From the New York Times bestselling author of The Searchers, the revelatory story behind the classic movie High Noon and the toxic political climate in which it was created.
It's one of the most revered movies of Hollywood's golden era. Starring screen legend Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in her first significant film role, High Noon was shot on a lean budget over just thirty-two days but achieved instant box-office and critical success. It won four Academy Awards in 1953, including a best actor win for Cooper. And it became a cultural touchstone, often cited by politicians as a favorite film, celebrating moral fortitude.
Yet what has been often overlooked is that High Noon was made during the height of the Hollywood blacklist, a time of political inquisition and personal betrayal. In the middle of the film shoot, screenwriter Carl Foreman was forced to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his former membership in the Communist Party. Refusing to name names, he was eventually blacklisted and fled the United States. (His co-authored screenplay for another classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai, went uncredited in 1957.) Examined in light of Foreman's testimony, High Noon's emphasis on courage and loyalty takes on deeper meaning and importance.
In this book, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Glenn Frankel tells the story of the making of a great American Western, exploring how Carl Foreman's concept of High Noon evolved from idea to first draft to final script, taking on allegorical weight. Both the classic film and its turbulent political times emerge newly illuminated.
Glenn Frankel worked for many years for the Washington Post, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1989, and taught journalism at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin, where he directed the School of Journalism. He has won the National Jewish Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His most recent book, The Searchers, was a national bestseller and named one of Library Journal's top ten books of 2013. He lives in Arlington, Virginia. www.glennfrankel.com.
Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type? That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do.
TONY SOPRANO TO DR. MELH IN THE SOPRANOS, EPISODE I
In 1914, when Frank Cooper was thirteen years old, his father took him to the state capitol building in Helena, Montana, to see a stunning new mural created by Charles M. Russell, one of the great artist-mythmakers of the Old West. Mounted on the wall behind the desk of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross' Hole is a twelve-foot-high and twenty-six- foot-wide highly stylized depiction of the historic encounter in September 1805 between the legendary explorers and a hunting party of one of the region's fiercest Native American tribes. Flathead Indians dominate the canvas, their ponies pivoting wildly in the tall prairie grass while the majestic, snowcapped Bitterroot Mountains hover in the distance. Lewis and Clark and their fellow explorers stand passively to the side, overshadowed by the drama playing out before them.
This was Indian Country, bursting with motion and myth — just the kind of evocative, outsize drama that Russell, a former ranch hand who worked out of a log cabin in Great Falls ninety miles away, believed in and made his fortune from. Some of what it depicted might have been true, but that didn't really matter. It felt true, and it evoked feelings of excitement and longing for a time and a place and a way of life that had long passed — and it inflamed young Frank's imagination and ambition. "I was stopped, really nailed in my tracks," he would recall four decades later. "All I knew then ... was that I'd give anything to be able to paint like that."
From the beginning of his life, Frank Cooper was captivated by the power and beauty of the vast wilderness he had been born into. His parents were immigrants from England, strangers in a strange, half-tamed land that they grew to both adore and fear. Each passed on to their son their sense of awe at the vast, rugged spaces of their adopted home. And he in turn was moved in ways he could barely articulate by this evocative and challenging landscape.
Frank's father, Charles, had left his native Bedfordshire, forty miles north of London, in 1883 and headed to America, following his older brother Arthur. The Cooper men were drawn to the Montana territory by economic opportunity — first gold, then silver, and finally copper helped power successive financial booms — but also by the romance of Indians and cavalrymen and gunfighters and pioneers. It was, after all, less than a decade since George Armstrong Custer and his men had faced death before an overwhelming force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at the Little Bighorn in the southeastern corner of the territory. Charles wound up settling in the small town that became Montana's capital, which had recently changed its name from Last Chance Gulch to Helena. He got a job as an engineer for the Northern Pacific Railway during the day while studying law at night. Then he opened a law practice and dabbled in Republican Party politics, leading to his eventual appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt as U.S. attorney for the newly established state. Prosperity bred respectability, but Helena still honored its frontier past. As late as 1895 the town sent out printed invitations to public hangings in the main square.
