By LORNA CHEROT LITTLEWAY
THE CRANDELL THEATRE SPONSORED a showing of “High Noon,” the 1952 multi-Oscar nominated western, on December 9. The screenplay for the movie, starring Gary Cooper as US Marshall Will Cain, was written by Carl Foreman. He was blacklisted in the 1950s for not cooperating fully with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The committee was investigating alleged Communist infiltration of Hollywood and the film making industry.
Amanda Foreman, the writer’s daughter, an historian and longtime Kinderhook resident, posed the question, “What is a hero, an authentic hero?”
“High Noon” explores that theme. Her introductory remarks described the Communist Party as a “refuge for antifascists.” She also clarified that blacklisting was not an action of the government but a tactic of the movie industry to restrict work opportunities to perceived Communist sympathizers.
Preceding “High Noon” was the showing of the short documentary, “High Noon on the Waterfront,” co-written and co-directed by David C. Roberts and Billy Shebar. The 15-minute film contrasts the actions of peer artists Foreman, the writer, and Elia Kazan, the famed Broadway and movie director, who too testified before HUAC.
Like Foreman, Kazan joined the Communist Party. Both became disaffected with the party and resigned from it. Both denounced the Communist Party at HUAC hearings but, unlike Foreman, Kazan did name eight other artists as Communists or Communist sympathizers.
Amanda Foreman said, at the event, that “High Noon” was a parable of her father’s life leading up to his testimony before HUAC and while blacklisted. Said Foreman, “Life was mirroring art and art was mirroring life.” Critics have charged that Kazan made “On the Waterfront,” which starred Marlon Brando, to “justify his betrayal” (Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik Jan. 16, 2020). Actors Edward Norton and John Turturro narrate the voices of Foreman and Kazan in the documentary.
“High Noon” is set in Hadleyville, New Mexico, a once lawless town “unfit to raise children in and where a decent woman could not walk the streets” until Cain cleaned up the town. The movie opens on Marshall Cain’s wedding day to Amy, played by Grace Kelly. Because Amy is a Quaker, Cain has resigned his office and they plan to take the afternoon train east to St. Louis. Their plans are disrupted by a telegram informing Cain that Frank Miller, an outlaw he brought in for murder five years ago, has been released from jail and will be arriving on the noon train. (Three of Miller’s henchmen have already arrived in town and await Miller’s arrival.)
As the new marshall won’t arrive in Hadleyville until the next day, Cain feels obliged to stay and confront Miller and his gang. He and Amy argue; she is unconvinced when Cain tells her that he will raise a posse and that the show of force will convince the Miller gang to move on. Amy threatens to go to St. Louis without Cain.
Cain’s efforts to raise a posse prove futile. The judge who sentenced Miller packs up and leaves town. Cain’s deputy, angry he won’t succeed Cain, refuses to stand with him and resigns. Churchgoers debate the situation and deny Cain’s request for help. The previous marshall also tells Cain that he will not stand with him and advises Cain to just leave.
Only one man volunteers to join Cain but backs out when he learns that it would be just the two of them against the four-man Miller gang. Cooper, who won the Best Actor Oscar, deftly registers confidence, disappointment, anxiety and borderline despair with his eyes when he realizes that he is alone in this fight.
“High Noon” is an unconventional western in many respects. One is the role of women. The character Helen Ramirez, a former paramour of Cain’s, is a very successful and well-respected Mexican businesswoman. Amy decides to help her husband; she shoots one gang member in the back. When Frank Miller grabs Amy and uses her as a shield, she fights him, clawing at his eyes with her nails. In pain Miller shoves Amy aside to the ground, giving Cain a clear shot of the villain and Cain kills him.
“High Noon” was followed by a talkback with Foreman moderated by local writer and Crandell board member Peter Biskind. Foreman spoke about the relevance of “High Noon” today saying, “Moral choices are eternal.”
She recounted how her father, Stanley Kramer and George Glass formed a production company and had inked a multi-million dollar deal to make movies for a major studio right before HUAC subpoenaed Foreman. Kramer and Glass leaned on Foreman to “name names” and when he wouldn’t maneuvered to kick him out of the company. But due to Foreman’s constant tardiness he had failed to file the corporation paperwork and the bid to divest him failed. They, also, tried to drop Foreman as screenwriter but Cooper informed the duo that if Foreman was ousted he would not star in the movie.
In a bit of gallows humor Amanda Foreman said that at the Oscars ceremony the three partners were drawing lots to see who would “lose” and accept the gold statue should the movie win the coveted Best Picture category. But the CIA made it known to academy voters that “High Noon” was not to win in any major category.
The Crandell Theatre, 48 Main Street in the Village of Chatham, is one of a few community-based, nonprofit theaters in the United States devoted to film and one of fewer than one hundred single-screen movie theaters nationally. Since 2010, Crandell Theatre, Inc., has raised more than $1 million to purchase the historic theater and make needed repairs. The current Crandell board is engaged in a multi-million-dollar campaign to renovate and restore the area’s oldest, largest, single-screen theater and enhance the moviegoing experience for generations to come. For more information, visit crandelltheatre.org, or call 518 392-3445.