The subtitle of Glenn Frankel’s new book, published by Bloomsbury, is The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. That’s because the two subjects are inexorably intertwined. High Noon is also one of those successful ventures for which many people were eager to take credit. (I learned this first-hand when I coproduced and hosted a video documentary about the film in the early 1990s and interviewed many of its collaborators.)
Frankel, who wrote a superb book about John Ford’s The Searchers (see my original review below) has done his homework, which necessitated casting a wide net. You can’t discuss the making of High Noon without tracing the birth and evolution of Stanley Kramer’s independent production company in the late 1940s, and you can’t discuss Kramer’s groundbreaking films (like Home of the Brave and The Men) without chronicling the work of his partner and friend, screenwriter Carl Foreman. Since Foreman was at one time a member of the Communist Party, it was inevitable that he would run afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. And so it goes.
So much has been written about the blacklist’s perpetrators and victims that you might be forgiven for thinking you know all there is worth knowing…but Frankel offers new details and fresh insights. His portrait of Gary Cooper’s life and career is equally incisive. (We’ll have to forgive his condescending remark about the nature of acting in silent films.)
The Making of High Noon is filled with interesting observations as well as facts. It will almost surely stand as the definitive document about this landmark movie. I can’t wait to see what subject this skilled journalist will tackle next. Buy it HERE
IN SEARCH OF ‘THE SEARCHERS’
Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury) has received more attention from the mainstream press than the average film book, and for good reason: it is an exceptional piece of writing and research. What’s more, it isn’t just a look behind the scenes of a famous movie; the author explores the notorious real-life incident that inspired Western author Alan LeMay to write his novel: the abduction of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche Indians in 1836. Hers was not a unique story, but it took on added significance because of her family background, and one relative’s refusal to give up on finding her.
Frankel is an experienced journalist and author who served a long tenure at the Washington Post and worked as a foreign correspondent. He is currently the director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He set himself the daunting task of trying to determine the real story of Cynthia Ann and her son Quanah Parker, who became a prominent chief and something of a mythmaker himself. His investigation took him to Texas archives where first-hand accounts and diaries revealed (and in some cases distorted) the truth, and to family historians who made sincere efforts to document their background.
As so often occurs, the real story of Cynthia Ann and her famous son is much more surprising—often shocking—than the legends that grew up around them. The diligent author clears a path for us through a mountain of detail and crafts a highly readable tale: a saga of misguided souls, outsized egos, rampant racism and prejudice.
Frankel then explores the inconsistent career of author Alan LeMay who, ironically enough, wrote his most famous novel after turning his back on Hollywood, where he had toiled as a staff writer for Cecil B. DeMille in the 1940s.
Finally, with no background in film history, Frankel does a fine job of documenting John Ford’s career and his quixotic personality, parsing the many ingredients that combined to make The Searchers one of the great American westerns. Even here there is a curious contradiction, as the film was roundly dismissed and even misunderstood when it came out in 1956. (How anyone could misread it is hard to understand, but the reviews speak for themselves… and Americans were still swayed by stereotypes, in real life and on the screen.) Even stranger is the fact that Ford cast Henry Brandon, who played Scar in The Searchers, as Quanah Parker in his 1961 misfire Two Rode Together—but made no mention of his significance in the real-life story of the notorious captive Cynthia Ann Parker.
Frankel makes a few small errors in his survey of old Hollywood but they don’t take away from his towering achievement in chronicling a great film and its amazing backstory. The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend is a great book by any measure. Buy it HERE