Another young Englishman, Alfred Brazier, who had arrived in Helena at around the same time, sent for his younger sister Alice to come join him. She lacked her brother's uncritical affection for the new territory: as soon as she got to Helena, Alice deposited enough money in a local bank account to cover her return fare to England. When the panic of 1893 ripped the floor out from under the price of silver and Helena's banks collapsed, Alice consulted Charles Cooper as to how to retrieve her money. But instead of fleeing back to England, she married the young lawyer. A year later she gave birth to a boy they named Arthur, and six years after that, on May 7, 1901, they added a second son — Frank James Cooper — born in a bedroom on the second floor of a modest but comfortable Victorian at the corner of Eleventh Avenue and Raleigh Street.
Cowboys, Indians, wolf hunters, and women of uncertain virtue still walked the streets of Helena in 1901, but Charles Russell's Old West was already more fable than reality. The Coopers lived in a succession of houses just south of the state capitol building for a decade, while Charles built a legal and political career that eventually led to a seat on the state Supreme Court. They spent part of the year on a ranch fifty miles north of town on six hundred acres that Charles bought from the Northern Pacific in 1906. The 7 Bar 9 Ranch was located on the banks of the Missouri River in the foothills of the Big Belt Mountains parallel to the Rockies, an area named "the Gates of the Mountains" by Meriwether Lewis. He and William Clark and the thirty-two-member Corps of Discovery had camped a mile upriver on July 17, 1805, and one hundred years later young Frank Cooper could still explore the same sites and observe the same wildlife as Lewis and Clark: steep volcanic canyons and soaring rock formations, home to bear, deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, mountain goats, coyotes, grouse quail, geese, duck, and beaver. Frank would later recall his proper English mother shearing sheep, branding cattle, shoveling manure before dawn, and "swinging an ax at twenty below zero to break open bales of frozen hay."
Then there was the chinook, the warm wind that raced through the valley in early spring, melting the deep snow and creating a wall of water that barreled down the river gorge and swept away soil and seed, leaving the Cooper ranch stripped to its bedrock.
Alice Cooper never quite overcame her mixed feelings about this wild country and feared its coarse impact on her two sons, and she convinced Charles to take them to her native Kent for a proper English education. They deposited the boys for three years at Dunstable, a boarding school that sanded their rougher edges and subjected them to the rigors of Latin, French, and higher mathematics. It was there that Frank Cooper learned to speak French, solve an equation, wear a top hat, and bow from the waist.
He returned to Montana in 1913, grew six inches in two years, and began filling in his handsome, narrow face, with its sparkling blue eyes and long lashes. He learned to ride a horse with skill and precision, clean and shoot a rifle, hunt game with a bow and arrow, and spend hours alone in the silent landscape, sketching the wilderness in charcoal and pencil. Early in his teenage years, his friend Harvey Markham crashed the family Model T, throwing Frank from the passenger seat. Limping and in pain, he was told it was just torn ligaments, but many years later he found out his hip had been broken and never properly healed. The injury cost him two years of schooling. He entered Grinnell College in Iowa at age twenty, lasted three years, charmed teachers and fellow students with his easy manner and crooked grin, but never graduated. By then his father had left the bench for a lucrative private law practice. A complex real estate case brought Charles and Alice to Los Angeles for an extended period that became permanent. Frank, still hoping to become a commercial artist, came to visit at Thanksgiving 1924. He never left.
At first he looked for a job as a newspaper cartoonist but got nowhere. He drew display ads on commission but sold none. For a few weeks he went door-to-door seeking in vain to convince residents to pay to have their family photos taken, then spent three weeks as a theatrical scene painter. He was living at home with free rent and food-important for a young man who was now six foot three and harbored an endless affection for a square meal any time of the day or night. But his goal of saving up the funds to attend a private art school in Chicago seemed to recede from his grasp.
