Watched a couple good movies recently. The first is the classic Gary Cooper western High Noon. The story is simple. Will Kane gets married, to Grace Kelly in her first major role, the same day he retires as town Marshall. The admiring and grateful townsfolk are sad to see him go as he made the town safe for women and children again. On his way out of town, horse and buggy all loaded and ready, Kane learns that the murderous Frank Miller, a man he arrested and sent up to be hanged, has been pardoned and is on his way back to town on the noon train to exact his revenge. Refusing to tuck tail and run, Kane stays to face the bully to the chagrin of his wife and the townsfolk. The men who stood by him at his wedding and lauded his marhsalling prowess only minutes before leave Kane in a lonely, desperate lurch as he tries in vain to rally a posse to his aid.
There are a couple other little wrinkles, including one involving a less-wrinkled-than-we’re-used-to Lloyd Bridges, but that’s the main thrust of the plot. There aren’t a lot of twists and turns, just superb film making. Cooper does more acting than talking, communicating his frustration and anger with cowardly townsfolk in facial expressions rather than drawn out soliloquys. The movie unfolds in near-real time and the tension is ratcheted up as we watch the clocks (literally) tick closer and closer to noon. By the time the hour comes and a standoff is imminent, my heart was actually pounding. The movie is loaded with other recognizable character actors from that period including a young Harry Morgan (most famous as Col. Potter from the M.A.S.H. TV show), legendary creature feature veteran Lon Chaney, and the guy who played Uncle Billy in Its a Wonderful Life.
The background of the movie is pretty interesting. The screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the process of writing High Noon, and questioned about his involvement with the Communist party. Though he admitted to being a member a decade earlier, he refused to name names and was declared an uncooperative witness. After finishing High Noon he would not write a screenplay under his own name again for six years, having been blacklisted. Some have seen in High Noon an allegory to Foreman’s run-in with HUAC, a man standing alone, having been deserted by those he considered friends, just as he had been blacklisted. It has been said that John Wayne, vehemently anti-Communist, hated High Noon for this very reason.
Ironically, I got a completely different, even opposite, impression. I saw it almost as an endorsement of the American ideal of individualism and standing firm for something in the face of opposition. To each his own I suppose. Whatever your own is, the story of one man standing up for what he believes is right is universally appealing, no matter where you fall in the political spectrum. Taken at face value, that’s what the movie is really about. And its just a flat out great movie, with an unforgettable theme song.
Another movie I watched recently was a documentary called Up For Grabs. Its about the two guys that both claimed they were the rightful owner of Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball. On the IMBD message boards, someone described this movie as a “Christopher Guest film, but real!” That is a dead-on description. (Guest is the mind behind mockumentaries like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, among others.) For the non-sports fan, the ball in question was the single-season HR record breaker and whoever ended up with it would probably be able to auction it off for a handsome sum. Mark McGwire’s previous record breaking ball had sold for over two million dollars. Alex Popov claimed to have caught it, and video evidence shows that it was indeed in his glove for some period of time, but in the ensuing scrum another man, Patrick Hayashi, came up with it. Popov eventually sued Hayashi for possession of the ball and litigatious hijinx ensued (I just made up a word).
Neither of the two men is that likable, but Popov comes off like an utter jackass, for lack of a better word, trying desperately to milk every last millisecond out of his 15 minutes of fame. He’s one of those guys who thinks he’s really a pretty cool guy, and thinks he’s erudite and savvy, but really he’s just kind of an idiot no one wants to be around. Once you see him, you’ll know the type. As an example, in a scene during the trial where he is describing to the court the “beating” he took on the bottom of the pile, enumerating his many “injuries” there’s an exchange that goes something like this:
Popov: …and I had some scratches here on my forearms and some bruises on my latissimus dorsi.
Judge or lawyer (off camera): You had bruises on your what?
Popov (sheepishly with smarmy grin): My back muscle.
Hayashi is not without his foibles, but is light years less irritating than Popov. At one point a reporter that had covered the story says, “Popov wasn’t a media darling. He was a media curiosity.” To quote the great Kludge, No Doubt!
The movie is exceedingly entertaining, not to mention more than a little sad. Not “boo-hoo” sad, but “what have we become” sad. The whole idea of suing over a baseball does sound ridiculous, but really it was a fight over a future monetary windfall. And Popov did legitimately believe the ball belonged to him. But its still ridiculous. I won’t reveal how everything shakes out, but needless to say there were far better solutions than to take a baseball to court. Full of funny characters, again, all real, and ludacris, surreal episodes (like an umpiring school director explaining what a catch is on the witness stand) Grabs is definitely a movie worth checking out. And you don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the absurdity of human nature.