chaney, Jr. (‘The Wolf Man’), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter from ‘M*A*S*H*’), Lee Van Cleef (every Western ever made). In fact, most of the actors in the film (except Chaney, Morgan and Van Cleef) have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. ‘High Noon’ was directed by eight-time nominated, three-time Oscar winner Fred Zinnemann (‘From Here to Eternity’) and written by six-time nominated, one-time Oscar winner Carl Foreman (‘Bridge on the River Kwai’).
Cooper plays Marshal Will Kane, who we meet not only on his last day on the job, but on his wedding day. Screenwriter Carl Foreman, not wanting to beat around the bush, promptly introduces us to Frank Miller’s outlaw gang riding into town to meet up with their leader. You see, the good Marshal sent the killer Frank Miller to be sentenced up North and hung, but the jury let him off. Now he’s on the noon train to seek his revenge on the Marshal. Will the lawman run? If not, can he find enough support amongst the townsfolk to form a formidable posse? The big hand is getting dangerously close to ‘High Noon’.
With all these awards and all this star power, how does the movie hold up? Well, not quite as well as the timeless ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. But as a suspenseful Western… yeah, not quite that well either. ‘High Noon’ comes with all the ’50s-style wooden acting you can handle, and the writing is chock full of lines like “Aw shucks, Marshal!” The story could have taken place anywhere or any time period, and with hardly any horse riding or double crossing or shootouts, ‘High Noon’ hardly even qualifies as a Western. I hate to disparage a classic such as this, but it just doesn’t hold up, at least in my mind, like other classics do. I’m not sure if it was just a simple movie for simpler times, but perhaps it started the snowball in the genre of the “retiring law/policeman has to do one last thing on his retirement day.”
How does a 59-year-old film look when streamed in high definition? About a million times better than most of the movies I’ve streamed lately. The 4:3 presentation is stunning at times – especially the level of detail clearly visible in old Western clothing, or the fine hairs on Grace Kelly’s head, or the age lines and wrinkles on 39-year-old Lloyd Bridges (who essentially plays “the kid”), and on 51-year-old Gary Cooper (who just looks WAY too old for the 23-year-old Kelly). Black levels are great and contrast is spot on. For a black & white movie this old to look this good, it’s going to be hard to go back and look at any more ’80s flicks.
Catalog titles are still playing catch-up on Blu-ray, and DVDs drop out of circulation all the time. Fortunately, Netflix tries to fill the void. “One from the Vault” is a recurring feature that explores the wide selection of movies that the Netflix Instant Streaming service has to offer that are out of print, unavailable, or just hard to find in other formats.