Tag Archive: Gary Cooper

I’m not an Ernest Hemingway fan. He’s one of America’s most beloved authors. I’m not trying to take that away from him. Also, I would never call his masculinity into question (though the almost absurdly macho nature of all of his heroes makes me question if he has a sexual fixation on the idealized man); he fought in WW 1, wrestled lions (how the fuck is that true?!), and covered other military conflicts as a journalist including WW II and the Spanish Civil War (the latter serving as the inspiration for the novel that the film I’m reviewing was based on). Still, his spartan prose (i.e. minimalistic not Spartan in the Greek sense) and ridiculously idealized heroes and their representation of what a “man” should be have always turned me off to his novels. They’re just far too romantic (in the strange sense of the word that I’m using in reference to Hemingway and idealism). The Old Man and the Sea as well as A Farewell to Arms were two of the most miserable reads of my entire life. I don’t understand why he’s captured the imagination of generations of American readers. Well, I do understand. It’s his mild intellectualism combined with his machismo. It’s an unattainable fantasy for many American intellectual men who wish we could be as manly and poetic as Hemingway and his characters. I don’t buy the escapist fantasy. I just watched the film version of For Whom the Bell Tolls and in addition to needing a good hour of material cut from the film, it’s obvious that the source material is completely flawed and the romance at the heart of the tale is one of the weakest love stories in a so-called serious picture that I’ve seen in ages.

American expatriate Robert Jordan (High Noon‘s Gary Cooper) is a member of the Spanish resistance during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. After successfully bombing a train, he’s assigned to the likely suicide mission of blowing up an important bridge on the eve of a Republican assault against Nationalist forces. With the help of his elderly guide Anselmo, a peace-loving man who has taken up the gun with great reservation, Robert arrives at the camp of Republican forces who are almost nothing better than bandits. Nominally led by the cowardly Pablo (Akim Tamiroff), though actually led by his more charismatic and courageous wife Pilar (Oscar winner Katina Paxinou), the soldiers are a ragtag group of horse thieves hiding out in the mountains to commit the occasional raid against the Nationalist forces. Although Pablo doesn’t want to get his men involved in this obvious suicide mission, Pilar rallies the morale of the men and gets them to follow Robert’s (and the Republican army’s) orders. Still, when a freak May snow storm ruins their ability to acquire enough horses for everyone to make a clean escape after the bridge is blown, the specter of death looms over everyone and everything, including the fledgling romance between Robert and a local girl who’s joined the resistance (Casablanca‘s Ingrid Bergman).

This movie’s a mess in so many different departments that I don’t really know where to begin. First off, the acting is almost uniformly over-wrought. Gary Cooper is the only exception to that rule but he was so stoically masculine and reserved that there was little room for me to believe him as a man with enough charm to lead a group of distrustful foreigners fighting their own Civil War. If his goal was to represent the Hemingway ideal, then he succeeded (which to be fair, likely was his goal). If his goal was to have a complex and nuanced performance, he failed. Ingrid Bergman… Jesus. This movie might have ruined Casablanca a little bit for me. Was Maria supposed to be slow or suffering from some sort of mental deficiency? Because that’s the gist I got from her. She is obviously a grown woman but she acted like a small child (except when she was willing to kill people or to kill herself/Robert in case they were captured). Bergman played her as far too much of an innocent especially considering all of the terrible things that happened to her before the film began (like seeing her father and mother murdered by Nationalist soldiers and then being raped by said soldiers). I don’t even want to talk about her inability to mask her natural Swedish accent as she tried to adopt a Spanish accent. Akim Tamiroff was also a bit of a ham in the role of Pablo which is a shame because Pablo seems to be the only sharply realized character in the whole film. His moral ambiguities and cowardice were the most intriguing parts of the script. I’m not really sure why Katina Paxinou won an Oscar. There wasn’t really anything awful about her performance (though she emoted quite a bit), but there was nothing stellar either.

The film runs for nearly three hours but I felt like a good hour (if not more) of material could have been excised. I actually fell asleep forty minutes through the first time I tried to watch it, and before the first intermission (oh yeah, the movie has an intermission, Gone With the Wind style), I must have asked out loud “Does anything ever happen in this film” like twenty times. I enjoy slower, deliberately paced films. Synecdoche, New York could be incredibly slow at times but I gave it my rare score of “A+“. There just wasn’t anything happening in this film. It was a lot of talking without anyone saying anything interesting, and the characters were as broadly drawn as humanly possible. What do I know about why Robert Jordan was willing to risk his life in Spain to fight for foreigners? What do I know about why Maria seemed to fall in love with Robert so quickly? Why did Pablo go from a heroic leader of the revolution to a coward? I don’t have a definitive (or even partial) answer to any of these questions. The film picked up in the second half but that was because of the abundance of action sequences which at least helped to hammer home the film’s message which is that war is Hell and at times fruitless. Unfortunately, even those moments were bagged down by the romance between Maria and Robert which has to be the least believable screen romance I’ve seen in ages. Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman had absolutely zero chemistry together.

I’ve started a bit of flame war on Facebook with people who usually agree with me 95% of the times on film, literature, and music because of my dislike for Hemingway, so I understand just how much in the minority I am in this department. And honestly, maybe the book could be good. There were aspects of the story that seemed really interesting, but they obviously didn’t translate to the big screen well, and the film’s director obviously didn’t know the first thing about editing. If there’s one good thing I can say about the film, it’s that it had wonderful color cinematography for the time (when color was still sort of a novelty). For Hemingway, Gary Cooper, and Ingrid Bergman fans, I can recommend the movie. I love Gary Cooper even if this wasn’t his best role, and it was very surreal seeing him in color instead of black and white (same with Ingrid Bergman). Still, this film reinforces my belief that Hemingway is incredibly over-rated, and I hope that it’s a while before any other films based on his novels crop up on this list. I didn’t see any on my current Netflix queue so that’s as good a sign as any.

