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Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents

The issue of the denial of screen credit to one man on a single picture has been enlarged into a feature-length portrait of conflicting personalities and politics during the Hollywood blacklist era in "Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents."

The issue of the denial of screen credit to one man on a single picture has been enlarged into a feature-length portrait of conflicting personalities and politics during the Hollywood blacklist era in “Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents.” A discursive yet probing investigation into the trials endured by screenwriter-producer Foreman in making the celebrated Western “High Noon” while simultaneously tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee, this lively if long-winded docu may overstay its welcome where nonfilm buffs are concerned but offers aficionados an uncommonly detailed, sometimes even day-by-day account of how a successful, principled individual dealt with the blacklist. Heavy journalistic coverage will assuredly boost PBS airings skedded for later this year, with interim fest/museum/educational screenings bound to fascinate auds already interested in the subject.

“High Noon” was a low-budget sleeper hit when released in 1952 during a momentary lull in the career of star Gary Cooper, whose best actor Oscar was one of four the picture won. Due to the unmistakable significance of its theme of a sheriff standing up against the forces of evil for what he knows is right, in spite of his being cowardly abandoned by the rest of the small town’s citizens, pic was a big favorite among socially conscious critics not ordinarily partial to Westerns. It also has widely been seen as an allegory for the McCarthy era, an analysis that is fully explicated by filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd and the late Foreman himself via extensive verbalization of his interviews and letters.

That outspoken Hollywood conservative Chetwynd should be taking up the cause of former Communist Party member Foreman may raise an eyebrow or two. But docu assumes a vigorously pro-Foreman position not only in opposition to HUAC but especially against the alleged weak-spined duplicities of Foreman’s erstwhile partner and boss, Stanley Kramer, Hollywood’s most famously liberal producer-director. Kramer’s family is now disputing the film’s characterization of him, and while his side of the story goes unrepresented here, the sort of thorough documentation Chetwynd offers on Foreman’s behalf will be hard to refute.

Pic pivots on the charge that Kramer essentially robbed Foreman of his rightful credit as producer of “High Noon” after the latter had left the U.S. for England to escape the snare of the blacklist (his writing credit was protected by the Writers Guild). After firmly establishing Foreman’s right to that credit on what was bannered “A Stanley Kramer Production” and demolishing the long-standing rumor that the film’s much-noted cutaways to clocks to reassert its real-time structure were not in the script but added in post-production, Chetwynd backtracks to relate his protagonist’s biography, from Chicago upbringing and apprenticeship in Frank Capra’s WWII filmmaking unit to rising late-’40s screenwriting rep on “Home of the Brave,” “Champion” and “The Men.”

With Richard McGonagle giving Foreman a spirited first-person presence via his vocalization of the writer’s own accounts, docu tells of Foreman’s enthusiastically received first outline for the Western in 1948, his discovery of a similarly themed magazine story shortly thereafter that occasioned his buying it, Kramer’s multipicture deal at Columbia opening the way for the film to be made, and how the ongoing events with HUAC informed the script as Foreman further developed it.

“High Noon” was in production, with Foreman on the set with director Fred Zinnemann every day, when he was subpoenaed to appear before the Red-hunting committee in Los Angeles. Film contends that Kramer, who had long been unenthusiastic about “High Noon,” then tried to dismiss Foreman. When a legal loophole prevented that, Kramer indulged an apparent reconciliation, only to freeze Foreman out (and never speak to him again) after lensing was completed (per docu, Kramer even avoided the wrap party).

Foreman’s move to London, depression, marriage bust-up and subsequent career upswing with “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (uncredited until years later), “The Guns of Navarone,” “Born Free,” et al., are noted, as is his eventual rapprochement with former political enemy John Wayne, who embraced Foreman upon encountering him in a Hollywood restaurant (whereas Kramer wouldn’t even acknowledge him in a shared elevator). One irony the pic overlooks is that of Wayne accepting the absent Cooper’s Oscar when he was on record as hating “High Noon.”

Prevailing intelligent tone is maintained by the abundant “Foreman documents” as well as by Chetwynd’s passionate curiosity and strong p.o.v.; claim that actor Larry Parks won an Oscar is among the few informational boners, although many will blanch at narration’s characterization of the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther was “the greatest film critic of his time.”

Some fine archival footage of midcentury Hollywood is abetted by “High Noon” storyboards and arresting representational drawings of central figures that provide visual backing for Foreman’s often lengthy but always vivid accounts of his personal drama.

Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents

  • Production: A Whidbey Island Films production. Executive producers, Norman S. Powell, Lionel Chetwynd. Coordinating producer, Kristi Wuttig. Co-producer, Shirin Amini. Directed, narration written by Lionel Chetwynd.
  • Crew: Camera (color, video), Tom Piozet, Ken Garff, Phillip Schwartz; editor, Russell Livingstone; music, Roger Bellon; associate producer, Roger Memos. Reviewed on videotape, L.A., April 9, 2002. (In Miami Film Festival.) Running time: 117 MIN.
  • With: <B>With: </B>Alan Gansberg, Ray Huggins, Richard Fleischer, James Q. Wilson, Kirk Douglas, Elmo Williams, Charles Champlin, Estelle Foreman, John D. Weaver, Camille Baker, Gil Cates, Frank Price, Warren Cowan, Fred Zinnemann, Eve Williams-Jones, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chuck Braverman, George Lucas, Dan Tana. <B>Narrator: </B>Richard Crenna. <B>Voice of Carl Foreman:</B> Richard McGonagle.