Film review: Inside High Noon

An updated documentary (director’s cut) by John Mulholland on one of the greatest films of the Hollywood Golden Age, Inside High Noon looks at this “simple little Western” at 70.

  • “I’m … fascinated with how timely High Noon is today. I find that America has a civic complacency going on. Democracy is so fragile. It’s merely words on paper unless people stand up to defend it. To me, so many Republicans in the House and Senate are like the citizens of Hadleyville. They are looking the other way, backing away, refusing to acknowledge the dangers of the moment.”

The political and cultural significance of High Noon is explored through narration, talking heads, and archive footage. This documentary is also a celebration of the film itself, of its social symbolism and comment on McCarthyism, its exploration of loyalty and justice.

We hear that the film was shot in a month on a fairly low budget, by independent filmmakers Stanley Kramer and Catl Foreman. With Gary Cooper as the crumpled but upright Will Kane, and Fred Zimmerman behind the camera, magic was made.

My love for this film goes back to my first viewing, when seeing Kane’s young Quaker bride, Grace Kelly (a startling debut), stand up for him at the moment of most danger. It is also Cooper’s greatest role in my opinion.

With a visual style based on Civil War photographs, High Noon lacks any sense of glamour, but has everything else, becoming a deeply developed character drama. Think of Katy Jurado’s marvellous and complex “other woman”, and Cooper’s Kane showing vulnerability.

Mulholland’s film tackles all these issues and more in an engrossing manner, whether you have seen High Noon or not. If you have, you will appreciate it even more after hearing about behind the scene machinations and collaborations.

If Inside High Noon makes you want to watch, or rewatch, the original film, that’s all to the good. And although I have seen it many times, I know I will find something new next time I put in the DVD or watch it on the big screen.

Inside High Noon is available to view on PBS now. My thanks to John Mulholland for the screener allowing me to watch and review his film.