One day on Vine Street in Hollywood he ran into two pals from back home. They told him that Slim Talbot, a Montana rodeo star, was hiring riders to work as stuntmen in the thriving motion picture business. It was hard work but paid ten dollars a day-exactly ten dollars more than Frank Cooper was making in his artistic pursuits. Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and dozens of imitators were riding the cinematic range, churning out cheap Westerns that relied on stunts, horseback riding, showmanship, and outsize cowboy costumes filmed on a variety of ranches and open-air studio lots on the outskirts of town. Frank had seen few movies, read no fan magazines, knew nothing about how pictures were made or who was making them. But he was a capable and fearless rider who could fall off a horse convincingly upon command, and the camera seemed to love his chiseled face with its thin lips and sculpted cheeks.
Soon he was getting bit parts beyond stunt work. He felt awkward in this strange new line of work. "My wrists were too long, my knees were too pointed, and my shirt looked as though it was draped over a wire coat hanger," he would recall. "Leading ladies resented playing scenes with me, complaining they had to stand on tiptoe and crane their necks to unladylike angles."
None of that mattered. His father arranged an introduction to a client, actress-producer Marilyn Mills, who along with her husband was making two-reel Westerns. Frank Cooper was just what they were looking for. She got him a role as a villain in a film called Tricks. Frank liked the work — and the money-enough to resolve to devote the next year to seeing if he could launch a successful career in movies. By now, thanks again to his father's connections, he had acquired an agent. Her name was Nan Collins and she got him small parts in more than a dozen films. But her most important contribution was to inform him that there were already two other Frank Coopers in the motion picture business and to suggest that he take the name of her hometown in northern Indiana instead.
From now on he would be called "Gary Cooper."
IN LATER ACCOUNTS, Gary Cooper would portray himself as a reluctant film idol who accidently and inadvertently fell into stardom. In fact, he plunged into the craft of movie acting with energy and commitment. He started going to the movies every day, studied Rudolph Valentino's smooth, fluid movements, and observed how the great British actor Ronald Colman used minimal gestures — a faintly raised eyebrow, a slight pursing of the lips — rather than the broad over-emoting of many stage-trained performers. According to Cooper, Colman realized "his audience was no farther away than the camera lens."
Cooper bought his own makeup kit, which he tried out at home. He would pile on chalk-white face powder, heavy lipstick, and coal-black mascara, then adjourn to the backyard where his mother, an amateur photographer, would take snapshots and develop them immediately. Remember, Marilyn Mills had told him, "you don't go by how it looks to your mirror. The only judge of how you look is the camera." Looking at the photos his mother took, Cooper noticed something peculiar: "The more ferociously I scowled, the funnier I looked. On the other hand, if I just looked at the camera impassively, and thought to myself, You treacherous little box, if you don't make this one good, I'm going to tear you apart with my two hands ... the picture of me would come out looking so mean I'd be shocked."
He also invested sixty-five dollars — a major sum — for his own screen test. He rented a horse and a motion picture camera, hired a cameraman, and set them up in a vacant lot at the corner of Third Street and La Brea. He charged the camera on horseback, made a flying dismount, swept off his hat, and gave what he called "a ghastly grin." Then he took the reel to the Goldwyn studio, where he had the good fortune to run into a director named Henry King, who liked the graceful riding and easy manner, and cast him in a small part in Ronald Colman's new picture, The Winning of Barham Worth (1926). When the actor who was supposed to play Colman's rival for the love of a young woman had to bow out suddenly, King decided that his lanky Montana boy could do the job. Cooper's character died in Colman's arms. "Easy does it, old boy," the star actor advised him before the camera whirled. Women wept. When he saw the rushes, Cooper said he nearly cried himself.
