#335- High Noon

Quick recap: A bad guy is on the noon train to get revenge on a marshal who sent him up north to be hung. The marshal, against almost all advice, chooses to fight him and his gang rather than run away.

I’d gladly watch two hours of Lloyd Bridges smirking

Fun (?) fact: Considering a book has been written about the filming of High Noon, there is a ton of trivia to choose from. I’ll go with the most salacious though because I don’t do that enough- Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly carried on an affair throughout the duration of filming. Is this what it feels like to be Perez Hilton? Is Perez Hilton even a thing anymore?

I will not mention Gary Cooper’s age. I will not mention Gary Cooper’s age. I will not-

My thoughts: Right before starting High Noon, I realized I’m just about burned out on the Western genre. I started out with dread and that quickly turned into head over heels love. There are a few stinkers, to be sure, but it’s been a good run so far. Thankfully, this film is one of the better ones on the list and knowing that John Wayne despised it until the day he died is the cherry on top. Maybe I’m not done yet. Westerns, I wish I could quit you.

One of the most unique aspects of High Noon is that it is almost entirely shot in ‘real time’, as Marshal Kane waits for the noon train. The anticipation is palatable, not just because I wanted to see who would arrive but also because it’s a race against the clock. Had this been a montage, I don’t think I would’ve been as empathetic to Kane as he tried to drum up support as well as attempted to keep his bride from leaving him. Whoever wrote this 1001 movies list must be a sucker for the technique like I am because there are several movies that play out like this one did. Two that come to mind are Cleo from 5 to 7 and Run Lola Run.

As a whole, High Noon isn’t better or worse than other Westerns I have watched lately. I was a little ‘meh’ when it was over, and then I learned that the whole movie is an allegory for the Red scare. Shortly after High Noon was released, screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted from Hollywood due to alleged communist ties. In this light, the film takes on a much more important role to me. At the time, most people were terrified of these meetings and knew that they didn’t have much choice with what might happen. Most actors and directors chose to distance themselves from anything that might label them ‘unpatriotic’ but there were a few that stood up to McCarthy and ultimately it finally faded away. Marshal Kane knew that he could run and hide and probably go on to live a normal life, but that would be wrong. It’s so satisfying to see one person fight for what is right, whether it is a showdown in the Wild West or a bunch of teens in high school. High Noon is the happy ending we all need.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A Philadelphia Story

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#325- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Quick recap: An aging senator recounts his younger days in the town of Shinbone and the tale of the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Is THIS the man who shot Liberty Valance??
No. That’s actually Liberty Valance

Fun (?) fact: There’s no set reason why director John Ford chose to film in black in white but the prevailing idea is that both John Wayne and James Stewart were playing characters 30 years younger than their actual ages and it would’ve really shown in color.

You’d think this would be the man who shot Liberty Valance because here he is shooting a gun but once again, WRONG

My thoughts: I’m afraid I’m starting to get a little burned out on James Stewart. He always seems to play the good guy, even when he’s accidentally an asshole. This film is perfect proof of that. Spoiler Alert: Stewart, who played Ransom Stoddard was not actually the man who shot Liberty Valance. To his credit, he didn’t know about it initially and the man who ACTUALLY did the killing gave him his blessing to go on being the legend, but still. Tom, played by John Wayne, was the real man who shot Liberty Valance and this story is about him.

As far as I can tell, having watched a total of two John Wayne films to date, Tom is your basic character. This movie is even the first time Wayne refers to someone as ‘pilgrim’ so that was a fun surprise. And it made sense, because Ransom made a pilgrimage to Shinbone after his run-in with Valance, albeit against his will in the beginning. Tom is a tough guy with a heart of gold and all he really wants is to settle down with his girl Hallie, who SPOILER ALERT, is not his girl at all. Much to everyone’s surprise, apparently, she is a strong independent woman who would like to choose her own destiny. Destiny that leads to Ransom. So, really, this is a classic case of jealousy but the weird kind of jealousy that involves shooting and allowing someone to continue on to Washington to become a decorated senator while you die drunk and alone.

Unlike the moral ambiguity of the paragraph before, Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance is a straight up evil guy. Absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like, he truly terrified me and that’s saying something. His comic opposite was the Marshall Link, who had some funny spots but when you stop and think about all the people he allowed to die because of being a coward, is much less funny.

Although Westerns typically all follow the same format of good guy/bad guy fight, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance manages to weave in a bunch of moral questions. Lee Marvin is absolutely bad but are Tom and Ransom absolutely good? Does it matter? And what does that do to one’s legacy? In a way, this is the western for people who aren’t too sure about westerns. Give it a chance.

