‘High Noon’ drives history of McCarthy-era Hollywood

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In a nutshell, that’s the message of “High Noon,” a film that was rushed through production on a tight budget and unexpectedly became a huge hit and an enduring classic.

That’s the story of Glenn Frankel’s “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.” In this absorbing volume, Frankel traces the unlikely cast of characters who pulled off the improbable at a time when Hollywood was under attack from the triple threat of rabid congressional investigators, disruptive technology (television) and the death of the studio system that sustained and defined the golden age of movies.

Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, was a former Communist who was dodging prison as the movie was shot. Stanley Kramer, one of the first great independent producers, just wanted to get the film done so he could move on to what he saw as more important and prestigious projects.

Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, the stars, are now remembered as giants of the screen. But in 1952, when “High Noon” was made, Cooper’s career was in serious decline and Kelly was a virtual unknown

As the House Un-American Activities Committee closed in on Foreman, and as his friends and colleagues abandoned him, he wrote his experience into the “High Noon” script. At times, Foreman used events and dialogue from his own life to shape his portrayal of the cowardly abandonment of Cooper’s brave-but-conflicted sheriff by the townspeople he was sworn to protect.

Questioned by the committee, Foreman avoided giving the names of former Communists, as some witnesses did. He also avoided going to prison for contempt, the fate of the “Hollywood Ten.” But his past doomed him to the Hollywood blacklist.

In a time that’s shaping up to be a tumultuous era in U.S. history, 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.

 




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