Blu-Ray Review: High Noon (1952)

While established as a key cinematic text in the history of the American Western, High Noon is also an example of bucking convention.

Fred Zinnemann’s film is one subsumed in ominous dread, as the posse belonging to outlaw Frank Miller early on ride into the small New Mexico town of Hadleyville and declare the intent of their boss, free from prison, to return and kill Sheriff Will Kane, the man who put him in jail. It becomes a picture dedicated to the inevitable final act, in which Will—at the titular ‘high noon’—faces down his nemesis not just to save his life, but spare the soul and existence of Hadleyville and its residents from the oncoming force. High Noon loses nothing from this approach and, indeed, gains much from the tension Zinnemann stretches out of Frank’s impending return.

Gary Cooper imbues Will with a nobility, gravitas and grace as the town lawman who spends much of the film trying to convince his headstrong new bride Amy (the ever radiant Grace Kelly) to leave town, while encouraging the townsfolk to take a stand against the enemy around them. In that respect, High Noon gained a difficult reputation at the time of release and subsequently, deemed as it was a liberal response to the pervasive ‘McCarthyism’ rippling through American politics in the wake of the Korean War, and with the Cold War hotting up. Screenwriter Carl Foreman had been blacklisted by McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities and John Wayne turned down the role of Will, believing the film to be distinctly ‘Un-American’.

High Noon weathered all this, and stood the test of time, to be regarded as one of the strongest examples of the American Western in cinema history, especially free of the pernicious politics that almost destroyed it.

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That Same Old Dream: Dr. No (1962 – James Bond #1)

Over the course of 2019 and into 2020, in the run up to the 25th James Bond movie, I am going to be deep diving into every Bond film in depth, revisiting one of my favourite franchises.

We start at the beginning with 1962’s Dr. No…

It struck me watching Dr. No just how much the most recent James Bond film to date, Spectre, called back to the very first cinematic outing for 007.

In Spectre, Bond pursues an urbane, calm and collected super-villain who wears Nehru jackets, like in Dr. No. Said villain in Spectre only truly reveals himself fully in the third act, while charming Bond and his female companion with a luxury suite and fine clothing, like in Dr. No. Given the villain in question is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, arguably the most iconic bad guy in the Bond lexicon, it is easy to suggest Spectre is first and foremost inspired by Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice, but Christoph Waltz’ modern take on 007’s arch enemy has far more in common with Joseph Wiseman’s Doctor No, certainly when it comes to performance and style. Dr. No may not be a film which perfectly nails the historic James Bond movie formula but there is not one of the twenty-four films that follow it across half a century that do not owe a debt to this somewhat quieter beginning.

It is easy to dismiss Dr. No as a stepping stone to the embarrassment of riches to come in From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, but that is to lend a disservice to a picture steadily growing finer with age. A picture that puts in place a range of Bond movie aspects that without question made the franchise a global, beloved success.

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All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve is an early attempt in Hollywood filmmaking of questioning gender politics, and the place of powerful women within the creative, performance landscape.

Writer and director Joseph Mankiewicz had been contemplating producing a picture about an aged, waning actress for a while, and upon learning about Mary Orr’s 1946 short story ‘The Wisdom of Eve’, he saw the wisdom (ironically) of fusing together the two ideas – telling the story Bette Davis’ celebrated stage actress Margo Channing and how her life is affected by Anne Baxter’s ambitious upstart Eve Harrington.

What follows is a frequently caustic drama, set in the Broadway world of actors, playwrights and critics, which almost certainly by design has the feel more of a stage play, Mankiewicz relying on dialogue and his actors to carry long, lengthy scenes to tell his story. What it does, quite significantly for a film made at the turn of the Fifties, is depict the facile, cyclical nature of fame in an age long before the advent of everyone wanting to become a star. All About Eve was perhaps so well received because it’s a little ahead of its time.

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