He was good enough that Paramount Pictures signed him to a contract for $150 a week. The studio's leading young star, Clara Bow, was entranced by Cooper's good looks and physique and insisted he be given a bit part in It (1927), her next movie. The Brooklyn-born actress, one of the sexiest and most uninhibited celebrities of the era, had a long list of lovers and paramours, ranging from the dashing director Victor Fleming, to actors Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen, Fredric March, Eddie Cantor, and John Gilbert, to various and sundry members of the UCLA football team. Cooper for a brief time served as her newest companion and was rewarded with the co-starring role in her next film, Children of Divorce (1927). He also got the male lead in Arizona Bound (1927), his first starring role and his first Western, in which he convincingly wore an oversize cowboy hat and did his own stunt work.
But his biggest break came when director William Wellman, at Bow's urging, cast him in a small role in the aviation epic Wings. It was a tiny part: he played Cadet White, a doomed flight instructor whom two cadet flyers, played by Rogers and Arlen, meet when they first arrive at flight training camp.
His only scene ran just 105 seconds. Cadet White wakes from a nap, climbs out of his cot, pushes his mussed hair off his face, tucks in his shirt, pulls on an overcoat, produces a chocolate bar from the pocket and offers it to his new tent-mates, then heads for the tent door. When the new boys wish him good luck, his face suddenly turns serious. "Luck or no luck, when your time comes, you're going to get it!" he tells them. Then he gives them a two-fingered salute and a toothy grin and heads off to his destiny — a fatal midair collision.
It required only one take, Wellman would recall. Seventy years later, actor Tom Hanks, one of Cooper's spiritual heirs as an ingratiating and naturalistic performer, paid tribute. Cooper "does something mysterious with his eyes and shoulders that is much more 'being' than 'acting,' " wrote Hanks. "In this one scene, Cooper somehow crosses a bridge from the artifice of acting to the manner of behavior via a process that eludes most other performers."
Wings, which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture, helped launch Cooper as a star. His scene was "the most valuable of my life," he would recall.
His fling with Clara Bow was the first of many in Cooper's early days in Hollywood, with a list of actresses that included Evelyn Brent, Marlene Dietrich, and Tallulah Bankhead (who once famously told reporters, "I've come to Hollywood to fuck Gary Cooper." Asked later how it had gone, she replied: "Mission accomplished."). His most serious entanglement was a tempestuous two-year affair with Lupe Velez, a passionate, self-destructive starlet whose disastrous taste in men would lead her to commit suicide a decade later. Cooper's mother took credit publicly for helping break up the romance.
Excerpted from High Noon by GLENN FRANKEL. Copyright © 2017 Glenn Frankel. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1 The Natural 1
2 The Elephant Man 18
3 The Icon 36
4 The Boy Wonder 56
5 The Committee 72
6 The Viennese Gentleman 91
7 The Falling Star 105
8 The Committee Returns 114
9 The Screenplay 142
10 The Informer 158
11 Citizen Kane 176
12 "Bombshells" 191
13 The Witness 197
14 The Exile 210
15 The Music Men 222
16 The Process 236
17 The Movie 247
18 Writer's Block 264
19 The Return 273
A Note on the Sources 319
Select Bibliography 351
"Glenn Frankel comes to his subject with a widely praised book about John Ford's 'The Searchers' and an impressive resume in journalism, including a Pulitzer Prize. Although much of Frankel’s material is familiar, the blacklist is a gift that keeps on giving. . . Frankel narrates this story well. He has a sure ear for the telling anecdote, and a good eye for detail." - The New York Times Book Review
"Though Frankel began this sumptuous history long before the latest election, he ends up reminding us that 2016 was far from the first time that politicians trafficked in lies and fear, and showing us how, nonetheless, people of integrity came together to do exemplary work." - Washington Post
"The movie 'High Noon,' great in itself, is all the greater for the backstory Mr. Frankel tells." - The Wall Street Journal
"Mixing elements of biography, social history and film analysis, author Glenn Frankel uncovers drama and tragedy not usually found in discussions of moviemaking. His detailed narrative is a primer for those who don't understand how the blacklist era endangered free speech and other constitutional values." - Associated Press
