Tex Ritter, Frankie Laine, Duane Eddy : High Noon

The Way Out West Series 4

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‘High Noon is a magical formula of elements. In two or three bars, the feeling of the song is telling you exactly what went on before, what’s happening now and what’s going to happen later’ (Ry Cooder)

The Ballad of High Noon (Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington)

Do not, forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

The noon train will bring Frank Miller
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn twixt love and duty
S’posin’, I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but, oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise when we wed
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead

Wait along, wait along
(Wait along)
Wait along, wait along
(Wait along, wait along, wait along, wait along)

Ry Cooder knows a thing or two about composing music for Film and about music for Westerns in particular.

So when he says the theme song for High Noon is magical I listen closely.

I advise you to do the same!

 

Now isn’t that a masterclass in how to ensnare an audience and prepare them for the tension and drama ahead!

As High Noon’s sweeping opening sequence proceeds we know that this will be an elemental drama played out in frontier country.

The frontier – where upholding the law is no simple matter of enforcing statutes in dusty volumes but a constant battle between order and peace and bloody chaos.

Our hero will need to stand tall with all his courage if civilisation is to prevail.

Such immense impact with so little instrumentation.

Musically everything is invitation and subdued suggestion.

Lyrically in a few short verses with the title only mentioned once the entire arc of the narrative is elegantly and tantalisingly laid out for us.

Tex Ritter sings like an oracle of the gods who knows the resolution of all stories.

Mere men and women have to attend, wait and falteringly live them out.

There is a wedding. But a wedding marred by dread that one party may be forsaken on what should be such a day of Joy.

A bad man with a gun, a deadly killer, bent on revenge, has left prison.

He will arrive on the Noon train.

So little time.

So little time.

A man, a western man, has to, must, face down his enemy and his fears.

Oh, oh, Love would say what does this matter today of all days?

But though the call of Love is loud the call of Duty is louder.

Louder.

Death is nothing but life as a craven coward always looking over your shoulder?

No. No. No.

Though you may lose your fair haired beauty you can’t, won’t, leave before that train arrives.

No man wants to die a coward.

No man wants to live forsaken.

The big Hand moves along.

Towards High Noon.

High Noon it is.

His life or mine.

High Noon.

Look at that big hand move along.

High Noon.

Settle down in your cinema seat, exchange smiles with your companion, this High Noon is sure to be one hell of a ride!

Who wrote the Music?

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Dimitri Tiomkin who was born 1894 in Kremenchuk Russia – far, far, away from The American Frontier.

He had training with distinguished teachers in St Petersburg, Berlin and Paris and before he badly broke his arm he harboured dreams of stardom as a concert pianist.

After moving to America in 1925 he followed the golden trail West to Hollywood hoping to make a career as a Film Composer.

HIs big break came through writing and performing the score for Frank Capra’s ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1937.

He would go on to work on a series of Films with Capra including ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.

He had already produced two wonderful Western scores for ‘Duel in the Sun’ in 1946 and ‘Red River’ in 1949 before the commission came for High Noon.

Tiomkin had a genius for embedding stirring, highly memorable, folk like melodies into his scores and for weaving them as charged motifs throughout the course of a film.

Melodies that aroused the emotions and subtly augmented the voices of the actors and the drama playing out on the screen.

As for composing music for Westerns when he had to evoke the majesty of the landscape and the iconic role of the Cowboy Tiomkin only had to recollect the endless steppe of Ukraine and the folkloric Cossack of Russian myth to find the melodies pouring out.

Who wrote the Lyric – Ned Washington 

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Now I’ll wager there’s more than a few of you who’ll be exclaiming Ned Who?

Yet, Ned has written a glorious gallery of Songs that pretty near everybody has heard and loved.

How about, ‘My Foolish Heart’, ‘Stella by Starlight’ and, ‘The Nearness of You’ for Golden Age classics.

And, as for Film Songs few can match him – ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ and, ‘Baby Mine’ for Disney.

Any good at Western Ballads?

Not bad at all if, ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, ‘3.10 to Yuma’ and the theme for ‘Rawhide’ are anything to go by!

Combining their immense talents and understanding of the role of music and song in Film Tiomkin and  Washington composed a Song which is endlessly alluring.

Like a great Western it feels familiar and mysterious simultaneously.

It feels like a song, a melody and a a lyric, that has emerged into the daylight from the hazy depths of your dreams.

You can’t help singing along in whatever register of voice you have (I like to affect a basso profundo in my own version).

Amazingly, in view of its eventual immense success, initial previews of High Noon did not have those audiences cheering.

United Artists got cold feet and held off releasing the Movie.

Dimitri Tiomkin was certain however that the theme song was something special.

So while United Artists hesitated he bought the rights to the Song and arranged for it to be recorded by Frankie Laine who gave it his full throated turbo drama best – and the rest as they say is history!

 

 

There have been countless versions of tne song since (four other versions came at tne time of the Film’s release).

I’m going to leave you with a version that’s sure to please Jukebox aficionados as it’s by the twangtastic Duane Eddy (maybe my basso profundo version is my own tribute to Duane!)

