High Noon: Ultimate Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe checks the clocks, puts on his six shooter, and gets the hell outta town...
Lawman Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just been hitched, and is off to a relaxing retirement with his beautiful bride (Grace Kelly) when bad news arrives. Evil gunslinger Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is due to arrive by train at high noon to settle an old score. Kane could leave, but knows what Miller and his thugs will do to his town if he doesn’t stick around to fight. For the next eighty minutes Kane desperately seeks the assistance of the townsfolk who are all too afraid to back him up.
I own more than five hundred DVDs, and among them there can’t be more than two dozen truly original plots. Though often looked upon as inferior or ‘B’ genres, horror films and westerns are probably to two most archetypal and commonly copied. There are hundreds of thousands of films that take the basics of Jaws, Halloween, Psycho, or Alien and appropriate them for different means and genres (though the inspirations for these films can, of course, distill the originality even further).
The western genre is even more commonly pilfered. Rio Bravo (which was directly modernized by John Carpenter as Assault on Precinct 13, which was later remade itself) and High Noon are probably the two most consistently quoted western plots. Every adventure or action television series has at least one episode where the heroes are forced to barricade themselves into a stronghold and shoot it out with the bad guys, and at least one episode where only one man is willing to do the right thing, and is forced to stand up against insurmountable odds.
Westerns and horror films, as easily simplified on a surface level, are also susceptible to deeply engraved yet easily read allegory, and as B-genres they’re commonly ignored by mainstream audiences looking for social complexity. This means that the best of these films can make as many radical allegorical statements as they want without worrying about severe backlash. Unfortunately for High Noon[i], the social allegory wasn’t buried quite deep enough for the likes of high profile stars like John Wayne, who spoke out against the film in public, calling it "The most un-American thing” he’d ever seen in his whole life.
But contrary to the Duke’s hyperbolically negative remarks, [i]High Noon may be the most American classic film ever made, unless you really want to get into the deeper meaning behind the rampant capitalism of The Godfather. Above the blacklisting allegories, adult sexual politics and beautiful craft is a simple story of a simple man doing the right thing, even if it’s basically suicide. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Kane isn’t a John Wayne hero; he’s afraid, he’s filled with humility, yet he still faces off against the impossible. High Noon affirms heroism at all costs, and even without the requisite happy ending it’s enough to make you join the military.
High Noon is also an early mark in the American book of cinéma vérité, and as such is low-lit and grainy. The film also happens to be more than fifty years old. All this doesn’t bode too well for a perfect transfer, but what we get is most definitely solid. I never bothered with the previous re-release, so I’m not sure if there’s anything different this time around, but there’s not a lot to complain about. The film grain is obvious, and the edge enhancement is a little too thick, but the overall detail is sharp enough, and the print is clean of most artefacts. Arguably this digital cleansing hurts the film’s intended ‘news reel’ look by ‘correcting’ the high contrast, so really hard core cineastes may want to keep older editions.
In contrast to my comments, the people at DVDBeaver.com think this darker transfer is a Godsend. I’m not familiar with the previous releases, so perhaps I’m wrong on this account. One man’s high contrast is another man’s ‘blown out’.
There really isn’t much to say about the audio tracks of this disc besides “they sound fine”. The disc houses the original Mono track, cleaned and remastered to the best effect possible, and the Dolby Digital 3.1 enhanced mix, carried over from the Artisan special edition release. The 3.1 track may be the better option of the two for the .1. I didn’t notice any outwardly artificial sounding added sound, or echoing effects, and the extra bass adds some oomph to the iconic soundtrack.
Everything starts with a composite commentary track featuring the children of the actor (Maria Cooper-Janis), writer (Jonathan Foreman), and director (Tim Zinnermann), along with critic John Ritter. This track was available on the 2002 50th anniversary release. The commentators here are looser and more relaxed then they are during the following interviews. The enthusiasm isn’t super palpable, but the track is pleasant enough.
‘Inside High Noon’ encompasses the film’s creation and value in a tightly edited fifty minutes. The behind the scenes tale is told, but at least half the Frank Langella narrated documentary is devoted to the film’s importance in the greater pantheon. There’s a lot of focus on the film’s political subtext (the film is listed as both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s favourite), but there’s also plenty of focus on the craft and achievements of every major member of the cast and crew. Since very few of the original players are around to offer up their humility, there’s a slight smugness to the doc’s assured knowledge that the film is important, but the interviewees, including the children of the stars and crew, and Bill Clinton, who knows a whole heck of a lot about the film, verging almost on a fanboy enthusiasm.
‘Behind High Noon’ is a featurette made specifically for the 50th Anniversary release, and features the same ‘kids’ already on the commentary track, here being directly interviewed and covering much of the same ground. Parts of the ten-minute featurette, awkwardly hosted by Maria Cooper-Janis, are even edited into ‘Inside High Noon’. ‘The Making of High Noon’, which was also featured on the 50th Anniversary release, is pretty moot following the sharply conceived ‘Inside High Noon’, but it does feature some interviews with the original players, who were still alive when it was made. I mostly recommend this one to diehard fans of Leonard Maltin, who hosts and narrates the twenty-two minute featurette.
The new extras continue with a six-minute trip to the Tex Ritter museum in Carthage, Texas. Ritter is the country music legend from the days when country music didn’t sound like pop music with a trill, who sang the main title song. This is followed by a performance of the song by Tex on Jimmy Dean’s TV show, and a radio broadcast with the man himself.
Obviously a classic, whether or not you’ll be re-buying it will depend on your love of extras and your opinion on the previous Artisan release’s transfer. I kind of liked the blown out look of the previous release, but most viewers will probably prefer this new, more realistic look. The ‘Inside High Noon’ documentary is pretty great, no matter what your opinion on the video transfer is, so perhaps these comparisons are moot.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 10th June 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English, Dolby Digital 3.1 English
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Extras: Commentary, Inside High Noon, The Making of High Noon, Behind High Noon, Tex Ritter: A Visit to Carthage Texas, Tex Ritter Radio Broadcast
Easter Egg: No
Director: Fred Zinneman
Cast: Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly
Length: 85 minutes
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