The Hollywood Blacklist was, quite possibly, the most embarrassing and destructive period on Hollywood history. So many people lost their careers because of a man who just wanted power. Unfortunately, he was able to garner a lot of support among the Hollywood players. Of course, not everyone was so supportive and, sometimes, they even fought back the only way they could…through their films.
Here are two sides of the same coin.
HIGH NOON (1952)
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Carl Foreman
Based on a short story by John W Cunningham
Carl Foreman had been a fairly popular screenwriter before High Noon, writing The Men, Young Man With A Horn and one of the best known versions of Cyrano de Bergerac. But things started to sour a bit because of his refusal to play along with McCarthy and his goons.
That’s when he wrote High Noon, the story of a marshall named Will Kane (Gary Cooper) who has just married a nice Quaker girl named Amy (Grace Kelly in her first big film role). He’s retiring for her, but when he hears that one of the men he sent to be hanged has been pardoned and is coming back to town, he knows that he can’t leave. He has to stay and protect not just the town, but also his future.
Unfortunately for him, there are a lot of scared people in Hadleyville. There are also a lot of people who like the outlaw and aren’t really fans of Will. He goes from building to building looking for folks to pin stars on, but no one will help him. Not even the former marshall (Lon Chaney, Jr) or his deputy (Lloyd Bridges). Even Amy is ready to turn her back on him because he’s going against her religious beliefs.
Shot (basically) in real time, High Noon amps up the tension as the minutes tick by. Will becomes more and more scared by what’s about to happen as he realizes that he’s going to be alone fighting off four men (one played by Lee Van Cleef in his debut). There’s no one who will stand with him as he does the right thing.
Foreman used the Western genre to tell his own story. He tried to stand up to the blacklist and found no one in Hollywood who would stand with him. He was able to get his film made, but he lost his producer’s credit and was eventually run out of the country. He would not be credited on a film again until the blacklist started to be broken in 1958.
Gary Cooper, by the way, was a “friendly witness” for the House Un-American Committee, but he knew a good script when he saw one. He was also going to start a production company with Foreman until John Wayne and Ward Bond talked him out of it.
RIO BRAVO (1959)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Jules Furthman/Leigh Brackett
Based on a short story by BH McCampbell
Almost needless to say, John Wayne and Howard Hawks weren’t fans of High Noon.
They thought that Will Kane was a coward who “ran around town like a chicken with his head cut off.” Wayne felt that it was un-American because of its anti-blacklist underpinnings.
Being the “good Americans” that they were, they were completely in favor of the blacklist and Wayne even said that he was glad to have helped run Foreman out of the country.
They set out to make an anti-High Noon, where the sheriff only took people that he thought would be useful to him in a fight and who came to him to volunteer.
John T Chance (Wayne) is a tough man. When he arrests Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), he makes all the wrong enemies in town. A lot of people are against him, but a few are with him. Dude (Dean Martin) is a drunk who used to be a sharp shooter. Stumpy (Walter Brennan) is an old man with a bad leg. And Colorado (Ricky Nelson) is a kid who knows when to keep his nose out of other peoples’ business. But he climbs on board when it becomes his business. Of course, there’s also Feathers (Angie Dickinson), a young lady who just drifted into town and made pretty eyes at Chance.
Meanwhile, more men come in town to try to get Burdette back, by any means necessary.
Rio Bravo is a great film. One of THE westerns of the late 50s. Great performances from everyone. A good story that fits in the Old West. Memorable characters. It doesn’t have the grand vistas of a John Ford film, but it doesn’t need them. This is a Technicolor adventure of a more personal, less epic nature. John Carpenter used it for the basis of Assault On Precinct 13. Quinten Tarantino uses it as a litmus test for his relationships. It’s definitely a classic.
But as a “message film,” it’s pretty shortsighted. First off, unlike Kane, Chance had a LOT of support. His deputy didn’t leave him behind. His woman didn’t even think about leaving him. The town, as a whole, was basically behind Chance the whole way. He just didn’t ASK for help. But there’s no way he could have taken care of things alone. Kane was man enough to ask for help, but no one would. They were too scared of the bad guy and, eventually, showed themselves to be opportunistic cowards.
(High Noon also didn’t have the rather racists Mexican and Chinese stereotypes that Rio Bravo did. But that’s a product of the times.)
At one point in Rio Bravo, Chance tells one of his deputies, “We’re the only ones that’ll talk.” As if standing up and naming names was the courageous thing to do. I think history has shown that standing up to the bullies and NOT naming names was far more courageous and American thing to do.
It’s very interesting to see these two movies back to back, knowing their history.
These two men, Foreman and Wayne, had VERY different views on America and the regime that was really running the country at the time.
I love John Wayne and I love Rio Bravo. But I think I’ll always be Team Foreman.