Tag Archives: Gary Cooper

HIGH NOON (1952)

Olive Film’s 60th anniversary Blu-ray edition of High Noon (1952) presents this critically lauded, still controversial western masterpiece in a Hi-Def transfer that renders all other home video versions obsolete.

The Stanley Kramer production, tightly directed by Fred Zinnemann and written by the blacklisted Carl Foreman, earned the hatred of 1950s McCarthyists, including  and Howard Hawks, who were so outraged they made Rio Bravo (1959) as a right-wing response. Wayne went further than that, teaming up with Hollywood Gossip mogul Hedda Hopper and the House Un-American Activities Committee to run Foreman out of the country. Foreman moved to England and never returned. Wayne forever boasted of forcing the writer into exile. Kramer, responding to accusations that High Noon was anti-American, tried to get Foreman’s name taken off the credits. Gary Cooper intervened on Foreman’s behalf, making Kramer’s effort unsuccessful, but Kramer had better luck forcing Foreman to sell his part of their company. So much for loyalty under pressure: ironic, given the film’s theme of civic morality.

The biggest offense of the film, for Wayne and his fellow extremist kooks, was the final shot of Will Kane supposedly dropping his marshal’s badge in the dust and stomping on it. Wayne saw symbolism aplenty, but his faulty vision was filtered through a lens of Cold War paranoia and exaggeration.[1] Will Kane merely dropped the badge. He never stepped on it. The other offense was the portrayal of the townspeople as a greedy, self-cannibalizing lot, a hypocritical church community who argue their way out of communal (and personal) loyalty. Wayne and Hawks’ Rio Bravo depicted, in sharp contrast, a town full of old-fashioned buddy-buddy camaraderie. If Wayne and Hawks were alive today they might have rethought their depiction, because High Noon could served as an apt snapshot of contemporary division. It’s a good thing that actor/director team didn’t live to see the 21st century, though, because despite the intent behind Rio Bravo, and despite its occasional tendency towards sentimental phoniness, it remains, along with High Noon, one of the standout westerns in the genre’s greatest decade.[2]

Still from High Noon (1952)One cannot approach High Noon without addressing its political themes, both within the film’s text and those raised in its aftermath. Along with writer Formean, co-star Lloyd Bridges and cinematographer Floyd Crosby were also awarded with temporary blacklists until the FBI cleared them of Communist affiliations. The fifty-one year old Gary Cooper was engaged in an affair with his twenty-three year old co-star Grace Kelly (putting an end to Coop’s affair with Patricia Neal.) Kelly’s fling with the long established Republican protected her from McCarthyism’s scrutiny. Cooper was friendly with the HUAC, and testified before them (without ever naming names), but he only did what was expected of him, then returned to his top priority of resuming his romance with a future princess.

Cooper was in Europe by the time the Academy Awards Ceremony rolled around and asked Wayne to accept the award of Best Actor on his behalf, should he happen to win. Of course, he did, and the Duke did a prompt, public about-face in his acceptance speech: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad to see they’re giving this to a man who is not only most deserving, but has conducted himself throughout the years in our business in a manner that we can all be proud of. Coop and I have been friends hunting and fishing for more years than I like to remember. He’s one of the nicest fellows I know. And our kinship goes further than that friendship because we both fell off horses in pictures together. Now that I’m through being such a good sport about all this sportsmanship, I’m going back and find my business manager, agent, producer, and three-name writers and find out Continue reading HIGH NOON (1952)

  1. Due to John Wayne’s interpretation of this scene, he and fellow right wing extremist Ward Bond bullied Gary Cooper into backing out of a planned independent production company with Forman and producer Robert Lippert. []
  2. The American Film Institute lists High Noon second in its list of top ten westerns. First is John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) with Wayne. Two other films starring Wayne made the list: Red River at number five and Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) at number nine. []

ANTHONY MANN’S MAN OF THE WEST (1955)

When the subject of Anthony Mann’s contribution to the western genre is explored, it is his cycle with James Stewart that is inevitably brought up. Indeed, the Stewart collaboration Naked Spur (1953) remains Mann’s highest praised achievement in the great American genre. However, it is his nearly forgotten, last true western, Man of the West (1958), starring , that is his most strikingly modern achievement. A telling sign of this film’s greatness lies in the fact that its status is still debated decades later.

