In 1951, after 25 years in show business, Gary Cooper's professional reputation was in decline and he was dropped from the Motion Picture Herald's list of the top 10 Box Office performers. In the following year he made a big comeback, at the age of 51, with this film.
Lee Van Cleef was originally hired to play Deputy Harvey Pell. However, producer Stanley Kramer decided that his nose was too "hooked", which made him look like a villain, and told him to get it fixed. Van Cleef refused, and Lloyd Bridges got the part. Van Cleef was given the smaller role of gunman Jack Colby, one of the Miller gang.
Gregory Peck, an activist liberal Democrat who strongly opposed blacklisting, later said that turning down this film was the biggest regret of his career, although he modestly added that he didn't think he could have played the lead character as well as Gary Cooper did.
Although the picture takes place between 10:35 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.. slightly longer than the 84-minute running time, this was due to the re-editing ordered by Stanley Kramer and Fred Zinnemann, both of whom were unhappy over the first assemblage. Editor Elmo Williams experimented by using the final portion of the material shot and condensed it to exactly 60 minutes of footage timed to real-time in the film. Thus the film we see is Williams' experimental version, which met with both Kramer's and Zinnemann's approval.
John Wayne strongly disliked this movie because he knew it was an allegory for blacklisting, which he and his friend Ward Bond had strongly and actively supported. Twenty years later he was still criticizing it, in his controversial May 1971 interview with Playboy magazine. Inventing a scene that was never in the movie, he claimed that Gary Cooper had thrown his marshal's badge to the ground and stepped on it. He also stated he would never regret having driven blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman out of Hollywood.
Director Fred Zinnemann said that the black smoke billowing from the train is a sign that the brakes were failing. He and the cameraman didn't know it at the time, and barely got out of the way. The camera tripod snagged itself on the track and fell over, smashing the camera, but the film survived and is in the movie.
Its loss in the Best Picture category to the much-derided The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, is usually cited as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Academy Awards. This loss is often seen as an effort to appease red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, since DeMille was one of his strongest supporters.
In the fight scene involving Gary Cooper and Lloyd Bridges, Lloyd's son Beau Bridges, then a youngster, was in the hayloft watching the filming. When water was thrown on his father after the fight, Beau could not help laughing, requiring the scene to be shot a second time. Cooper was unwell and in pain, but was gracious and understanding, according to Lloyd.
Among other accomplishments, the film was a milestone in scoring. It introduced the idea of a theme song to be marketed separately from the movie, and to be a motif for the instrumental score throughout the movie. Tex Ritter--John Ritter's father--sang the song "Do Not Forsake Me", whose lyrics are from the point of view of the hero appealing to his new wife, Amy, to stay with him.
As Carl Foreman's script bore certain similarities to John W. Cunningham's story "The Tin Star", producer Stanley Kramer bought the rights to Cunningham's novel to protect the production against accusations of plagiarism.
Until his death, director Fred Zinnemann fought not to have this film colorized, saying that he designed it in black and white and that it should be shown that way. He was unsuccessful, however. A colorized version was released by Republic Pictures Home Video, which acquired the film years prior, and was broadcast several times over the several cable outlets of Ted Turner, who was a strong advocate of the process.
The film is set in Hadleyville, population 650, in the New Mexico Territory, on a hot summer Sunday. The 37-star flag the judge removes as he prepares to flee shows that the time frame is sometime between Nebraska's admission as the 37th state on March 1, 1867 and Colorado's admission as the 38th state on August 1, 1876.
Although John Wayne often complained that the film was "un-American", when he collected Gary Cooper's Best Actor Oscar on his behalf at the The 25th Annual Academy Awards (1953) he complained that he wasn't offered the part himself, so he could have made it more like one of his own westerns. He later teamed up with director Howard Hawks to make Rio Bravo (1959) as a response.
Frankie Laine had a million-selling record with the title song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling)", though Tex Ritter's version of the song, heard on the soundtrack, has fared well over the years.
The name of the town in the film is Hadleyville, which was likely intended as an indirect reference to Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," a short story that has some thematic similarities to the film.
The 1980s were a tumultuous time in Poland. Workers' strikes in Gdansk led to the formation of the Solidarity movement. In 1980 Lech Walesa was elected chairman of this reform movement. The red and white Solidarity logo became an international icon that literally wrapped itself around the city, creating a visual momentum that led to a political revolution. Once again, posters played a pivotal role in defining the future. In 1989, the day before the country was to vote on the political future of Poland, a poster featuring an image of Gary Cooper from this film was plastered on kiosks and walls around the country. This landmark image of the famous actor strolling towards the viewer depicted him carrying not a gun, but a voting ballot, and wearing a Solidarity logo above his sheriff's badge that read, "It's high noon, June 4, 1989." As Frank Fox, former professor of Eastern European History, stated, "Indeed, an American Western was an apt symbol for a political duel that marked the beginning of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. Gary Cooper would have approved."
Floyd Crosby recounted a different version of the camera versus the train. He said the camera was placed in a hole dug between the tracks because they wanted the angle to be upward as the train stopped at the station. The train missed its mark and annihilated the camera. The film, however, survived. Crosby said he always thought they should have used the footage.
In one scene, a posted bill for a production called "Mazeppa" is visible. Mazeppa was a literary character (written about by Lord Byron, among others) who was tied to the back of a horse by his townsmen/countrymen; the horse was then whipped and sent out into the country, carrying the helpless Mazeppa with it. In one version of the story, Mazeppa survives, joins his former enemies and returns with them to try to conquer his former town/country. This is somewhat reflected in the situation of Frank Miller--and even, perhaps, of Will Kane himself, who at the outset of the film is hastily sent off by his townsmen in a horse-drawn vehicle--with considerable reluctance on his part, before he decides to return (to little thanks from them).