"Frankel reviews the now familiar history of the blacklist with grace and accuracy; his descriptions of witness testimony are particularly vivid. . . . Fascinating." - The Los Angeles Times
"Frankel paints a devastating picture of a powerful force crumbling under oppressiona cautionary tale in borrowed cowboy hats. . . . High Noon is a sharp social history that reminds us just how common for a broken system to abuse its power and cause deep human damagethe worst is coming, any secondbut also that a little cynicism can be useful. Kane defends a worthless city; Kane wins. There are no clean endings, except in the movies." - NPR.org
"[A] compelling new book. . . . The real strength of Frankel's account lies in its illustration, in many shades of gray, of the Hollywood blacklist and what it did, in practical terms, as it ruined or derailed many, many careers. . . . The Red Scare Hollywood era is familiar nonfiction territory, but Frankel makes it vital and gets down to the roots.” - Chicago Tribune
"Film historian Glenn Frankel profiles the times, the movie and its message in his fascinating and revealing new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic . . . Frankelwho previously uncovered the backstory of the classic John Wayne movie 'The Searchers'says the blacklist marked a uniquely grim time in American history, one with special resonance today." - Christian Science Monitor
"The blacklist has provided grist for many books, including Victor Navasky's seminal study Naming Names. But Frankel's book feels fresh nonetheless. . . . He brings out the drama and the no-win situation of everyone who was called before HUAC: throw your friends and colleagues under the bus by naming them as former or current Communists or sympathizers, or watch your life and career go up in flames." - Dallas Morning News
"Film buffs and history aficionados will be delighted and riveted by Glenn Frankel's insightful and intimate look at the making of the classic 1952 western High Noon. . . Frankel's saga presents a gripping and coherent picture of the corrupt politics, paranoia and fear mongering that drove Hollywood studio heads to capitulate to anti-Communist witch-hunters." - Shelf Awareness
"Not far removed from a James Ellroy novel. The 1950s film industry portrayed in High Noon is, like Ellroy's Los Angeles, stocked with hard-core commies, idealistic fellow travelers, paranoid Red-baiters, union busters, corrupt congressmen, power-hungry gossip columnists, secretive FBI agents and their snitches, philandering actors and eager starlets. But far from being a Hollywood Babylon of the Red Scare, Frankel's book is a detailed investigation of the way anti-communist persecution poisoned the atmosphere around one film, which succeeded nonetheless, and damaged the lives of the people who made it." - Bookforum
"Besides the macro picture of Hollywood in its darkest era, Frankel is excellent at capturing the micro aspects as well, fascinatingly weaving in multiple and competing accounts of how the film was pieced together in the editing room. . . A comprehensive guide to both a classic film and the era that created it." - Kirkus Reviews
"An absorbing account of how a routine 1952 western starring a has-been and an unknown became an unexpected classic. . . this story of politics, art, loyalty and conscience is more relevant than ever. And a nice bonus: Although it may impart a civics lesson, it doesn't read like one." - Minneapolis Star Tribune
"This may be one of the most accessible books ever written concerning the effects of HUAC on Hollywood, as Frankel's decision to blend these two aspects of Hollywood history, and his innate skill as a journalist, has produced a highly readable and fascinating look at a period that is less widely known than one might imagine. VERDICT: Anyone interested in film and/or politics will enjoy and learn from this book." - Library Journal
"So much has been written about the blacklist's perpetrators and victims that you might be forgiven for thinking you know all there is worth knowing, but Frankel offers new details and fresh insights. His portrait of Gary Cooper's life and career is equally incisive . . . It will almost surely stand as the definitive document about this landmark movie. I can't wait to see what subject this skilled journalist will tackle next." - Leonard Maltin
"Glenn Frankel has endowed the term ‘film historian’ with a sweeping new dimension. High Noon is full of scholarly insight, compelling history and wonderfully dishy moments, but like his previous book on The Searchers it is also an American chronicle of real consequence. When Frankel writes about the making of a movie he is writing about the making of a country." - Stephen Harrigan, author of THE GATES OF THE ALAMO and A FRIEND OF MR. LINCOLN
