TBS Superstation has actually been doing western film fans a nice service over the past decade by producing a series of above-average made-for-TV westerns featuring the likes of Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, and so on. A number of them have already made their way to both laserdisc and DVD. One of the latest in this cycle is a remake of High Noon, the 1952 classic that starred Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. It’s also the latest in a series of misguided efforts at slavishly remaking films that were already generally regarded as being about as good as they could be. We know all about the waste of celluloid that was the recent remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho and now we hear talk about redoing Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Adam Sandler. (Whether anything actually comes of that or not, even the suggestion is ludicrous.) [Editor’s Note: They’re currently filming a remake of Charade starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton.] What’s next — Citizen Kane with a script updated for the sensibilities of modern audiences by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon? But I digress. Western fans are starved for new product, so it behooves us to at least look at the new High Noon regardless of whatever misgivings we may have.
Artisan has just made that task much easier with its Collector’s Edition DVD release.
Will Kane, the veteran marshal of Hadleyville, has just married his fiancée Amy. In so doing, he has promised to leave his career as a lawman behind and settle down to a quiet, peaceful future. Just as Will and Amy are to leave town, word is received that Frank Miller, a killer that Kane had been responsible for sending to prison years ago, has been pardoned and is returning to Hadleyville on the noon train. Despite his wife’s protestations, Kane decides that he must stay in town to face Miller when he arrives. Kane is unable to get any of the townspeople to help him — even his deputy deserts him — and he is left to face Miller and five of his henchmen alone.
Well, what’s positive about this new High Noon?
One thing that’s not bad is the lead performance of Will Kane by actor Tom Skerritt. Skerritt has a few years on him and he comes across quite convincingly in the part with his weathered features and the direct, matter-of-fact way he delivers the dialogue. He conveys the sense of authority and integrity that is demanded of the character in order to make Kane’s actions believable to the audience. Will he make you forget Gary Cooper in the original? No, but probably no one would.
The other thing that’s positive is the disc itself. This is about as good looking a transfer of a television movie as I’ve seen. The image is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and utilizes 24 scene selections. It looks beautifully crisp and clear. Colours, with somewhat muted browns and grays predominating, are faithfully rendered. Shadow detail is very good. The sound is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Either do the job quite adequately as this film is dialogue driven. The 5.1 track does a nice job kicking in the bass when the train arrives in Hadleyville and there’s some effective directionality in the gun battles at the end, but otherwise there’s little chance for it to really shine.
The disc is referred to as a Collector’s Edition and at first glance, there appears to be a lengthy list of supplements. Once you filter out the standard items and characteristics that appear on most discs, though, there’s actually less than meets the eye. There are three short production featurettes and a half-dozen interviews with various members of the cast and the director. Unfortunately, the interviews particularly are not very informative and some of what is said is just repeated in the featurettes anyway. In a slight departure from most audio commentary tracks that tend to feature the director, High Noon has commentary from Producer David A. Rosemont and Director of Photography Robert McLachlan and quite an informative talk it is. For example, during some of the aforementioned interviews, it was quite evident that the production had to deal with some snow. This is not at all apparent in the final production and it’s interesting to hear McLachlan talk about how the photography got around the snow conditions. Rounding out the disc are a trailer, two television spots, a 12-image photo gallery, and cast and filmmakers biographies and filmographies. The latter, of which there are 12 in total, are quite comprehensive in comparison to many other companies’ similar efforts.
What really defeats this High Noon is the fact that so little rings true.
Other than Skerritt, the rest of the cast is not up to the task. First of all, aside from a few of Miller’s henchmen, they just don’t look authentic. They’re too well-fed, clean and scrubbed looking. Neither do they act relaxed nor convey any feeling that they’re real people who have lived in this isolated western town for a good period of time. Part of the fault lies with the actors, but the rest must be attributed to director Rod Hardy — which is surprising, as he has had past experience with westerns to guide him. Michael Madsen, who plays Frank Miller, is a disaster. This well-padded-looking guy just got out of jail after a number of years of prison rations?
The town itself is also at fault. The original High Noon benefited from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the town that was built up by not allowing us to really see anything outside it. Here, we are all too aware of the surroundings. Shooting was done on location in southern Alberta with the Rockies clearly apparent in the background. We see the surroundings frequently and what they tell us is that this town appears to have been plunked down in the middle of nowhere for no reason other than that the scenery was good. The result is that we are never able to forget that what we’re seeing is just a set. It may look weathered, but we know it’s artificially so. It’s a distraction that could have been avoided and should have, if this remake were to have had any chance at being successful.
Then there’s the script. In one of the interviews included among the disc’s supplements, the comment is made that Carl Foreman’s original script was strictly adhered to with a few minor variations thrown in to cater to modern sensibilities. I’m not sure about the latter, but as for adhering to the original script, what happened to the original’s emphasis on Kane’s approaches to various townspeople for their help? Much of the growing sense of desperation generated by Kane being continually turned down by people he expected to be able to count on is lost in this remake.
Finally, on the theory that more is better and that if Will Kane defeating four men was pretty nifty in the 1950s, why, how much better it’ll make the remake to have him have to face six men. Not!
The bottom line is that there’s no reason to bother with this new version of High Noon. If you’ve seen the original, there’s nothing in the remake that improves on it. (Not that one could expect it to.) If you haven’t seen the original, take the time to seek it out. It’s also available on DVD from Artisan in a very nice-looking edition.