It is one of Hollywood’s most revered movies. Starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in her first significant film role, High Noon was shot on a lean budget over just 32 days but achieved instant box-office and critical success. It won four Oscars in 1953, including best actor for Cooper. And it became a cultural touchstone, often cited by presidents as a favorite film, celebrating physical courage and moral fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds.
Yet what has largely been overlooked is that High Noon was written and filmed during the height of the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist, a time of political inquisition and personal betrayal—and a time that has some distinctive echoes of our own perilous political era. In the middle of the film shoot, its screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his former membership in the Communist Party. For Carl it all came down to this: either betray his friends or lose his job and the golden career he had worked so hard to achieve.
My talk focuses on the movie, the men who made it and the political era it was made in.
Glenn Frankel worked for many years for the Washington Post, serving as bureau chief in London, Southern Africa and Jerusalem, where he won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for “balanced and sensitive reporting” of Israel and the Palestinians. He went on to teach journalism at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin, where he directed the School of Journalism. He has won the National Jewish Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His last book, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury, 2013), was a national bestseller and named one of Library Journal’s top ten books of 2013. His newest is High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, which the Washington Post called “a sumptuous history” and the Los Angeles Times praised for its “grace and accuracy.” He lives in Arlington and is an avid friend and customer of the Arlington Public Library.