BFI Classics: High Noon

Author: Phillip Drummond

Phillip Drummond’s High Noon is a considered appraisal of a film that’s at its best when arguing for a measured approach to its placement in the canon.

During the earlier passages of his essay, Drummond takes an eye-wateringly empirical approach that will read like an insomnia cure to all but the most egg-headed of High Noon fans. What feels like entire pages are devoted to enumerating box office receipts. Drummond also feels it necessary to list all of High Noon’s contemporaries and a fair few of the cast and crew’s previous efforts: while no doubt recognisable titles in their day, there can’t be too many casual film buffs under the age of about 65 who’ll feel a Proustian thrill at a mention of flicks like The Member of the Wedding.

The effect is rather like being trapped in the corner of a booth in some dark noisy bar while the world’s ultimate film geek bellows in your ear about why the IMDB isn’t comprehensive enough. Happily, Drummond gets this need for background overload out of the way in the first couple of chapters and, free of his fetters, goes on to write with verve, insight and obvious enthusiasm. He warns against the temptation to “over-read” High Noon as either feminist or chauvinist, and instead argues that most of the social, racial and sexual politics of the film are too abstract to be read with any certainty now.

Drummond’s impressive breadth of knowledge about all the factors that make High Noon what it is – from the impact of the House of Un-American Activities Commission hearings, to the confusion as to which year the action takes place in, to the state of Gary Cooper’s health – make this the ultimate boffin’s pocket guide.

Clare Moody

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