High Noon Again

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The classic Western “High Noon” famously presents an allegorical attack on McCarthyism. The film bears the mark of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the early 1950’s in which present or former Hollywood Communists were asked to “name names” — i.e., to identify their party colleagues in the industry. “High Noon” screenwriter Carl Foreman appeared before the committee while working on the screenplay to “High Noon” and injected his personal experience of abandonment and betrayal directly into the screenplay.

But “High Noon” didn’t start out as an anti-McCarthyism allegory, writes Kyle Smith on the occasion of the film’s rerelease on a collector’s edition DVD, and it’s unlikely to be experienced by viewers today as a tribute to liberal idealism: “Quite the contrary: in a trick of history, or perhaps a lesson that subtle metaphors can fade, High Noon today seems like a conservative work.”

Who today lives under the illusion that the murderous Frank Miller is only gunning for Marshall Kane, not for them? Who today provides an endless supply of excuses for retreat? Who today stands to the side as the buckboard carrying Kane and his wife recedes into the horizon to the strains of “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling”?

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UPDATE: As if to prove a point, reader Peter Grilli recalls that the Solidarity labor union used the poster above in Poland’s first free elections.

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