 

Notes:

At the 1953 Oscars High Noon won for Best Song and Tiomkin won for Best Music.

Tex Ritter performed the Song at the Ceremony.

There’s a CD from Bear Family (who else!) with 27 versions of the song – I fully intend to hear them all.

Now, The Immortal Jukebox isn’t a Film Blog but while I don’t propose to go all Pauline Kael on you I couldn’t close without tipping my hat to some of those involved in the Film whose work has brought me immense delight.

Gary Cooper & Grace Kelly

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Gary Cooper managed to carry off the trick of being both diffident and heroic and a regular guy who just happened to be fabulously handsome.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen, ‘Wings’, ‘The Virginian’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘The Lives of a Bengal Lancer’, ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘Beau Geste’, ‘Sergeant York’, ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ and, ‘Ball of Fire’.

Of course he won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon.

When they say they don’t make Film Stars like they used to it is always Coop I think of first.

Grace Kelly was only 21 in High Noon.

Her glowing youth made a marked and poignant contrast to Coop’s leathered maturity.

She really was ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ and her career as a whole demonstrated she was a fine actress who could be archly comic as well as the thriller heroine who would make any film hero (and every regular Joe in the cinema aisles) blithely risk life and limb to win her.

Fred Zinnemann – Director

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Fred Zinnemann was a consummate professional who understood every aspect of Film Making.

His work is distinguished by an intense humanity and acute insight into the revelation of character under pressure.

He was able to coax extraordinary performances from Actors as demonstrated by Montgomery Clift in, ‘The Search’, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh in, ‘Act of Violence’ and Marlon Brando in, ‘The Men’.

Beyond, ‘High Noon’ I often reach for, ‘From Here to Eternity’, ‘The Nun’s Story’ (with Audrey Hepburn even more luminous than ever), ‘The Sundowners’ and, ‘Day of the Jackal’ when I want meaty entertainment.

The’ High Noon’ theme of the man alone – abandoned by all who might be expected to come to his aid – is often taken to be an allegory for America in the grip of McCarthyism. I am more inclined to think Zinnemann (if not screenwriter Carl Foreman) was thinking of the situation of his parents who perished in The Holocaust.

Jack Elam

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Regular readers will Know from the Post on ‘Jack Gets Up’ by Leo Kottke that Jack Elam is high in my pantheon of Jacks.

He doesn’t actually get a screen credit in High Noon but all of us who cherish Western Character Actors will have no trouble in spotting his distinctive visage.

Katy Jurado

The magnificent Katy was a Star in Mexican Cinema before Budd Boetticher cast her in, ‘The Bullfighter and the Lady’ .

That role won her the part of Helen Ramirez in High Noon.

As Helen she displays smouldering sexuality, intelligence and stoic dignity.

Lee Van Cleef

In High Noon Lee doesn’t speak a word but Boy Howdy doesn’t he make his presence felt!

The Camera just loves some faces and it fell in love straight off the bat with Lee who became the ‘go to’ villain for decades thereafter.

Sheb Wooley

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You didn’t expect not to lionise the man who made ‘The Purple People Eater’ as well as appearing in ‘High Noon’, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ and, ‘Rawhide’ now did you!

Thomas Mitchell

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Very near to the top of my Pantheon of Toms is the great Character Actor Thomas Mitchell.

His role as Doc in john Ford’s epic , ‘Stagecoach’ alone makes him one of Hollywood’s Immortals.

And, of course, he had important roles in, ‘Lost Horizon’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’ and, ‘Gone with the Wind’ in addition to his part in High Noon.

Thomas Mitchell made very part he ever took an important part.

Special Bonus!!

Still adrenaline surfing after my celebrations of St Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph in 6 Nations Rugby and some long price winners at Cheltenham Horse Racing I’m signing off with a gift to you all of a joyous celebration of Western themes from Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops.

Enjoy!

 

Leo Kottke – Jack gets up (and once in a while the wind blows)

I am writing this Post from a new home.

We have exchanged the woods and swooping Hills of Surrey for the heaths and lakes on the edge of the glorious South Downs.

New home. New School. Packing up. Moving on. Moving on up.

Actually 39 steps up.

Which seemed, when we first viewed the apartment, a good way to get the heart pumping and the blood pressure lowering each time those 39 steps were climbed.

But. But. Carrying 2200 books up those 39 steps proved a little more than a toning exercise.

Consider the equation.

2200 books times 39 steps equals one very tired hombre!

I’m not even contemplating the Vinyl issue.

I never have trouble sleeping.

But last night you’d have to measure the time between my head hitting the pillow and me lying in the arms of Morpheus in micro seconds.

A full fathom five sleep caressed by whispered dreams.

A sound spiralling and spiralling in and out of consciousness resolving at 6am into a name.

Jack. Jacques. Jack.

And, as always with me, a song.

Not take me right back to the track Jack.

Not you go back, Jack, do it again.

Not hey Jack Kerouac.

