Friday, August 26, 2011

A Western for people who don’t like Westerns?

It’s never an easy task, writing a review of a classic and much beloved film.  This is even more daunting in the case of High Noon - writes Sue Murphy, our guest blogger for The Western Season at the IFI. 

Almost 60 years old, High Noon has often been described as the greatest Western of all time, one of Gary Cooper’s greatest performances and the breakout role for Grace Kelly who was just 23 when the film was released in 1952.  Despite providing entertainment for generations there is no doubt that High Noon has shouldered the burden of becoming a symbolic piece.

Mid morning Hadleyville in the New Mexico territory, amidst burning heat and rising dust, three men ride through town.  It has been years since their departure, the circumstances of which have not been forgotten.  They ride towards the local railway station, leaving the town in a flurry.  They pass the Justice of the Peace where a marriage ceremony is taking place between the soon-to-be-ex Marshal, Will Kane (Cooper) and his bride, Amy (Kelly).  Just before they plan to leave the town to set up their new life, Kane hears that Frank Miller’s boys are back in town and Miller plans to be in on the noon train.  Miller was put away by Kane and he promised he would return to kill him for his part in the arrest. Despite the scared townsfolk running for cover Kane refuses to leave town.  As the time creeps closer to noon and with the train en route, Kane stands alone to face down his old enemy.

In the same breath as High Noon is described as the Greatest Western of all time, it has come to be known as the “Western for people who don’t like Westerns”.  The bulk of the 84 minutes of the film which was aimed to be filmed in real time, concerns Kane’s quest to find allies.  High Noon simmers before your eyes, both metaphorically and literally.  The heat is visible on the faces of the characters, sweat pouring down their cheeks, while Cooper’s Kane is almost suffocated in his panic to find anyone to help him.  The director Howard Hawks was known to have openly criticized the representation of the Marshal to which Zinnemann retorted “Sheriffs are people and no two people are alike.”   There is barely any action, but the film does not suffer from it, rather Zinnemann proved his own point with an understanding of each character and individual that is rarely witnessed in the genre.  

There is perhaps no need to fawn over Cooper’s role as Kane as that has been done since the film’s release by audiences and critics alike.  (Cooper received an Academy award for his portrayal of Kane)  It is, however, worth noting that he suffered greatly throughout the production with a bleeding ulcer.  This didn't stop Cooper and Grace Kelly continuing an affair for the entirety of the filming.  Many were considered for the role of Kane, including Gregory Peck who claimed it was one of his greatest regrets not taking the part but that he could never match Cooper.  He carried the show, the hero of the hour who stood for his principles against not only an old adversary but a town who shamefully turn their back.

In hindsight, the production was dogged by controversy.  Carl Foreman who had written the screenplay was brought in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee and although he had no involvement with the Communist party for over ten years, he refused to divulge names of those who were.  Stanley Kramer, his working partner at the production company they shared, forced him to sell his half of the company in case any association arose with the Communist party and their future would be destroyed.  Kramer attempted to have Foreman completely removed from High Noon, but following an intervention by Cooper and Zinnemann, he was allowed to continue on his capacity as producer and writer.  His producer credit was removed before release and Foreman became blacklisted by Hollywood in its aftermath.  In its appeal to community values in the face of an external threat, High Noon is often seen as an outspoken critique of  HUAC and  blacklisting. 

Zinnemann fought through his entire life to ensure that High Noon was only ever seen in black and white, and to witness it on the big screen in all of its glory in the IFI last night was a sight to behold.  

- Sue Murphy -

Sue Murphy graduated from Trinity College in 2008 with a Masters in Film Theory and History.  Beginning on Spin 1038's We Love Movies, Sue began reviewing for various outlets including the Movies and Booze slot for Sean Moncrieff and RTE Pulse.  She has written for websites like, and the Galway Film Centre.  Sue now guest blogs for the IFI.

'High Noon' opened the IFI's The Western Season, which continues between August 24th - 28th. Tickets are available online on or from our Box Office at 01-679 3477.

Friday, August 12, 2011

IFI’s Staff Favourites: Mid-August Lunch

Fans of Gianni di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto) will be licking their lips in anticipation of his upcoming film, The Salt of Life. But before it reaches the cinema, it may be well worth getting hold of his first, much-loved feature, just to remind yourself of the delights that may be in store from this talented writer/actor/director.

Set in a sultry Rome over the August 15th bank holiday weekend, di Gregorio plays the middle-aged son whose life revolves around looking after his aged mother, Valeria, drinking wine and cooking. His weekend turns upside down when he’s imposed upon to look after the apartment block caretaker’s mother – in return for his waiving overdue service charges. Then the doctor’s mother lands in on them as well. Before he can open another bottle, Gianni has four seniors with varying medical and dietary demands in his charge. Ruling over the lot is Valeria, resplendent in full theatrical makeup and a towering wig. She’s like someone from Dynasty and indeed controls the home like one, refusing to give the guests rights over the TV or to join them at the table. At first irritated by their bickering and peevishness, Gianni works his way through several glasses of wine, moaning to a local ‘character’ about his fate. He escapes too, in the search for some fish, in a brief road journey on the back of a motorbike, where we get a glimpse of the kind of life Gianni dreams of. But once back home, he gets totally caught up, fending off drunken advances from Marina, and negotiating a way through their various demands.

