Glenn Frankel’s book artfully combines a behind-the-scenes “making of” story with a fascinating history of the Hollywood blacklist.
While the broad outlines of the story of the blacklist are probably familiar to most readers, Frankel fills in the blanks by chronicling the day-by-day investigative activities of distinct, but allied, entities such as the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, the American Legion, and the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities (a.k.a. the Tenney Committee), as well as prominent industry figures including Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, and Billy Wilkerson, founder and publisher of the Hollywood Reporter.
Frankel’s cross-cutting account focuses on Carl Foreman, the idealistic young screenwriter who was the main creative force behind High Noon, which has emerged as one of the iconic films of the era. Foreman, who had dabbled in left-wing politics, conceived of High Noon as a thinly veiled parable of the blacklist era. He wrote the screenplay for the film and was originally designated to direct and co-produce it.
However, as Frankel details in a tick-tock as tense as the film itself, Foreman found himself squeezed between powerful shifting forces in the Hollywood of 1950. The independent production company with which he was associated, founded by Stanley Kramer, was in the process of forming a strategic alliance with Columbia Pictures just as High Noon was going into production. At the same time, Foreman — who had been outed as a former Communist by one of the more notorious informers of the day — came into HUAC’s crosshairs.
After Foreman was forced to testify, Kramer and the powers-that-be at Columbia stripped him of his directing duties and took away his producer’s credit. By the time the film was completed, Foreman had fled to Great Britain, where he struggled to continue his career. (The screenplay he coauthored some years later for The Bridge on the River Kwai would go on to win an Oscar, but he never received the award. The studio behind that picture masked his contribution; he was officially recognized as the true screenwriter the day before he died, almost twenty years later.)
For movie buffs, the story of how High Noon came to be made will not be the most compelling aspect of this book. All the essential characters are present and sharply drawn — from Gary Cooper, who comes off as an unalloyed, if all too human, hero, to the Viennese émigré director Fred Zinnemann and the endearing composer Dimitri Tiomkin. But as Frankel tells it, the actual production appears to have been a relatively straightforward process. Of greater interest is the film’s life in post-production, as it was edited and re-edited by several hands. Frankel’s account of the subsequent bickering among Zinnemann, Kramer, Foreman, and editor Elmo Williams over who deserved credit for the final product provides valuable insight into the darker side of film as a collaborative art.