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Oscars flashback: Voters shoot down 'High Noon'

July 30, 2009 | 12:34 pm

High Noon Gary Cooper

Fifty-seven years ago today "High Noon" came out with all barrels blazing in U.S. theaters, earning rave reviews and an impressive $3.5 million in ticket sales.

" 'High Noon' is a cinch to win the trophy as best picture of the year and gain added glory through the victories of Gary Cooper as best actor, the title tune as best song and the script by Carl Foreman as the best screenplay," said Variety when reporting the result of its industry straw poll forecasting who'll win Oscars for films released in 1952.

"High Noon" had won best picture and director from the New York Film Critics Circle and was tied for the most Oscar nominations with "The Quiet Man" and "Moulin Rouge" (seven).

"High Noon" starred Gary Cooper as a retiring frontier marshal who's compelled by conscience to linger in his job long enough take on a mad gunman without any help from cowering townspeople.

" 'High Noon' is a stinging comprehension of courage and cowardice, done with directness and momentum in a familiar Western frame," cheered Bosley Crowther in the New York Times review. "It bears a close relation to things that are happening in the world today, where people are being terrorized by bullies and surrendering their freedoms out of senselessness and fear." Crowther was referring to Washington D.C.'s recent attack on Hollywood leftists, including "High Noon's" scribe Carl Foreman, who, Crowther added, "is virtually an enforced exile from Hollywood where he finds doors shut to his talents. He is now living abroad."

Foreman had fled to England when he was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee because "High Noon" mocked its bully tactics and attack on civil liberties. The Screen Writers Guild responded by fearlessly giving "High Noon" its award for best American drama. Since the film was loosely based upon a short story, "The Tin Star," written by John W. Cunningham for Collier's magazine, Foreman technically shared the prize with Cunningham. It's an award I own today as part of my personal collection of historic showbiz prizes. See photo below, after the jump.

Oscar-watchers expected academy members to display the same defiance to Washington, D.C., by heaping kudos upon "High Noon" next, but, instead, voters got gun shy. When envelopes were opened at the Pantages Theater, the screenplay prize went to "The Bad and the Beautiful" and "High Noon" lost best picture to 1952's top-grossing film, "The Greatest Show on Earth."

At least "High Noon" won best actor, as predicted by Variety, but Gary Cooper wasn't present to accept. The honor was claimed, curiously, by another cowboy actor, John Wayne, a political conservative who would later blast the film as "unAmerican."

Variety's straw poll only got five of its eight predictions correct. It also forecast that the supporting-actor prize would go to Richard Burton ("My Cousin Rachel"). He lost to Anthony Quinn ("Viva Zapata!") and would reign as Oscar's biggest loser (tied with Peter O'Toole with seven defeats) upon his death in 1984.

High noon wga award

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Photos: United Artists / Tom O'Neil Collection

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