This post is part of the “Try It, You’ll Like It!” Blogathon, hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently, where we write about “gateway films” that might bring non-classic-film lovers into the fold! For all the entries, click here!
If you were to choose a “gateway film” that you might use to introduce older films to someone who lacks an appreciation for the great classics, what film would you choose? Obviously, your choice would need to be tailored to your audience and their particular tastes in movies, but you might go with an epic along the lines of Lawrence of Arabia or The Bridge on the River Kwai, or perhaps one of the great, sweeping romances like Gone with the Wind or Casablanca. Maybe you’d chose one of the timeless comedies in the vein of Some Like it Hot, Duck Soup or Bringing Up Baby. You could give them a lesson on the history of cinema by starting them off with important but problematic movies like Birth of a Nation or The Jazz Singer, before transitioning into some of the most widely revered early examples of the power of the art form such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Citizen Kane. You could go with smaller, more artistic movies like City Lights or Key Largo maybe you want to show them films that are still relevant today, whose messages still resonate or which captured an aspect of humanity that transcends generations like West Side Story, 12 Angry Men, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. From dramas to comedies to musicals to noir to animation, from masterful directors like Hitchcock, Ford, DeMille, and with familiar faces like Stewart, Hepburn, Cagney, Taylor, Bogart, Bacall, and Chaplin, your choices for great “gateway films” are practically endless! But one film you probably wouldn’t pick is High Noon.
To the classic film fan, the fact that High Noon is a black-and-white Western from the 1950s wouldn’t be bothersome in the slightest. But to those who aren’t accustomed to the classics, it can feel like a perfect storm of every negative stereotype about older movies. Black-and-white is an immediate turn off for those who equate a lack of color with being visually boring. Westerns are almost universally loathed in our modern age, thought of as cheesy, silly, or dull, filled with stereotypes about John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, neither of whom are even in High Noon to give it some familiarity. And the 1950s are thought of as bland compared with other decades in film history, like the gritty, dark noir of the 40s or the experimental, creative 60’s. But High Noon is the antithesis of all of that. It’s a Western without all of the familiar Western trappings: gorgeous vistas, quickdraw showdowns, cowboys, and chases. It’s visually creative and expressive, drawing you into the drama and emotion of the moment despite its lack of color, all while helping to pioneer new and creative filmmaking techniques ahead of its time. And it’s a story with a deep rooting in the politics of the era with a message still relevant today; High Noon was countercultural, protest filmmaking before the 60s made it popular. After all, how could a film that John Wayne famously called “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life” possibly be boring?