(On TV, June 2018) There is, at first, not a lot to distinguish High Noon from countless other westerns—there’s the hero (getting married), there are villains waiting for their boss. A confrontation is coming to a small Western town, and that seems to be the extent of it. But High Noon does go farther than that—first, by taking place in near-real time, it does create more tension than a less time-compressed film, especially as our retiring hero fails to find allies in confronting the coming threat. It culminates in a classic shootout in which help comes from an unlikely place, and concludes with a highly skeptical look at some of the Western’s most cherished clichés. It helps that rock-solid Gary Cooper (looking a bit older than his prime) stars as a good man forced to take one last stand. Grace Kelly is merely fine as the newlywed bride, but Katy Jurado is more eye-catching as a source of wisdom. Keep your eyes open for smaller performances from Lloyd Bridges and Lee van Cleef. Director Fred Zinnemann keeps things stirring until the climactic shootout, and High Noon has survived admirably well even today.
(On DVD, January 2018) Even the most average Hitchcock films are better than most other thrillers, so when I refer to Dial M for Murder as slightly-above-average, the lofty standards of the director mean that the film is really good. There’s a pleasant eeriness at the very beginning of the film, as elements are thrown together on-screen (such as a blackmail letter) in a way that seems more hurried than logical—it’s only later that we learn the ghastly truth having led to the situation. The rest is about an attempted murder, a criminal scheme, a woman in distress and an intricate plot for a detective to untangle. The mid-point plot twist makes Dial M for Murder jump tracks into far more interesting territory than simply a woman being stalked by a murderer. The plotting is impeccable, the character work is fine, much of the story is thrillingly set in one location, and the climax is unusually effective even by contemporary standards. There’s a comfortable classic feel to the story as set in post-war London. Grace Kelly is quite good in the lead role, with able supporting turns by Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams (who’s not John Cleese). Hitchcock’s direction is so slick that despite the film having been shot in 3D, little of it seems forced or out-of-place. I now have a little bit more respect for the 1998 remake A Perfect Murder, which takes the same premise but runs with it in different yet satisfying fashion. Still, have a look at the original Dial M for Murder—it’s a thrill and a pleasure to watch even today.