"Glenn Frankel's High Noon isn't just everything you always wanted to know about an enduring classic; it's a deeply insightful portrait of the forces in postwar America and in blacklist-era Hollywood that made the film such a powerful product of such a troubled moment." - Mark Harris, author of PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION and FIVE CAME BACK
"Glenn Frankel's High Noon is three splendid books in one: a moment by moment account of the making of the classic western, a history of the Hollywood blacklist with much new material based on primary research, and, in the rise of Stanley Kramer Productions, the story of the independent producers who gradually supplanted conventional studio production. Even if we know how each story ends, it's never less than a continuously fascinating read." - Scott Eyman, author of JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGENDFrom the Publisher
Critic Andrew Sarris once called High Noon "the favorite Western for people who hate Westerns." That Bill Clinton supposedly screened it a staggering twenty times in the White House says a lot about his fantasy life, not to mention Hillary's and/or Chelsea's tolerance for skull-melting tedium. But Bill's passion for Big Macs didn't win him many plaudits from gourmets, either. Although it's still a touchstone to everyone who grew up on it and even won star Gary Cooper an unlikely Best Actor Oscar, this 1952 movie about a frontier marshal stubbornly facing a pack of killers alone after everybody else in town refuses to help him has never been especially beloved by serious fans of America's defining screen genre.
In fact, purists like to say High Noon isn't really a Western at all. Producer Stanley Kramer's specialty was socially conscious, stacked-deck message movies, and this one's stilted reliance on six-shooters and cowboy hats to add novelty is midway between a convenient device and a fraud to people who revere the complex folk poetry of John Ford's Stagecoach or the exultant obsessiveness of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Even Cooper, whose presence does lend the movie some badly needed horse opera cred, thought so. "I hate to disappoint a lot of customers, but High Noon wasn't new or especially genuine," he once said. "There was nothing especially Western about it."
Glenn Frankel, whose last book combined the making of Ford's masterly The Searchers with the story of the actual nineteenth-century Indian kidnapping that inspired it, would certainly like everybody to think better of poor old High Noon. But you don't have to agree with him to find High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic engrossing. Frankel is a lively and original social historian first and foremost, and this is an expertly detailed, occasionally revelatory reconstruction of a time (1951), a place (Los Angeles), and a fraught political milieu (the Red Scare traumatizing movieland's idealistic if foolish Commies, ex- Commies, and liberals alike).
It's also a sympathetic but trenchant set of portraits of the key players involved in bringing High Noon to the screen: Kramer; writer Carl Foreman; director Fred Zinneman; Cooper; his then twenty-two-year-old costar, Grace Kelly; and composer Dmitri Tiomkin, among others. Now all but forgotten, Foreman is the central figure here. That's not only because he cooked up the movie's premise, or thought he had - - its belatedly recognized resemblance to John W. Cunningham's magazine story "The Tin Star" recast it in the credits as an adaptation -- but because he found himself living it.
He and his wife had joined the Communist Party in their younger years, drifting away after the 1939 Soviet-Nazi pact. But he'd been too minor a toiler in movieland to attract the witch-hunting attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, when the unfriendly witnesses known as the "Hollywood 10" went to jail for refusing to testify about their Communist associations. By the time HUAC came back for a second bite, however, Foreman had teamed up with independent producer Kramer on a few probing, scrappy postwar movies, from Champion (Kirk Douglas's breakout role) to The Men (Marlon Brando's screen debut). He was subpoenaed just as he completed High Noon's script.
From then on, the movie's production played out in tandem with Foreman's decision not to "name names" -- the pound of flesh the committee ritually extracted from witnesses who wanted to avoid being blacklisted by the movie industry -- and the legal and professional mare's nest of maneuvers and negotiations he faced as a result. Since he was also discovering who his real friends were, he reworked the screenplay into an ever so slightly vainglorious metaphor for his own beleaguered situation. "I became that guy," he was to recall. "I became the Gary Cooper character."