Final Score: C


I’ve opined in the past on here about films that have been deemed “classics” over the years that I feel are undeserving of that title. Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey are arguably the two most high-profile films I’ve dubbed as being over-rated throughout this last year, but there are plenty of other films from the pre-1980’s era whose legend I have never been able to fully appreciate. As a matter of fact, when it comes to pre-1970’s dramas, only foreign films from masters like Kurosawa, Fellini, and Bergman have really been able to impress me as our American body of work seems too “safe” and conventional by modern standards. Isn’t it exciting then when you finally watch movies that are deserving of the legend that surrounds them? 1952’s High Noon is always brought up in conversations for “the greatest Western of all time” and while I may still feel as if that award should go to Unforgiven (and if books/TV are permitted in the discussion, then Lonesome Dove), High Noon remains a refreshing and (remarkably still) radical take on the most American of film genres.

On the day that he has married his young bride Amy (Grace Kelly in her film debut) and is set to retire and move away, Marshall Will Kane (Oscar winning Gary Cooper) faces the unexpected return of notorious criminal Frank Miller (Ian McDonald) on the noon train. As Frank’s friends and fellow outlaws (including a young Lee Van Cleef) wait at the train depot for Frank’s arrival, Kane tries to find a group of deputies to help him keep his town safe one last time. Taking place almost entirely in real time (with constant shots of clocks to remind how close it is til noon), we spend Kane’s last hour or so in town as slowly but surely, the cowardly residents he had spent his life protecting begin to turn their back on him. Whether it’s his top deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), a smooth-tongued politician, a gung-ho glory hound who chickens when he realizes it would be just him and Kane, or any of the other men in town who are too afraid to put up a fight, it quickly becomes apparent that it will just be Kane versus Frank Miller and his men. As the clock rushes down to high noon, will Kane turn tell and run like everyone in town (including his wife) begs him or will he stay and fight (and most likely die) to be the hero this town doesn’t even deserve.

It’s really hard to even begin discussing the technical brilliance of this movie. At a time when black and white was just starting to lose its hold over mainstream cinema, High Noon remains one of the most gorgeously shot films in history. Every shadow and play of light was intentionally staged for ultimate dramatic effect. Whether we’re speaking about gritty close-ups of the bad guys at the train station or the long aerial shots of Gary Cooper striding alone through town, each shot was set up to perfection. The film’s editing was a marvel and at a mere hour and a half running time, High Noon remains one of the best Hollywood examples of delivering an intellectually and emotionally satisfying story in an efficient length. With plenty of great dramatic cuts back and forth between people and locations in this small town, the camera never stayed stationary for too long, and while this is certainly not the most fast-paced Western ever made (it’s arguably one of the slowest), people who appreciate the ins and outs of movie making can get lost in the craftsmanship on display here while still appreciating one of the most impressively psychological and suspenseful Westerns ever made.

Gary Cooper won the second Oscar of his illustrious career for this movie (the other was Sergeant York), and it’s very easy to see why. Will Kane may not necessarily be the most complex part for an actor. He’s an almost archetypical heroic Western lawman. As far as one can surmise from the movie (having not read the short story the film is based on), he was virtually without flaws. So, it says something about Cooper’s performance that such a flat character as Will Kane can be so emotionally engaging. Like a hero out of an ancient Greek morality play, Will is this force for good in a town where no one else is willing to do what’s right. Gary Cooper seems to embody the classic leading man virtues and heroic strengths while at the same time letting us see into those moments when Will is starting to doubt if this road is the right one. And as it begins to dawn on Will that no one else in this town is going to support him, Kane’s heartbreak and frustration is etched on every single line of Gary Cooper’s face. Gary Cooper’s performance in this film is perhaps the prime example of great acting transforming an otherwise average character.

Unlike most Westerns out there, High Noon avoids the normal conventions of cowboys versus indians, man against nature, or even the genre staple of regular action sequences. The film does end with one of the most satisfying shoot-outs in the genre, but the ending works because you spent the rest of the movie waiting for all hell to break loose. When the criminals finally come striding into town, you care more about what happens to Will Kane (and the inevitable fates of his foes) because you saw every desperate second of the build-up to this fight. There is only one action sequence in the movie (unless you count a fist fight between Will and Harvey), and that is okay because the film has made it such a sweet payoff. After watching this whole town turn its back on Will and yet he manages to bear this burden even when he could have easily skipped town and no one would have blamed him, there is a catharsis that one bland gunfight after another would never have been able to provide. The film has a very deliberate ethical and moral message that it wants to make, and while I usually find such moralizing in “classic” films stale and boring, the film wisely lets you understand why the men of the town wouldn’t want to go on the same suicide mission that Will has chosen to undertake and therefore it manages to not come off as too preachy.

For fans of Westerns, this is one of the seminal entries in the genre (along with others such as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, andThe Searchers), and if you’ve managed not to see this classic deserving of the name, you need to make it a top priority. Even for non-fans of the Western genre, this film does away with so much of the bloated action, excess that bogs so many of those films down (and that results in them being guilty pleasures of mine rather than films I can celebrate enjoying) that you, too may find something to appreciate in this brilliant work of popular fiction. The fact that this film lost to The Greatest Show on Earth (the worst film to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars) for Best Picture remains one of the greatest crimes of the Academy Awards. As a Western fan, this is one of the movies that reminds me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place and there aren’t many movies in this realm of cinema that can come close to topping its delights.

Final Score: A