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High Noon – Olive Signature Edition (Blu-ray Review)

High-Noon-THUMBThe myth and poetry of the old west come alive in Fred Zinnemann’s (Julia) classic western, High Noon (1952). One of the great treasures of the American cinema, the film stars the legendary Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in one of her first screen roles. For his career-defining role, Cooper would go on to win the Oscar® for Best Actor. High Noon’s stellar cast also includes Lloyd Bridges (Try and Get Me), Thomas Mitchell (It’s a Wonderful Life), Katy Jurado (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid), Otto Kruger (Saboteur), Lon Chaney (The Wolf Man), Henry Morgan (Strategic Air Command), Jack Elam (Hannie Caulder) and Lee Van Clef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). High Noon won a total four Academy Awards including Best Editing, Best Score (Dimitri Tiomkin, The Old Man and the Sea) and Best Song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” written by Tiomkin and Ned Washington and sung by Tex Ritter. High Noon also received Oscar® nominations for Best Picture (Stanley Kramer, producer), Best Director (Fred Zinnemann) and Best Screenplay (Carl Foreman).

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Film 

Lawman Will Kane is a marshal who stands alone to defend a town of cowardly citizens against a gang of killers out for revenge. Engaged in the fight of his lifetime, Kane stands to lose everything when the clock strikes noon – his friends, his honor, and his Quaker bride. Unfolding in real time, the tension builds as we race ever closer to the climactic duel from which the film takes its name.

When it comes to staples of not only a genre, but cinema itself, High Noon is a benchmark worthy of being called greatness.  It was quite popular and acclaimed upon release and here some roughly 64 years later holds up tremendously and has only become better and more fascinating with age.  We all talk about what makes a “perfect” film, and High Noon is about as tight, concise and scratch free as you can get. In other words, even if I had the ability to, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

The immediate aspect that feels really game changing for 1952 is that almost real time aspect the narrative follows.  Its a ticking clock racing to the title’s namesake.  And really, there’s no playing around.  Its probably not entirely accurate, but damn if it isn’t close enough.  The cinematography incorporates many clocks throughout in clever ways to keep us up to speed (some rather great and artistic shots at times too).  There’s a ramping sense of intensity even as the town feels rather calm.  Its all crashing down for just one man as the townsfolk don’t know what to do other than sit and wait for it to strike 12.

Cinematography by the way, is fantastic in the film as well.  Just through the shots, we have a great mapping of this town and a complete sense of place.  Many territories, buildings and such are revisited frequently throughout the story.  Each one has a specific look and framing to it.  Said framing is the same every time we return to the environment.  For example, every time we check in on the Miller gang awaiting the train, its the same couple of angle, usually accompanied by a shot of the lonely train tracks awaiting the locomotive in the empty distance that goes for miles.  Its quite a fun film in terms of just pictures.  There is some masterful stuff when Gary Cooper realizes he’s all alone in his fight and accepts said fate.

Cooper himself was 15 years older than the role called for at the time, but damnit if the man didn’t do such an astounding job (Won himself an Oscar) that he really makes that piece of trivia incredibly irrelevant.  The veteran actor has a worry, as sadness, a denial, a sense of a destiny he’s unwillingly accepting just in his eyes alone.  Watching him in every scene, you don’t even need to listen or look at the whole screen, the man’s eyes and face will tell you everything you need to know.  He’s accompanied by some big name performers that only buffer and enhance the film. Grace Kelly gives a nice early turn in addition to vets like Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef and Lloyd Bridges.  Lon Chaney Jr really gets just one meaty scene, but he nails it and it was one of my personal favorites in the film (Yeah, probably a little bit of Universal Monster bias there).

Fan of Westerns or not, I think this film breaks that mold and makes genre irrelevant.  The ticking clock and drama are strong and interesting enough whether this be New York of the 1970s or some intergalactic space opera.  That’s also probably why High Noon holds up so well.  While its a quick movie and its plot revolves being in a hurry, there are a lot of layers, character depth good scenes of dramatic chops chewing the scenery that one might not expect and a less film forget.  Plus, the film is also a really terrific measure in building suspense and ramping intensity.  High Noon is timeless and an all time great.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Clarity/Detail:  Olive Films has give High Noon a brand new 4K transfer for this release.  And boy, does it look absolutely beautiful.  The film features a good natural look and plenty of clarity.  Details run pretty high here and impressively for a black and white film.  Its crisp and is about as sharp as the source material is going to allow it without wiping away the grain.  I think fans of the film are going to be pretty impressed and very pleased with what Olive has accomplished here.

Depth:  Some excellent spacing and distancing between characters, objects and the environment.  Sweeping camera movements can look rich and 3 dimensional that impress.

Black Levels: Blacks are solid and provide many different levels of shading or outlining.  No crushing was witnessed in this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones maintain a consistency in their gray and white levels throughout the feature.  There is an impressive amount of facial detail present for the film’s age.  One wow’ing factor was noticing the sweat coming off of Gary Cooper during later scenes.  You’ll also make out, scars, stubble, dirt and the like.

Noise/Artifacts: Very clean looking image. Print is in great shape.  There is a nice, beautiful layer of thin grain present.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  The mono track does some good work with a very minimal analog audio hiss. Sound effects sounds nice and fresh, while the music is tucked away nicely in the mix being present but never overbearing or too much.  Its part of the healthy balance that comes in between said score/songs, foley effects and vocals.  I’m not sure if this is the same as on the previous release, but it sounds much better than even being simply rock solid. A good accompaniment to the video transfer.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Clean, audible and crisp.

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Extras 

High Noon – Olive Signature Edition comes with a booklet featuring an essay by Sight & Sound Editor Nick James

A Ticking Clock (HD, 5:53) – Academy Award-nominee Mark Goldblatt on the editing of High Noon. The Terminator editor discusses the tightness of the editing to increase tension as well as the use of clocks in the film.

A Stanley Kramer Production (HD, 14:00) – Michael Schlesinger on the eminent producer of High Noon. A nice little anecdotal history with pictures and such.

Imitation of Life: The Blacklist History of High Noon (HD, 9:27) – With historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein. Similar to the featurette on Johnny Guitar, this one focuses on the screenwriter for High Noon and how he was affected by the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklisting witch hunt.

Ulcers and Oscars: The Production History of High Noon (HD, 12:02) – A visual essay with rarely seen archival elements, narrated by Anton Yelchin. This meaty piece goes through the early production stages of casting and scripting complications due to material seen as “objectionable” at the time. It covers some of the blacklist problems that came around too.  The essay also goes over the shooting schedule and some of how they captured certain moments (Like the train speed toward the screen). It then talks over its critical and award reception as well as its legacy (And how John Wayne and Howard Hawks hated it).

Uncitizened Kane (HD, 11:01) – An original essay by Sight & Sound editor Nick James. This is the same as the one featured in the booklet.

Theatrical trailer (HD, 1:36)

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Summary 

Olive Signature Editions are coming out the gate and blasting one right out of the park.  High Noon features an awesome new 4K transfer of the film, making it look very fresh and new, accentuating the cinematography even further.  The sound is also nice a clean.  Where Olive has stepped their game up is the extras, which take the material very serious and provide a very curated educational look at all things revolving around High Noon.  You asked, and Olive Films has truly delivered with their first Signature release, even the packaging is classy.  Don’t miss out on it.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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