High Noon starts with a wedding. The town’s retiring Marshal, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) gets married to a Quaker (Grace Kelly), not in the town’s church but in the Justice of the Peace’s office, next door to his own.
But a church does play a part in High Noon. Hardleyville’s church is in reality St. Joseph’s Church in Tuolumne, about 15 miles east of the county seat of Sonora.
The exterior of the church is used for two shots in the film, one, when the three gunmen ride into town on their way to the railroad depot and the second shot is of Marshal Kane walking towards the church to seek assistance from the congregation in defending the town.
I headed to the small town of Tuolumne to sketch the unique looking Catholic Church. It was a clear and cool fall morning and I sketched the church from the warmth of the front seat of my car from approximately the same angle from the film. Like the shot from the film, I cropped off the top of the tower. I’m not sure if this was a statement by director Fred Zinnemann or cinematographer Floyd Crosby or just a a practical way to frame the shot.
The church was built in 1908 and was a Catholic Church until 2008 where it became a Catholic “Mission”.
High Noon often finds itself on the list of the Top Ten Westerns ever made.
The American Film Institute ranks High Noon as 33rd on it’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. This is the highest western ranked on the list.
Everything came together with this film: story, direction, casting, acting, pacing, music, cinematography, and it’s allegorical meaning to it’s contemporary time.
What also made High Noon a great film are it’s filming locations. High Noon was not a western of vast vistas, filmed in the photogenic Monument Valley. The skies are not filled with dramatic cumulus clouds but rather clear, formless skies. This is a stark and gritty looking western thanks to the film’s cinematographer Floyd Crosby (father of musician David Crosby).
Most of the film was filmed on the backlot western set of Movie Ranch in Burbank, California that filled in for the fictional New Mexico town of Hadleyville. What I was most interested in was the real California locations used for the film. Most of these locations are in the Gold Country near the town of Sonora.
Sonora was to be my base camp as I explore some of the High Noon filming locations in the area, such as Warnerville, Columbia and Tuolumne City. I would be staying in the historic Sonora Inn, the preferred hotel for the many film crews and actors while filming westerns in the area. During the heyday of Hollywood westerns, the Sonora Inn had a dark room in the basement so the day’s filming could be developed. The Sonora Inn is also Clint Eastwood’s choice of lodging when filming in the area while making films such as Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992).
Before I headed east to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, also known as the Gold Country, I watched High Noon again and I took photos stills from the movie. I then did sketches from a few of the scenes that featured the locations around the town of Sonora. The railroad and the impending noontime train play a major part in the film. High Noon was shot and edited in real time, meaning that the time taking place in the story is synced with the real time of the film.
One shot looks down the rails towards a line of low hills (featured sketch). This shot, or ones very similar to it, appear in the film several times as a reminder of what the noon time train is bringing to the town of Hadleyville. The what is Frank Miller, a pardoned criminal that Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) sent to the jail and he is coming to exact his revenge on the town’s Marshal and the town of Hadleyville.
Kane tries to round up a posse of townspeople to help him defend the town. His request for help falls on deaf ears. In one scene, he walks to the church to get help from the congregation. The real church is St. Joseph’s Church in Tuolumne City, about 15 minutes east of Sonora.
Like the requests to other townsfolk, he finds no help from the church’s congregation. Kane will have to defend the town, which turned it’s back on it’s Marshal, all by himself.
The subtext of this film was very contemporary indeed. High Noon was written as an allegory about the blacklist in Hollywood and those who stood by and just let it happen. The writer, Carl Foreman, was eventually blacklisted because he would not name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee as the red scare enveloped Hollywood and the nation.
Nigh Noon went on to win four Academy Awards including Best Editing and Best Actor for Gary Cooper.