No,  the song Finnegan flowing through my dreaming mind was ‘Jack Gets Up’ by Guitar maestro Leo Kottke.

Oh, oh, oh .. you know just how I feel Leo!

‘Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed
And you crawl out of bed and you crawl out of bed
Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed
And you look at the moon where the window is
And the stars shine, and the stars shine, and the stars shine
Everyday in the morning when you get up and you crawl out of bed

You crawl out. You crawl out. But the Moon and the Stars shine.

It’s another day of your life.  Fresh white paper to leave your impression on.

Leo Kottke has been places and seen things carrying his guitar all the while.

He has developed a masters command of his instrument playing with a rare combination of finesse and feeling. Now, when you’re trying to hold an audience with self composed instrumental music it helps if you can tell a few stories too.

As shaggy dog stories go it would be hard to beat, ‘Jack Gets Up’. It exercises a hypnotic hold on your imagination as your mind knots itself trying to disentangle meaning and meanings from the lyric.

The allusions and resonances will appeal to each of us according to our different characters and histories and our capacity for daytime dreaming.

Perhaps we are all asleep in the same dream. But, whose dream? Whose dream.

I know well that feeling of seeing your Father’s face in he mirror and the thin grin … the thin grin as you ready yourself for the challenges of the day ahead.

Every life has lots of lint in the pocket. You mean to clear it out but it builds up. It builds up.

And, where, oh where, are my car keys! Probably next to my glasses!

Life resolves down to a process of finding and losing, finding and losing – on every level from the most trivial to the most cosmically important.

Tears in the bank and the credit card we all know about.

Yet, and this is the glory of life; once in a while the wind blows and the heart winds and the heart winds.

The brown ground and the worms patiently wait for us all.

So today as you crawl out of bed leaving the snort fort behind remember that the stars are shining above you and the Moon will light your night as the Sun will light your day.

And, once in a while when the wind blows and your heart winds, your heart winds grant yourself a grateful wide grin.

May the wind blow for you today.

 

Hats off to Jack and Jacques:

It happens that, after Tom, Jack is my favourite male name.

So, I take this opportunity to thank  some of the Jacks and Jacques who have inspired and illuminated my life.

Jack Kennedy (you all know about him!)

Jacques Levy – Songwriter and Seer – ‘Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child.’

Jack Nicholson – a couple of tequilas to the good I sometimes act out some of my favourite Jack Nicholson lines.  My absolute favourite, from The Last Detail, being:

‘I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! GIve this man a beer.’

Jacques Tourneur – Film Director. He directed troubling thrillers and heart stopping noirs like  I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People.

Always playing at The Immortal Drive In is his classic Out of The Past (build my gallows high baby!) starring an unmatchable Robert Mitchum and the most fatale of all femme fatales Jane Greer.

Jack Johnson – World Heavyweight Champion and iconic African American.

Jacques Prevert – Poet, Screenwriter. A very cool homme indeed. His, ‘Paroles’ travels everywhere with me (yes – up all those 39 steps)

 

 

Jack London – A writer whose hallucinatory gift for narrative grows more impressive the more I strive to tell stories.

Jacques Anquetil – He sure could ride a bike!

Jack Kellett – He plays a mean guitar.

Jack O’Toole – He sure did like a pint!

Jack Kerouac – the Beat goes on. And on. And on.

Jack Lord – Book ‘Em Danno.

Jack The Ripper (whose real identity was of course ……)

Jack Elam – as soon as you see Jack’s name in the credits you can relax. One fine Western coming up!

Father Jack – ‘Drink! Feck! Arse! Girls!’

Jacques Derrida – What was he on about?

Jack Bruce – a true musician. Check out his Sings for a Tailor immediately!

Jack Palance – Boxer, Actor – in certain lights (principally the light of my imagination) I have been mistaken for JP.

Jack Teagarden –  He played sublime Trombone and sang the Blues with deep feeling.

David ‘Jack’ Hayes – Father and Son, fine men both!

Jacques Tati – if you ever need cheering up …

Jack Nicklaus – If you wanted one Golfer to play a round for your life …

Oh and as we all know … ‘There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts.’

 

By Public Demand more Jacks, Jacques, oh and while we’re at it 3 Jakes!

Many of my faithful readers have demanded favourite Jacks & Jacques to be added to the Jukebox Rollcall of Honour. So:

Thanks to Cincinnati Babyhead for ‘Jack’ the Dog from The Band’s classic The Weight.

Thanks to Beetley Pete for Jacques Brel, the great Chanson writer and famous Belgian (more on him later)

Thanks to Elmer Gantry for Jack Doyle fabled Irish Boxer.

While we’re on Boxers how could I have left out Jack Dempsey!

Jacques Cousteau dove pretty deep!

Jacques Rousseau knew a thing or too!

Jack Benny played the Violin (though not on Desolation Row)

Jack Reacher’s out there somewhere waiting for trouble to clear up.

Jake Thackray had wit and style and wrote songs like nobody else.

Jake LaMotta – boy could he take a punch!

And to wrap it all up – ‘Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.