With a lightness of touch in direction and a deftness in his performance, di Gregorio makes his middle-aged character appeal and amuse as he works his way through several glasses of wine and countless cigarettes. Watching this sometimes vacant looking character settle into the night and ultimately warm to the palm-reading and chat that diverts the women, it’s hard to imagine that he’s the writer of Gomorrah, the hard-hitting drama about organised crime in Naples.

When Mid-August Lunch was first released, some people said ‘nothing happens in it’. That’s true, but maybe that’s the point. In Gregorio’s screenlife nothing much does happen other than the day to day round of meals, medicaments, forays to the bar, chat and tv. And yet, on a stifling august weekend, for a brief couple of hours, there’s friendship, laughter and tenderness, among a group of women whose family had dispensed with them for other pursuits. By the end of the film, we’re dancing with him in that small overcrowded room, where for a brief period, the womens’ isolation and awareness of their mortality is forgotten. Treat yourself to some mid-august warmth with this gem of a film.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

Mid-August Lunch is available on DVD from IFI Bookstore. Salt of Life runs exclusively at the IFI in August 12th - 25th. Tickets on sale now at or 01 679 3477. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Western Season 24th to 28th of August

It’s time to throw on your most expensive Stetson, climb into those cowboy boots and grit your teeth in a way that Clint Eastwood would even be jealous of, because this month at the IFI the Western Season will be screening some of the choice picks from the genre.  

High Noon

Although the Western has been pigeon-holed as the all-American film, The Western season attempts to look at the range of films that have evolved from the genre’s archetypal beginnings at the onset of the 20th century.  

For many, the Western conjures up the notion of an isolated life on the American frontiers in the late 19th century, dusty towns with cowboy-filled saloons, where ladies were ladies and pistols at dawn was an everyday theme. As the genre matured Westerns developed and changed, adapting to political sentiments of the times they have been filmed in and the cultural outlooks of international filmmakers.  Personally, Westerns are nostalgic, invoking memories of sitting with my father on a Sunday afternoon watching John Wayne chase Indians across the Prairie. Die-hard Western fans won't want to miss these films on the big screen while those less familiar with the genre will relish the chance to see some of the all-time classics.  

High Noon

The Season kicks off on the 24th of August with a screening of the now classic High Noon.  Starring Grace Kelly, arguably one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen and the legend that was Gary Cooper, High Noon tells the story of lawman Will Kane, who on the day he hangs up his badge is told that Frank Miller, a man he put away years before, is returning to obtain his revenge.  Kane soon discovers he stands alone after the townspeople he has protected for so long refuse to help and turn their back on him and his new wife.  Scooping four Oscars and receiving another three nominations, High Noon has taken its place among the Western greats.

Rio Bravo

When you say Western, the name John Wayne will not be far away from your lips and the first of two screenings of the actor’s unforgettable performances is Rio Bravo.  In Southwest Texas, the local sheriff must succeed in keeping a murderer in custody until the Marshal arrives.  However, his brother, hiring gunslingers attempts to have his brother freed.  Made as a political riposte to High Noon, the two classics provide some of the most evocative illustrations of the divides of the McCarthy era.

The Searchers

After Rio Bravo whets your appetite for more John Wayne screenings the season delivers with the timeless The Searchers. Wayne plays a Veteran civil war soldier who spends years attempting to rescue his niece from the Indians who ransacked his brother’s house and killed his sister-in-law who he desperately, but secretly loves.   The violence of his passions simmer in the subtext and his love for a woman who can effectively never love him back will touch even the most hardened hearts.

Lemonade Joe

Proving just how much the Western had evolved in such a short space of time, Lemonade Joe, a Czechoslovakian take on the genre was released in 1964. 'Red Westerns' were popular in Eastern Europe, a favourite even of Joseph Stalin, they evolved a distinctly un-American bias during the Cold War.  Masquerading as a comic musical while on the other hand, displaying serious political undertones, Lemonade Joe focuses on clean-living Joe who attempts to clean up a whiskey-drinking cowboy town.  The film calls into question government, society and of course, your view on Joe himself...  Lemonade Joe will also screen on the 27th of August.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

For full listings of The Western including The Outlaw Josey Wales (another classic with Clint Eastwood both acting and directing this anti-war Western), visit  This weekend borrow a phrase from Gary Cooper in High Noon, “I've got to, that's the whole thing.”

Sue Murphy

Sue Murphy will be guest-blogging for the Western Season, August 24th - 28th at the IFI. To keep up to date with all the reviews and upcoming events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and here at Blogger.