 

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Badlands

 

#309- Destry Rides Again

Quick recap: Destry, played by James Stewart, plans to whip a Wild West town into shape without the use of guns or regular beatings.

Who could say no to someone with such sharp fashion sense?

Fun (?) fact: In a continuation of me not always being able to tell Gary Cooper from James Stewart, Cooper was originally offered the role but turned it down because he wanted more money. Even movie executives were aware that the two actors are basically interchangeable.

Seriously, James Stewart is adorable and I kind of love him now.

My thoughts: We’ve got another Western! This one is different because it apparently parodies the classic Western, although I didn’t really see that. Most of the movie, especially the beginning with everyone shooting their guns in the air and punching random people, reminded me of a few weird trips to Six Flags. I guess the characteristic of Destry not owning guns was different, but he seemed to threaten with them a lot or just make his other deputies do it for him. I thoroughly enjoyed myself,don’t get me wrong, and I was glad to see this was much more lighthearted than the spaghetti Westerns I’ve been watching as of late. But it’s the plot holes that eventually got to me, as they always do.

The main lesson in Destry Rides Again, if there is one, is that violence isn’t always the answer. Destry’s father was a sheriff with a huge reputation of whipping towns into shape and here comes his son who doesn’t carry guns, always has a story about someone who learned a lesson and prefers milk over alcohol. But the thing is, the audience never really sees  Destry’s plan come into action so it’s hard to tell whether violence would’ve worked just as well. The villain, Kent, bullies everyone from the beginning and Destry always throws him off somehow, like conceding Kent has won a ranch in an obviously fixed poker game. It made me think there was a huge complicated plan to win the ranch back but there really wasn’t. Destry decided to focus on finding the body of the previous sheriff to indict Kent but even that continued to backfire. The only thing he had a hand in was wooing Frenchy, the town’s loose woman and causing her to rally the women to put a stop to the madness. It was a great twist and I loved how pissed off the wives were, but that wasn’t Destry’s plan. He couldn’t have known that would happen. And yet, at the end of the movie he is considered a hero and loved by all.

I really loved James Stewart’s portrayal of Destry. I thought the ‘aw,shucks’ personality would grate on me, but it never did. Marlene Dietrich, who played Frenchy was also great, although the musical numbers didn’t do much for me. She really played up her accent so the songs were hard to understand sometimes. Still, the performances were entertaining and I enjoyed watching something a little light for once.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The General

 

#305- Man of the West

Quick recap: Gary Cooper plays former outlaw, Link, who must go back to his wild west gang when his train leaves him and two other passengers behind.

probably thinking about why he keeps getting thrown into roles he is too old to play

Fun (?) fact: Gary Cooper was 10 years older than Lee J. Cobb, who played his surrogate father, Dock Tobin.

And these two were supposed to be the same age, according to characters in the movie

My thoughts: As you have probably picked up on, Gary Cooper’s age was an issue for me in Man of the West. Now, before I get into my spiel, I just want to go on record and say that I am not ageist. There are plenty of  actors who have played meaningful roles, if not some of the best roles of their career when they were in their 50s and 60s. Gary Cooper did a fine job in this film, in fact. But the role shouldn’t have been given to him. And it really wasn’t his to begin with, looking at trivia. Jimmy stewart was originally cast but he had a falling out with the director and seeing as how there were literally only two men in Hollywood at the time, Cooper was chosen. I don’t know, maybe this is Gary Cooper’s thing, being in a role meant for a much younger man. He did the same thing in Sergeant York, but that was mostly because the real Sergeant York insisted on him. A few years after Man of the West Cooper would be dead so maybe he wanted one last role. I don’t know, but it really took away from the impact of the film, seeing him fit into something not meant for him.

Story wise, Man of the West was no better or worse than other Westerns I have seen. It was darker than I expected, especially that rape scene at the end.  A lot of innocent people died and in the end, good triumphed, so no surprises there. What did surprise me was that I thought I was going to see a buddy movie, from the synopsis I read. The singer Billie and the Gambler Sam were Link’s companions when he was stranded by the train. I thought the three of them would become best pals and fight the bad guys together, but that’s not at all what happened. As soon as Link introduced him to his old gang, Sam was told to dig a grave and Billie was told to strip. Zero fun was had by all. I really did like the role of Link, despite his age. Cooper added a lot of depth to the character and there was this melancholy mood of his that really resonated with me. I’m glad there was a happy ending, but with almost everyone dead, I don’t know how happy it really was.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Forrest. Forrest Gump