What makes the book compelling is the rich texture of everybody's back-stories and Frankel's rendering of the larger picture, from the appeal of Communism in the 1930s to the looming demise of the studio system and the politics of hysteria that gave the HUAC clout. Even readers broadly familiar with the era's history will enjoy Frankel's knack for the right summarizing detail or revealing quote as he sets the scene. It's one thing to be aware of Hollywood's virtual monopoly on the popular audience's imagination before television came along, another to learn that "there were more movie theaters in America than banks." As for the Depression- era Chicago of Foreman's youth, here it is in a nutshell: "Even Al Capone opened a soup kitchen to feed the hungry." The social (as opposed to socialist) side of Hollywood Communism's appeal is captured in screenwriter Philip Dunne's remark about a colleague who joined simply to make friends: "To her, the Communist Party was a sort of glamorous Lonely Hearts club."
Partly thanks to the benefit of almost seventy years' distance from its subject, Frankel's High Noon is also more compassionate than the movie it celebrates. With understandable bitterness, Foreman's final script reduced the townspeople who abandon Marshal Will Kane to his fate to a cardboard gallery of hypocrites and poltroons. Sullenly resentful of his appeal to their consciences, they aren't even allowed any grace notes of ambiguity or remorse. Nor is Kane's resolve ever in any real doubt, though Foreman's may have been. (Some people still think he did cough up a few names later on to broker his return from exile.)
By contrast, Frankel keeps showing us people who want to do the right thing and are mortified when they fall short. Perhaps the saddest case is Kramer, a staunch liberal who nonetheless had to choose between turning his back on Foreman and wrecking his own career to -- as Frankel makes clear -- no purpose whatsoever. Admirably, despite his own political conservatism, Cooper let it be known that he'd back Foreman's bid to set up his own independent production company once he and Kramer parted ways. But Cooper, too, ended up buckling under pressure from, among others, John Wayne: "Even Gary Cooper couldn't stand up to the blacklist," Frankel writes.
Foreman ended up relocating to England, eventually -- and notoriously -- writing the Oscar-winning script for David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which the novel's author, Pierre Boulle, who didn't speak English, got the official credit. By 1961, with the blacklist all but moribund, he was able to write and produce The Guns of Navarone under his own name. But aside from that one hit, his return to Hollywood's good graces never panned out as he'd hoped; he'd lost a decade that otherwise might have been his creative peak. Even so, the loss to us, as opposed to him, is hard to gauge. Ultimately, what he and Kramer had most in common was a fatal hankering to be judged for their noble ambitions, not their artistry -- and, yes, that includes High Noon.
. The case Frankel tries to make for the movie's greatness is unlikely to sway skeptics. When it comes to 1950s political allegories in Western disguise, some of us will always prefer Nicholas Ray's deliriously feminized Johnny Guitar, with Mercedes McCambridge -- the future voice of Satan in The Exorcist -- sensationally parodying Joe McCarthy decades before Melissa McCarthy's gender-bending Sean Spicer. By comparison, High Noon looks awfully creaky today, aside from Katy Jurado's cynical sizzle as Kane's mysteriously cast-off mistress. (Even Cooper's fabled stoicism is unconvincing; he's almost neurotically stoic.) Once acclaimed as an innovation, Foreman's suspense-inducing stratagem of having everything play out in real time from 10:40 a.m. until Kane's nemesis arrives on the noon train mostly conceals how repetitive the material is: another doleful trudge down the street in search of allies, another floridly craven rejection, another insert shot of a clock ticking away.
Instead, the book is most impressive in how skillfully it turns High Noon into a many-faceted, still resonant cultural artifact, as well as a signal moment in the careers of everyone involved: Cooper's last hurrah as a box office draw, Grace Kelly's first prominent screen role, Foreman's ideological crucible, and Kramer's goodbye to his wishful self-image as a crusading idealist. Beyond his acute sense of the interplay between political beliefs and character, the depth of Frankel's research into every stage of the movie's genesis and production is formidable, but he's also mastered how to use it, to the point that there isn't a dull page here. Just about all that's missing is so much as a mention of "Hah! Noon!," the biliously funny Mad magazine parody that some of us knew by heart before we ever saw the original, but that's all right. So far as I can tell, he didn't miss anything else.
