Recently I renewed my acquaintance with the Western novels of Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Larry McMurtry. Their books were good, nostalgic reading, and I spent several days thinking I would write a brief comparative review. Then my eye was caught by the title “High Noon” in a current magazine. Of course I remembered the wonderful Gary Cooper movie from the 50s. However, this was mention of a new book. And what a book it is. Frankel has carefully researched the making of “High Noon,” the times in which it was made, and the blacklisted Hollywood notables who made it.
The days following World War II should have been easy times that returned our country to America as it was and should be. But instead we became embroiled in a Cold War with a former ally, namely the Soviet Union. In fact fear of Communism was present across the U.S. The Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had begun its investigations of supposed subversive operations as far back as 1938. In its effort to track down “Commies” the Committee looked at Hollywood as a seed-bed of leftist organizations and held hearings to identify the sources of imminent danger.
From the membership rolls of groups that were identified, rightly or wrongly, as Communist or at least liberal and left-leaning, HUAC subpoenaed individuals to learn details about activities and to learn names of additional persons. Sure that the movie-going public would stop going to pictures produced by tainted members of the industry, studios began to blacklist, that is, refuse to hire or use the talents of people who were associated with any of the subversive groups.
Carl Foreman, who would become the primary author of the “High Noon” story, had resisted testifying by first invoking the First Amendment (free speech) and later the Fifth, (self- incrimination) was on the blacklist. In the atmosphere of hostility and suspicion that accompanied the HUAC investigations, Foreman and Stanley Kramer began discussions about a new film centered on a town marshal facing criminals who were determined to kill him. His former allies in the town desert him one by one. In the end the film becomes “High Noon.”
This book details the events that surround the making of the film along with Foreman’s long ordeal as a blacklisted writer while doing it. The film ultimately becomes a metaphor for Hollywood and the blacklist. Foreman and others on the blacklist were deserted by their friends and colleagues when they badly needed support. Likewise, Gary Cooper as the sheriff must walk down the street alone to face the killers. At the same time the film has become the archetype of western stories.
It is fascinating to follow the development of this archetypal western storyline and to follow the selection of the actors (for example, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly) who will bring the story to life on the screen. And to realize that this classic western film was made in the atmosphere of suspicion and fear that was rampant at the time.
Thank you, Glenn Frankel, for both a “good read” and a good history lesson. Frankel is a former journalist for the “Washington Post.” He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for international reporting.
————— Berniece Owen