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On the Waterfront and High Noon

Uploaded by thetrial on Apr 13, 2002

‘Much that characterised Hollywood in the 1950s can be described as paradoxical and ambiguous due to anti-communist hysteria and the blacklist.’ How accurate is this statement in relation to two films of the 1950s?

A lot has been made of the suggested subtexts present in High Noon and On the Waterfront, that they reflect the experiences of Carl Foreman (the writer of High Noon) and Elia Kazan with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Foreman has openly assented to this, and Kazan has admitted that there are parallels. However, while this can give us insight of the personal opinions of these men, I do not think that the significance of these subtexts can be played down enough. My reasons are that they are in no way ‘attached’ to the films-that is, not evident without knowledge other than that of the films themselves; that they add nothing to the films, as a work of art; and that the assumption of the subtexts is very ambiguous. By this last point, I mean that we cannot give authorial intention any more power over our understanding of the film than that of any other interpretation. We would be just as well to say that High Noon is really about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or even about the Allied attack on the Nazis, because, as I have said, this kind of meaning is not produced by the film but is superimposed over it. The films are interchangeable in this aspect, because they are both about people doing what they believe is right-it just happens that the idea of what is right differed between Foreman and Kazan. A better way of commenting on the socio-political climate of the fifties in Hollywood, as reflected in these films, is to take meaning from the films, rather than receive a meaning from someone who claims authority over them and depreciates the role of the viewer. We must look at what the films really say about America rather than what someone tells us they are meant to say, because these can be quite different things.

The communist scare was at fever pitch in the early 1950s, when HUAC reopened investigations. Opinion was divided in Hollywood. There were those, like Kazan and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, who believed that the communist threat was real, and that, in Kazan’s words, ‘communists were in a lot of organizations-unseen, unrecognised, unbeknownst to...

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Uploaded by:   thetrial

Date:   04/13/2002

Category:   Film

Length:   12 pages (2,651 words)

Views:   1770

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