Blacklists and Cowboys
Book review: Glenn Frankel, “High Noon. The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.” Bloomsbury, New York
There aren’t any actual good guys that I know of in the story about the American film blacklist. There are just bad guys, to one degree or another, and victims. The main character in this book is Carl Foreman, who wrote “High Noon” and saw it through. According to the book, Foreman’s views were shaped by the anti-communist witch hunt going on at the time (1952). Foreman was one of the victims.
The plot of the movie, as you know, concerns a lawman under pressure from a gang of killers. He can’t find anyone to back him up, but he can’t figure any way out of it either. So he has to face almost certain death alone. He survives (it’s still a Hollywood movie) and is embittered about the law (the system?) and about the people he had considered his friends. He dumps his tin star and rides away. The town becomes a ghost town, just as it deserved.
The town in High Noon is a metaphor for Hollywood. I’m old enough to remember when the movie came out, and I’m also old enough to remember the schlock that passed for American films afterward. Rock Hudson flirted with Doris Day in every other movie for the next ten years!
I’ve read several books about the witch hunt that is sometimes called the “McCarthy period.” I liked this one because it names a lot of names of the name namers. It doesn’t equivocate as to who was profiting by turning in their friends, who was lying to begin with, and who found some way around it. Foreman was one of those last ones. He was a victim to be sure, but he came out of it better than many former Reds. He managed to avoid naming any names, too, according to the book.
A lot of fuss is made over film star John Wayne, who was one of the biggest red-baiters in Hollywood. This may have been because many of the people he was victimizing had served honorably in World War II, while Wayne ducked it and made his fortune playing war heroes. Wayne hated “High Noon” and Carl Foreman. There’s an interesting interview on YouTube in which Wayne tries to cover his venom with a patriotic veil.
I also liked the film analysis in the book. Several artists did what has to be their best, or way up there nearly best, work in this movie under difficult circumstances. I can’t think of a better performance by Katy Jurado or Lloyd Bridges. Lon Chaney Jr, who ruined his image by playing The Wolfman over and over, was especially outstanding. Gary Cooper played Gary Cooper for the 1000th time, but it’s hard to think of a better version! If you’re curious about Cooper’s role in the witch hunt, you’ll get your answer in this book.
The book offers a lot of answers about this terrible period in American history. The questions continue to overshadow the answers, especially “Will it happen again?”
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