The gunslingers accomplice

A second category of celluloid Cold War dissent relates to films which, in allegorical form, condemned those who led or tacitly condoned the witch-hunting of the Red Scare era. The best-known example of this, because it alludes to Hollywood itself, is High Noon, a 1952 Western produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Fred Zinnemann, and written by Carl Foreman. The movie tells the story of sheriff Will Kane (played by that icon of frontier determination, and friendly HUAC witness, Gary Cooper), whom the cynically fearful townspeople of Hadleyville desert when a gang leader recently released from jail returns to exact revenge on Kane for arresting him. An ex-communist who felt abandoned by his industry colleagues after being subpoenaed to testify before HUAC while the film was in production, Foreman claimed his script was a parable about the committee's onslaught on Hollywood and 'the timidity of the community there'. This message was understood by some within the film trade when it was released. John Wayne, then President of the MPA, vilified the movie, condemning its depiction of cowardly townsfolk as 'the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life'. Equally, others interpreted the film quite differently. The official Soviet newspaper, Pravda, for instance, attacked High Noon as 'a glorification of the individual'. In the years ahead, the most influential political reading of the film seems to have been Swedish critic Harry Schein's. Schein asserted that High Noon was the great American foreign policy movie: an allegory for the United Nations' fear of the Soviet Union and China around the time of the Korean War, and, in Will Kane's reluctant hero, an affirmation of the United States' moral courage, duty and sense of justice.32

Another broody but lesser known Western, Silver Lode (1954), focused more overtly on the nature of liberty, truth and memory in a free society.

Neither its director, Allan Dwan, nor its writer, Karen DeWolf, appears to have had overt political objectives. Dwan had been making movies for forty years and was best known for directing the Second World War flag-raiser Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). DeWolf's credits included Appointment in Honduras (1953), a jungle adventure starring Glenn Ford as an American restoring democracy in Central America. Silver Lode, a B-movie, told the story of Dan Ballard (John Payne), a respected citizen in the town of Silver Lode, who on his wedding day is accused of murder and robbery by four men from Discovery led by an old acquaintance called Ned McCarthy (Dan Duryea), who is posing as a US Marshal. Though entirely innocent, Ballard is soon deserted by his erstwhile friends and hunted down on the basis of allegations, suspicion and circumstantial evidence. In the dénouement, Ballard and McCarthy fight it out in the town clock tower, where the villain is eventually killed when a bullet from his own gun ricochets from a replica Liberty Bell. As a final twist, we then learn that the document which has helped clear Ballard's name is itself a forgery. In this way, the film seemed to be criticising the very process of political investigation and sneering at the public's willingness to accept 'evidence' that either suited them personally or corresponded with the temper of the times.33

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