Cancel Culture Resuscitates Blacklisting of High Noon


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Blacklisted? Ostracized? Fired from your job? Do these words smell like the work of Joseph McCarthy and the House On Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1953? Or does it have a whiff of cancel culture seventy years later in 2023?
In the extraordinary documentary Inside High Noon, the filmmaker, John Mulholland, goes behind the scenes of Gary Cooper’s Academy Award-winning performance as Sheriff Will Kane to expose the turmoil the writer, director, producer, and actors endured to get this film made when Senator Joseph McCarthy and John Wayne were hell-bent on vilifying the film as “un-American.” McCarthy led a feverish campaign to cancel both the film’s producer, Stanley Kramer, and director, Fred Zinnemann, and he was successful in blacklisting screenwriter Carl Foreman. But he could not bury the film, which went on to win four academy awards. Mulholland felt compelled to make Inside High Noon to reveal how this cowboy story is a timeless warning about what happens to people when democracy is threatened.

Gary Cooper

At first glance, Stanley Kramer’s black and white film might seem like a lively shoot’em dead western of good guys v. bad guys with a few beautiful women on the sidelines. But as Mulholland points out in his documentary, the plot of the seemingly simple western holds up a chilling mirror to what happens to a community when people cower in fear and don’t act to stop the proverbial “bad guy.” 

Mulholland presciently made Inside High Noon in 2006 and later decided to update it during the Trump years. “I always thought  High Noon was way ahead of its time. It was not just a suspense movie but relevant to the danger of what is happening to democracy today in America.”

Bad Guy Robert J. Wilke

Inside High Noon raises the big question of how individuals respond when totalitarian forces are on the rise (the bad cowboy with a gun). People often fall into what Mulholland describes as “civic complacency”. To address this, Mulholland artfully pulls clips from a riveting scene in the fictitious Hadleyville church when the townspeople give all kinds of reasons why they can’t (or won’t) fight the bad guy. The bottom line as to why the citizens did not step up to push back on the bad guy is shockingly similar to what is happening today.  

“I have a family to think about” was a common excuse, but the underlying reasons were motivated by self-interest and money. For the hotel owner in High Noon it came down to money (profits) because if he took up arms to fight Frank Miller (the bad guy) and his nefarious gang, then Hadleyville would have been dubbed the wild west of killing and nobody would have wanted to invest in the town. 

Self-interest and money eclipse do the right thing. . .

Fast forward to the reasons Don Lemon of CNN and Tucker Carlson of Fox News were fired on the same day. Ironically, these two cowboys are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but it all came down to profits as in High Noon. Don Lemon’s ratings were down and Tucker Carlson had made so many inflammatory statements that the bigwigs at Fox feared they could be canceled = profits would go down. For townspeople, in High Noon (and in our communities today), individuals also fear being canceled if they don’t not go along with the majority and keep silent.  As Batya Unger-Sargon reminds us in her book Bad News

The thing is, you don’t actually have to weed out every heretic for public shaming to be effective at silencing dissent; after a while, people silence themselves. Who would volunteer to go through that kind of bullying, when they could avoid it by staying quiet?

In the documentary’s clip of a church meeting, it highlights how people get caught up in the fever of the herd’s majority, which harkens back to George Orwell’s 

2 MINUTES OF HATE when the citizens of the herd devoted two minutes to target an individual with hate.

Fast forward to Twitter feuds that go viral.

Newspaper article from The Los Angeles Herald Square

When the world was still reeling from World War II, George Orwell’s novel 1984 was published in 1949, and High Noon was released three years later in 1952. Many of the same issues depicted in the book 1984 were also on director Zinnemann’s mind, whose family was Jewish and from Austria. The church scene in High Noon is full of fiery arguments about why not to not push back on the forces of evil. It is reminiscent of how Hitler whipped Nazi devotees into a frenzy of hate. It also begs the age-old question of why people cave into the herd and scapegoat one of their own. 

Think: Lord of The Flies, The Scarlett Letter, and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

Bill Clinton

In a tender moment in the documentary, Mulholland gives us a rare glimpse into the inner world of Bill Clinton when the former president talks about why High Noon is his favorite film. When Mulholland went to D.C. to interview him, Clinton’s handler declared only ten minutes for the interview, but Clinton wound up spending over an hour discussing why it is such an important film. Clinton explained, “Cooper faces apparently insurmountable obstacles and has been abandoned by the people who should be his allies. I think that has a kind of universal appeal whatever your politics.” High Noon was also a favorite of President Eisenhower and President George W. Bush.

left to right: Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Fred Zinnemann

Another highlight of Inside High Noon is the deep dive into how women were treated as secondary sidekicks in films before Carl Foreman wrote proto-feminist action and dialogue into the High Noon script. Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly) and Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) were major players in the plot, not just damsels in distress. Inside High Noon focuses on how Foremen made a revolutionary choice to portray these cowboy-movie-women as strong, independent truth-tellers.  He cast two beautiful women almost as bait to get the viewer to listen closely to their powerful words. Grace Kelly was a pragmatist with a strong moral compass amongst the battling men when she said, 

“My father and brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side, but that didn’t help when the shooting started. I don’t care who’s right or wrong. There’s got to be a better way for people to live.”

With prophetic intensity, Katy Jurado delivered key lines that reflected the stresses on democracy when civic complacency is tested. 

“Kane will be a dead man in half an hour, and nobody will do anything about it. When he dies, this town dies too. I feel it.”

Carl Foreman testifying at House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

If you find documentary films sometimes dry and boring, don’t worry, Inside High Noon has the same suspenseful energy that Zinnemann captured with ominous ticking clocks and expressive close-ups of the bad guys where you see into the soul of evil. And if you are nervous these days about the devastating impact of “cancel culture”, this brilliant documentary by Mulholland is a MUST SEE film.

Currently, it’s available on PBS Passport and Amazon Prime in English. In June you can view it with subtitles in Japan, and it’s coming soon to Italy, greater Europe, and Southeast Asia with subtitles. Inside High Noon is written and directed by John Mulholland and produced by Richard Zampella and Shannon Mulholland.

Cancel Culture Resuscitates Blacklisting of High Noon ultima modifica: 2023-05-10T19:21:04+02:00 da JUDITH NEWCOMB STILES
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