Tightly crafted with very little fat, Fred Zinnemann's High Noon (1952) is usually placed at or near the top of any "Best Westerns" list, thanks to its great performances, skillful editing, memorable music, and suspense that can still be felt after multiple viewings. Starring Gary Cooper as "retired" Marshal Will Kane and Grace Kelly in an early role as his new wife Amy, it's the kind of film that elevates its rather basic source material---in this case, John W. Cunningham's short story "The Tin Star"---to considerable heights and feels almost effortless from start to finish.
Clocking in at a well-paced 85 minutes, High Noon moves in virtual real-time as Will and Amy's wedding wraps up in Hadleyville, where he's served as Marshall for decades. Unfortunately, their celebration is spoiled by the sudden appearance of outlaws Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef), and Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke), but there's even more bad news: Ben's older brother Frank, who Will sent to prison for murder years ago, will be arriving in an hour on the 12:00 train. Having retired the day before, Will is encouraged by the townspeople to flee with his new wife...but the new Marshall isn't due to arrive until tomorrow, so he's got a tough decision to make. Despite Amy's insistence---which eventually leads to an ultimatum---Will chooses to put the old tin star back on, even though his repeated attempts to assemble a posse have proven much tougher than expected.
High Noon's simple premise and even-handed setup pay dividends as time ticks away, resulting in a natural build-up of suspense intensified by the late reveal of Will's biggest threat; it's their inevitable face-off that drives High Noon so effectively, creating a durable film that hasn't faded with age. Featuring no shortage of great supporting performances including Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!), Thomas Mitchell (It's A Wonderful Life), Katy Jurado (One-Eyed Jacks), Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolfman), Harry Morgan (Dragnet), Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and the underrated and uncredited Howland Chamberlain as Hadleyville's hotel clerk (a personal favorite), the well-stocked cast creates an intricate web of small stories without distracting from the main plot. Just before the clock strikes twelve, High Noon's suspense level has reached a boiling point---and thanks to other factors like terrific editing and a memorable score by Dimitri Tiomkin, we're fully invested in Will's dilemma each and every time.
Outside of its enduring popularity among die-hard genre enthusiasts, newer generations have undoubtedly been introduced to High Noon via one of its many home video releases (it was, after all, a Republic/Lionsgate title on DVD). Despite the most recent being Olive's 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray in 2012, the studio has resurrected High Noon once more as part of its new higher-end "Signature" line of Blu-rays (along with the enjoyable Johnny Guitar). Sourced from a new 4K master and paired with a handful of new retrospective featurettes, this is a well-rounded effort that old and new fans alike should enjoy; even more so if you haven't owned it on Blu-ray yet.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer of High Noon looks flat-out flawless on Blu-ray (not that Olive's own 2012 Blu-ray was all that disappointing, mind you). A brand new 4K master was created from the original camera negative for this "Olive Signature" disc, revealing a staggering amount of fine detail from many of the sun-baked outdoor landscapes and close-ups. Black levels are consistent, image detail and textures are strong, and the grain structure is represented very well from start to finish, which results in an extremely natural and clean appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or manipulation (compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.) could be spotted along the way, either. I simply can't imagine High Noon looking any better on Blu-ray than it does here, so die-hard fans and newcomers alike should be very pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The audio comes through cleanly on this DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track, preserving High Noon's mono mix while faithfully reproducing the dialogue and Dimitri Tiomkin's original score. There's some modest depth at times but this is undoubtedly a "thin" presentation from start to finish, though it's understandable considering the film's age. In other words, genre fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio treatment. Optional English subtitles are included during the film, an overdue but welcome standard for Olive Blu-rays.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple but effective interface includes separate options for chapter access, subtitle setup, and bonus features. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the company logo. Unlike standard Olive releases, this "Signature" line is housed in a clear keepcase with classier-than-usual cover artwork, a matching slipsleeve, and an included Booklet
with an essay by Sight & Sound
editor Nick James. Very nice!
Four brand new short to mid-length featurettes and interviews are included here, even though a few extras from older DVDs and Blu-rays (1992's "The Making of High Noon
", a lackluster audio commentary with four descendants of the cast and crew, and others) didn't make the cut. But seeing as how most die-hard fans of High Noon
have seen those older extras in one form or another, it's not too disappointing. Anyway, on to the new stuff:
"A Ticking Clock" (5:52) is a short but valuable chat with prolific editor (and frequent James Cameron collaborator) Mark Goldblatt, who analyzes the editing techniques of Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad on High Noon--not to mention the director's frequent uses of clocks---and how they affect the film's mounting tension.
"A Stanley Kramer Production" (14:01), "Imitation of Life: The Blacklist History of High Noon" (9:28), and "Ulcers and Oscars: The Production History of High Noon" (12:04) are all more historically-minded pieces, featuring the likes of film distributor Michael Schlesinger, historian Larry Ceplair, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and the late Anton Yelchin. This invaluable trio goes into modest detail about the film's initial development, casting, cinematography, location shooting, reception, and much more, with a few archival photos and other material to break up the talking heads. All four are equal parts entertaining and informative despite their all-too-brief brief running times.
Two other tidbits are also here: "Uncitizened Kane" (11:02, if you let it play by itself), an on-screen text reprint of the booklet essay by film critic and Sight & Sound editor Nick James, and the film's rough-looking Theatrical Trailer (1:35). Unfortunately, none of these bonus features include optional subtitles like the movie does.
Fred Zinnemann's High Noon is either one of the best Hollywood Westerns ever made...or just a great one. It remains highly entertaining and influential more than 65 years later, serving up fine performances and a tremendous amount of suspense and intrigue as the clock ticks away. High Noon is ubiquitous enough that I'd imagine anyone even halfway interested in the genre has seen it at least once, especially since it's had at least no shortage of DVD and Blu-ray editions already. The most recent (and possibly final on this format) is Olive's new "Signature Edition", which touts an exclusive 4K restoration and several short but but entertaining new extras. It's not quite a definitive disc, but close enough to make this an attractive package for old and new fans alike. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.