A two-time National Magazine Award winner during his stint as Esquire's "Screen" columnist, Tom Carson is currently a columnist at GQ. He is the author of Gilligan's Wake (2003), a novel.
Reviewer: Tom CarsonThe Barnes & Noble Review
Although much of Frankel's material is familiar, the blacklist is a gift that keeps on giving. There always seems to be something new to chew on, in this case the transcripts of HUAC's secret executive sessions. Besides, it's a story that bears retelling because Hollywood, not to mention the rest of the country, is haunted by ghosts that won't go away…Frankel narrates this story well. He has a sure ear for the telling anecdote, and a good eye for detail.The New York Times Book Review - Peter Biskind
In this timely historical account, Pulitzer-winner Frankel (The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend) details how the 1952 western High Noon, about a marshal forsaken by his neighbors after outlaws target him, became a parable for the red scare. Frankel comprehensively details the backgrounds of the film’s main players, including independent producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann, composer Dimitri Tiomkin, and stars Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly (the latter in her first major role). However, the real focus is on the film’s gifted screenwriter and coproducer, Carl Foreman. During filming, Foreman was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his past Communist membership. When Foreman refused to name names of other communists, he was blacklisted, causing a falling-out with fellow High Noon producer Kramer. Foreman eventually revived his career in Britain by producing and writing The Guns of Navarone in 1961, but these travails took a toll on his health. Foreman’s story has been told before, but this fresh account offers additional information that sheds new light on how professional and private lives were altered by the blacklist. This fascinating period in Hollywood history is the perfect fodder for Frankel’s sharp observations, and his breathless style makes for compelling reading. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Literary. (Feb.)
Much has been written about Hollywood's blacklist era of the 1940s and 1950s, but seldom has it been explored through the story of one particular film. According to Frankel (The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend), the 1952 film High Noon is not simply a landmark production of style and substance but an allegorical statement about the times in which it was created. This book shuttles back and forth between a highly focused study of the film, Gary Cooper, and screenwriter Carl Foreman, and an informed and revealing examination of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the many people in Hollywood who were affected by, or acted on behalf of, that committee. This may be one of the most accessible books ever written concerning the effects of HUAC on Hollywood, as Frankel's decision to blend these two aspects of Hollywood history, and his innate skill as a journalist, has produced a highly readable and fascinating look at a period that is less widely known than one might imagine. VERDICT Anyone interested in film and/or politics will enjoy and learn from this book.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA
Courage under the gun, in both art and life.In this history, Pulitzer Prize winner Frankel (The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, 2013, etc.) tells the story of the well-known 1952 Western that became virtually an allegory of its own making. High Noon, in which Gary Cooper plays a lawman who has to face a gang of killers alone after he is deserted by his friends and town folk, was made in the thick of the Hollywood blacklisting era, when former or current Communists were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee and forced to choose between naming names or kissing their careers goodbye. High Noon entered this fray as kind of an ideological Trojan horse, a story of integrity under assault, written, produced, and directed by a team of socially committed liberals and starring the staunchly Republican Cooper. The book's key figure is writer Carl Foreman, who at the time of production was under fire for his refusal to play ball with HUAC, a standoff that would last until well after the film was finished. At its heart, the book is the story, through one man's experience, of how HUAC shaped destinies, as Foreman's contretemps with HUAC threatened production and fractured his relationships with director Fred Zinnemann, producer Stanley Kramer, and numerous associates. (Cooper, to his credit, rarely let politics get in the way of his friendship with Foreman or with making a good movie.) Besides the macro picture of Hollywood in its darkest era, Frankel is excellent at capturing the micro aspects as well, fascinatingly weaving in multiple and competing accounts of how the film was pieced together in the editing room. The author is occasionally overly worshipful, as well as repetitious, in his appraisal of the film, but he can't be faulted for lack of thoroughness or research. A comprehensive guide to both a classic film and the era that created it.