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High Noon at 70

One of my favorite westerns was released in 1952 and in 2022, has turned 70.

High Noon has risen above so many of the other westerns made at the time. It still holds up today because, well, it’s simply a great movie.

The majority of interiors and exteriors were filmed on the Columbia Pictures Ranch in Burbank. There are a few locations in Northern California, outside of Hollywood that still exist, and I have visited most of them and sketched them too.

I returned to Warnvillie, a collection of houses, cows, and railroad tracks. This location is one of the most famous locations featured in High Noon and I wanted to sketch it again but from a different perspective.

Before I had attempted to assume the angle of cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s (yes David’s dad) camera, looking westward down the rails, longingly anticipating the noontime train.

It was here that the three outlaws (including Lee Van Cleef) wait the return of Frank Miller who has just been released from prison. It was also the location where Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado board the noontime train on their way out of Hadleyville. And only one of them succeeds. See the film, trust me, it’s worth the 85 minutes.

Sierra Railway passenger car No. 6 has been featured in so many westerns including High Noon. Producers like the wide windows that shows the background. The car is now stored the Jamestown Roundhouse.

This time, for my sketch, I sat just to the right of the tracks. Directly in front of me was the site of the Hadleyville Train Depot set, now gone. On the left side of the tracks is the only structure still standing from the filming in the summer and spring of 1951.

This is a corrugated roofed and sided structure that looks like it might have been a pump house. A little further down the tracks are three parallel concrete slabs which are all that remains of the Warnerville water tower, which is prominently seen in the film. The water tower, like the steam locomotives that once pulled freight on this line, are now long gone.

As the tracks lead off toward the horizon, in the direction of Oakdale, the hills remain very much unchanged from 70 years ago.

The train that pulls into Hadleyville at noon features Sierra No. 3 on point hauling the “movie train” consist of cars five and six.

Field sketch of Sierra No. 3 in her stall at the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The build up to the train’s arrival is one of the things that make High Noon such a great film. As the minute hand creeps towards noon, Fred Zinnemann and Crosby gives us portraits of the townspeople who nervously await the train, none more so than Marshall Will Kane, who sits at his desk writing out his lay will and testament. The three outlaws have been waiting for the arrival of Frank Miller, the man the Kane put away. The four of them will come into town with only one objective: to kill Will Kane.

A long pull on the whistle cord of Sierra No. 3 announces the arrival of the noon train and Kane will have to do all in his power, without the help of the citizens of Hadleyville, to save his own life.

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Tracking Down an Iconic Shot: Warnerville

There is one shot that is used to create tension in the seminal western High Noon (1952).

The iconic shot looks down the rails towards low hills in what is supposed to be Hadleyville, New Mexico. This shot is used seven times at slightly different heights but is shot from the same position, looking west down the rails. Below is an example from the film:

A still from High Noon looking west down the rails of the Sierra Railroad.

In reality the scene was shot on the Sierra Railroad at Milepost 16 in Warnerville, California. It was here that film crew built the Hardleyville Depot set, which is now gone. There was once a water tower which was featured in the film and this is maybe why they chose this location for the set. The water tower, which was a mainstay in the era of steam, is now gone but the concrete foundation and a small building still remain from the time High Noon was filmed here in September of 1951.

The concrete foundation is all that is left of the water tower at Warnerville. The small red building in the background still stands after 70 years. This shot is looking northeast.
Warnerville looking west toward where the noontime train would be arriving. In the foreground, to the right of the rails, was the location of the Hadleyville Train Depot set. The little red building on the left of the tracks still exists.

Warnerville is not really a town. It consists of a few farms and houses, a grade crossing, and a railroad siding. While it would be great if there was an interpretive sign pointing out the cinematic significance of this location but alas, there is none.

This still from High Noon shows the approaching noontime train, in this case the Screen Queen Sierra No. 3. The water tower and the small building that still exists are to the left of the line. The low hills in the background looks very much the same.
A still from High Noon of Sierra No. 3 pulling into the Hadeyville Depot set at Warnerville.

In the film Nigh Noon, three rough looking gunman arrive at the train station to await the arrival of the noontime train (hence the name High Noon). They are waiting for Frank Miller, who recently has been released from prison. He is coming back to exact revenge on the marshal (Gary Cooper) who put him away.

Among the three gunman, who gaze down the track expecting the noon train, is an actor making his screen debut. He does not speak a single word in High Noon, although he blows a few bars on the harmonica. This actor is Lee Van Cleef. He is best known as the “Bad” in Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1968).

I arrived at the intersection of Warnerville and Crabtree Road at the Sierra Railroad grade crossing. It was 70 years ago that this location was used in High Noon. The area is a bit different from that time but it is very much the same in other ways. The line of hills had not changed much, except for an almond grove creeping up one of the hillsides (I chose not to add it to my featured sketch, sketcher’s license after all.)

I stood in between the two rails and sketched the approximate position of cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s camera. The rails looked a bit rusted enough so I was not expecting a westbound freight anytime soon. But I still checked my back from time to time because the Sierra Railroad is still an active branch line.

My only companion was a black cow grazing on grass across the road. She raised her head in between foraging and peered, without judgment, at Corvidsketcher.

Well how do you really judge the judgement of a cow after all?

A shoutout goes out to Jeff and Sarah of History Hunters for letting me know about this forgotten filming location. Thank you! Their youtube channel can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/jbenziggy

Here is a photo of my sketching position. If you compare the movie sill from the top of the post, you will notice that the distant hills look very much the same today.