Mann’s casting of Cooper is nothing less than inspired, although it probably cost the film box office revenue. Mann and Stewart had fallen out during the making of the previous year’s Night Passage, but by then audiences had come to accept Mann’s reinvention of Stewart’s on-screen persona. Starting in 1950, under Mann’s direction, Stewart had been portrayed as violent, selfish, cynical and remarkably complex.

In 1958, Gary Cooper was nearing the end of his career, and no director had manipulated Cooper’s screen personality in the way Mann had done with Stewart. , a competent journeyman director who, nevertheless, lacked a real consistent vision, had come closest in Springfield Rifle (1952), where he portrayed Cooper’s character as an accused coward in the first half of the film. That turned out to be an undercover ploy to smoke out the real traitors, however, so Cooper retained his pure-as-the-driven-snow nobility after all. Still, even then, neither audiences nor critics bought it. Laconic simplicity and nobility were Cooper’s well-established trademarks. Mann took advantage of what was already established, and manipulated it with a darkly hued underbelly. Under Mann’s direction, the “yup” mannerisms of Cooper’s Link Jones convey evasiveness in an attempt to hide a less than noble past.

Title from Man of the West (1955)Link Jones is about to catch a train headed for Texas. He is on a mission to find a school teacher for his small town’s new school, and is carrying the funds to pay for her. A Marshall at the local train station thinks he recognizes Link, asks Link his name, inquires into Link’s past, and asks him if he knows the fugitive Doc Tobin (Lee J. Cobb). Link cautiously shakes his head, lies, squints, and evades the Marshall’s penetrating looks. Mann’s expert manipulation of Cooper’s personality traits is so subtle as to be believable and, thus, unnerving. It was unsettling enough for 1958 audiences to reject it, and even contemporary critics have often lamented the casting of Cooper, as opposed to Stewart, in this film. Stewart would not have worked nearly as well, simply because his casting would have been acceptable, even expected.

Cooper’s Link Jones consistently plays dumb throughout the film, first to evade discovery, then out of sheer necessity, for survival. We believe that he hides a sordid past. Link’s trip is cut short when bandits rob the train. Link, saloon singer Billie (Julie London) and con man Sam (Arthur O’ Connell) are left stranded. Link recognizes the nearby area as his one-time home. Knowing the nearest town is 100 miles away, Link leads his fellow Continue reading ANTHONY MANN’S MAN OF THE WEST (1955)

GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)

Guest review by Scott Sentinella, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in “The Carson News”, “The Gardena Valley News”, “Animato”, “Videomania Newspaper”, “Cashiers du Cinemart”, Dugpa.com and ALivingDog.com.

DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod

FEATURING: Charlotte Henry, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Mae Marsh, , Alison Skipworth, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, Sterling Holloway, and many others.

PLOT: A teenage girl named Alice travels through a mirror into a nonsensical fantasy world

Still from Alice in Wonderland (1933)

where animals talk, mad tea parties are held and queens threaten beheadings.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because of the source material, and because of this version’s especially creepy use of bizarre, grotesque masks on many members of its all-star cast.

COMMENTS: Before Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, every big-screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book had flopped at the box office, and this early 1930’s curio was no exception.  Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (known for the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), and with a screenplay by Joseph L, Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and William Cameron Menzies (better known as the art director on Gone With the Wind), this primitive-looking extravaganza rounded up some 22 stars from the Paramount lot and immediately hid most of them behind very unpleasant-looking masks and bulky costumes.  This Alice was made only five-and-a-half years before The Wizard of Oz, but some of the technology on display here looks like it was left over from the Victorian era.  (Incidentally, Alice’s then-starry cast now consists of three legends—Cooper, Fields, Grant; a lot of character actors familiar to viewers of Turner Classic Movies—Horton, Holloway, Ruggles; and then a host of performers unknown to even the most die-hard classic film buffs—-Jackie Searle? Raymond Hatton?) The results are a bit too disturbing, even for Lewis Carroll, but at least it captures the madness of the novel(s) in a way that Burton’s neutered, watered-down disappointment never really does.  Like most films based on Alice, this one liberally combines elements of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  This time, Alice (Babes in Toyland’s Charlotte Henry) first finds her way through a mirror and then tumbles down a rabbit hole, where she meets the usual Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)