Jack Elam was not originally in the cast. After viewing the first full cut, the filmmakers realized the climactic gunfight didn't work. They resumed production with Gary Cooper and new cast member Elam. Elam recalled, "I knew [Cooper] very well . . . They also had some extras in the bar. We went back to the jail cell and did a few shots of me in the cell with Cooper walking around and seeing me in there snoring. And then they did a shot where he lets me out of jail, and I go into the bar, people are coming out because it's high noon. They did about a full minute of me in the bar doing my drunken clown act. I'm taking drinks and putting drinks under my arms and all that. They were going to cut back and forth between me and the gunfight. But then they turned the picture loose with the regular gunfight before they added our stuff, and it got rave reviews. so they never put that stuff in. The only part they put in was to establish who I was. And the only thing you see of me in the bar was when I was going in and everyone else was coming out. The credits were already written up when I went to work. They didn't bother to put [his name] in and that's why I didn't get the credit. But I was very happy because I got to work two days, and there was about a half a day with Cooper and me. And what a gentleman he was! There was about a day of me going into the bar and then of me just wandering around the bar. I understand there are some videocassettes of 'High Noon'--but I don't think you can buy them in a store--where those scenes of mine are included in the outtakes, but I have never seen them. The last thing you see of me in the movie is when I'm going in the bar and the people are rushing out."
The climax begins with a long pullback from Gary Cooper, walking the dusty streets of the desolate town. Fred Zinnemann achieved this by using a long crane that he borrowed from fellow director George Stevens. If you look closely you can see, in the upper frame, the nearby Warner Brothers studio lot. The same Western set on the Columbia Studios lot was used by Zinnemann the next year as a Hawaiian locale in From Here to Eternity (1953).
The theme song--"Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'"--was originally going to be used throughout the picture. Stanley Kramer, in his autobiography "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood", wrote: "I can't begin to calculate how much that song did for the picture, but my admiration for it, at first, led me astray. I became so enamored of the song I overused it, allowing it to cover some of [Gary Cooper]'s most dramatic moments. When we finally had the picture ready for its first preview, which was to be in Inglewood [California], the song was everywhere in the movie. By the time we got halfway through the showing, the audience was obviously restless. Before we were three-quarters of the way through, I knew why. At each repetition of the song, they started to laugh and then mockingly follow the lyrics. After the disastrous preview, everyone said I should get rid of 'that damned song', that it made a joke of the whole picture. Fortunately I didn't agree. I insisted that the song was great and that I'd simply used it too much. I redid the soundtrack and forsook at least half of the 'Do Not Forsake Me's'. The result was miraculous."
Gary Cooper, "B" movie producer Robert L. Lippert and screenwriter Carl Foreman were set to go into a production company together, after the success of this film. John Wayne and Ward Bond ordered Cooper to back out of the deal, as HUAC was preparing to "blacklist" Foreman. Shortly afterward, Lippert was deemed "persona non grata" by the Screen Actors Guild, which destroyed his independent production company.
Hadleyville is the name of the town. It is never spoken but is clearly visible on the train station wall. Hadleyville was also the name of the town in Gung Ho (1986) but was placed in the northeast U.S. In the west, there is a real Hadleyville, in Oregon.
Audiences in 1952 were disappointed with the revelation that Ian MacDonald was portraying Frank Miller. With his eventual appearance in the film being built up for more than an hour, fans were expecting a more well-known actor. Surveys taken at theaters revealed that Ward Bond, a frequent face in westerns, and Walter Brennan, a frequent co-star of Gary Cooper, were the top names the fans would have liked to see as Frank Miller. However, MacDonald's casting has become more appreciated as the film's legacy has grown.
Carl Foreman had already worked on this screenplay when he and Stanley Kramer both read John Cunningham's short story "The Tin Star" in "Harper's" magazine. Since it was so similar to the script, they decided to option it to avoid any charges of plagiarism. The two decided to call the film "High Noon", which had once been the temporary working title for Home of the Brave (1949), a previous film produced by Kramer and written by Foreman. However, it was Foreman, not Kramer, who actually negotiated the screen rights to Cunningham's short story. If Kramer had bought the story, the rights would have undoubtedly cost much more than the $25,000 Foreman paid, because publishers would have been well aware of Kramer's reputation as a successful producer.
Grace Kelly was unhappy with her performance, feeling that she was too stiff and wooden as Amy Kane. However, Fred Zinnemann thought her inexperience was appropriate for the role, which was rather limited in scope. As Zinnemann said, "[Kelly] at the time wasn't equipped to do very much . . . She was very wooden . . . which fitted perfectly, and her lack of experience and sort of gauche behavior was to me very touching - to see this prim Easterner in the wilds of the Burbank Columbia back lot, it worked very well."
In the showdown scenes, western film trivia buffs may notice a store called "Boyd's Hardware", apparently a reference to actor William Boyd, who played the title role in the Hopalong Cassidy (1952) TV series.
Stanley Kramer and Fred Zinnemann stated that they originally intended to photograph the film in color, but after some color sequences where shot, they switched to black and white for artistic reasons.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The stable being burned to flush Gary Cooper happened during the last part of the movie, but the smoke from the stable fire appears in several earlier scenes--for example, when Cooper approaches the church to ask those inside for help, you can see a very large column of black smoke in the background just to the right of the church.