Viewer Guide: High Noon and The Pretty One

September 13, 2019 | Richard Peña

High Noon (1952)


This week’s classic is High Noon, the iconic 1952 western directed by Fred Zinnemann.

Produced during the peak years of the Blacklist era, far from being a conventional western High Noon was often interpreted—and in some corners derided—as being a thinly veiled parable about the political witch hunt that was tearing Hollywood apart. With the film’s running time corresponding to the actual timeline of its story, High Noon takes place in 1870 in a small town in New Mexico territory, beginning at 10:30 in the morning with Marshal Will Kane simultaneously celebrating his marriage and retirement from law enforcement. As played by Gary Cooper in one of his great late-career signature roles, Will is finally ready to start a new life with his young bride Amy Fowler, a devout Quaker played by Grace Kelly in her first major movie appearance. But Will and Amy have barely said “I do” when bad news bursts through the door: a convicted outlaw who Will had arrested five years ago has suddenly been released early. And not only that, he’s on his way back into town on the noontime train, his cronies already assembling at the station to help settle old scores. Despite being urged to get out of town while he can, Will’s conscience won’t let him go, and he turns back to confront his destiny and rally town support against the outlaws. Except that rallying the town doesn’t turn out to be quite so simple, leaving Will increasingly alone as the minutes tick by.

Adapted from the short story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham, the making of High Noon during Hollywood’s blacklist era often rivaled the drama on-screen. During production, High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and although Foreman had in fact once been a Communist party member in his youth, he refused to name names. But in the aftermath of Foreman’s testimony, High Noon’s famously crusading producer Stanley Kramer abruptly decided to end his partnership with Foreman, although the reason why depends on who you talk to. According to Kramer, Foreman had threatened to falsely name him as a Communist, but according to Foreman, Kramer was afraid of “guilt by association.” Foreman managed to remain on the film throughout production, but as an “uncooperative witness” he knew he would be blacklisted. Finally selling his share of the movie to Kramer, Foreman left Hollywood to find work in England.

Although John Wayne was first offered the role of Will Kane, he rejected the script as being an obvious criticism of blacklisting. Wayne’s similarly conservative old friend Gary Cooper not only accepted the role but wound up winning the year’s Academy Award for Best Actor. As it turned out, Cooper was out of the country on the night of the Oscar ceremony, and asked Wayne to accept on his behalf. Which Wayne did—despite having been publicly critical of the film—and even went on to bizarrely chide his manager and agent in his acceptance remarks for not having been cast in the role himself. Also nominated for a High Noon Oscar was Carl Foreman for Best Screenplay, and while his blacklisted status likely cost him the award, he would later win a Best Screenplay Oscar five years later for his un-credited work on The Bridge on the River Kwai, although he did not actually receive the award until one year after his death in 1984.

The Pretty One (2013)


This week’s indie is The Pretty One, a 2013 romantic comedy drama directed by Jenée LaMarque.

In a dual role, Zoe Kazan stars as Laurel and Audrey, identical twins in appearance yet utterly different in style and personality.  Reuniting at their mutual birthday party, Audrey is obviously “the pretty one” of the two, and has forged ahead in life with a successful real estate career. The artistically inclined Laurel, however, is suffering from a definite case of failure to launch, still living at home with her widowed father Frank, apprenticing with him in the curious business of copying famous art works. Clearly suffering from growing up in the shadow of the more outgoing Audrey, Laurel simultaneously longs to be just like her popular twin yet also achieve full independence as her own person. But when a fateful sequence of events allows Laurel to literally step into Audrey’s shoes, she’s too fragile to resist the surreal opportunity, masquerading as her sister with results that range from an unexpected romance to career disaster.

Also featured are Jake M. Johnson and Ron Livingston as the increasingly confused men in Laurel and Audrey’s lives.

From The Parent Trap to Dead Ringers, movies about twins have long provided irresistible dramatic opportunities as well as juicy roles for actors. And as special effects have become ever more sophisticated in the era of digital technology, the improved visual sleight of hand allows for ever more intricate stories of twins exchanging identities only to set in motion a cascading sequence of comedic or dramatic chaos. Marking the feature film directing debut of Jenée LaMarque, The Pretty One embraces both options, encompassing the comic aftermath of Laurel’s decision to live life as Audrey, as well as the emotional damage of living a lie. The daughter of writer-directors Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and the granddaughter of film and theater director Elia Kazan and playwright Molly Kazan, Zoe Kazan has rapidly established a career in both theater and film, including acclaimed performances in It’s Complicated, Olive Kitteridge, The Big Sick and Ruby Sparks, for which she wrote the screenplay as well as co-starred with her husband Paul Dano.

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