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HIGH NOON – Dimitri Tiomkin

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producers Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman had long sought to film a Western and saw their opportunity when they came across an inspiring short story “The Tin Star” by John Cunningham. Foreman adapted it for the big screen as High Noon, and hired European director Fred Zinnemann to direct. Veteran actor Gary Cooper was given the lead role of Will Kane. He was joined by Grace Kelly (Amy Fowler), Ian MacDonald (Frank Miller) and Lloyd Bridges (Harvey Pell). The story is set in 1880 in the New Mexico Territory. It is a classic morality play regarding personal honor, civic duty, and a man’s struggle to overcome his fears.

The story reveals Will Kane, the Marshall of Hadleyville, who has retired after many years of service to marry his sweetheart Amy Fowler. (The casting of Cooper who was 50 years old and 30 years Kelly’s senior raised eyebrows). As he is about to depart to start a new life in another town, word comes that Frank Miller, an outlaw he brought to justice has been acquitted on a legal technicality. Miller has announced to all that he is spoiling for revenge and will arrive on the noon train. Will’s sense of honor leads to him reclaiming his badge to safeguard the town, yet his nobility is unrequited by townsfolk who all refuse to stand with him against Frank, his brother Ben and fellow outlaws Jack Colby and Jim Pierce. Even his deputy rejects him for not recommending him as his replacement. Well, the epic confrontation takes place with Will standing alone against four men. He guns down Ben and Jack, but is wounded in the process. Amy, a pacifist Quaker comes to her man’s aid and shoots Jim in the back. An outraged Frank takes her hostage to force Will’s submission. Yet Amy suddenly strikes Miller, thus distracting him and giving Will a clear shot. Will finishes his task by shooting Frank. As the relieved townspeople come out from the shadows, Will stares at them with palpable contempt. He throws his marshal’s star in the dirt with disdain and leaves the town with Amy. The film was both a critical and commercial success, including twin Oscars for Best Score and Best Song for its composer, Dimitri Tiomkin.

The scoreless film was at its preview deemed a bust and the studio was disinclined to release it. A frantic Kramer, hired Tiomkin, who had scored all his films and gave him a simple directive; open the film with a classic Western ballad and use its to animate the film. Tiomkin delivered what by all film historians believe to be a ballad for the ages, one that changed the course of Hollywood films. Within the simple lyrics of his song (provided by Ned Washington), was the essence of the film’s entire narrative – a tale of a man overcoming his fear and standing for principle. Tiomkin’s execution of building the score around the title song was a testimony of his mastery of his craft. He eliminated strings from the ballad, added a folksy harmonica and guitars, which served to ground the music in frontier culture the old West, as well as to underpin the anti-heroic actions seen in the film. Rendered in song and orchestral form, the ballad serves as the Main Theme, which animates the film. In many respects Tiomkin’s most enduring legacy comes from the fact that he was the first Hollywood composer to compose both a title song and score for a film. “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin” was a seminal event in film score history. Its stunning success in popular culture and Oscar win served to potentiate a theme-song craze in film scores. Henceforth songs written specifically for films – as opposed to using preexisting source songs – came to dominate modern film. To this day studios attempt to add a “hit song” to the soundtrack to enhance the movie experience and profits should the song resonate with popular culture.

To fully appreciate the impact of the ballad on this score, I provide the lyrics; “Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’, / On this, our wedding day. / Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’, / Wait; wait alone. / I do not know what fate awaits me. / I only know I must be brave. / For I must face a man who hates me, / Or lie a coward, a craven coward; / Or lie a coward in my grave. / Oh, to be torn ‘twixt love an’ duty. / S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty. / Look at that big hand move along, / Nearing high noon. / He made a vow while in state prison: / Vowed it would be my life for his an’, / I’m not afraid of death but, oh, what shall I do, / If you leave me? / Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’: / You made that promise as a bride. / Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’. / Although you’re grievin’, don’t think of leavin’, /Now that I need you by my side. / Wait along, (Wait along.) / Wait along. / Wait along. (Wait along, wait along, wait along, wait along)”.

Additionally we have Helen’s Theme, which serves as a leitmotif for Helen Ramirez, the former lover of Frank, Will and now Harvey. Tiomkin infuses a traditional Mexican ambiance to reflect her allure, passion and heritage. The Futility Theme offers a flowing lyrical line of plaintive woodwinds and strings, which inform us of Will’s futile efforts to recruit men to help him. The Fate Motif is an ingenious device where Tiomkin employs a progression of repeating chords that tick in the matter of a clock, which he uses to inform us of the fated countdown to Will and Frank’s confrontation.

“Main Title” is a score highlight that features a full rendering of the iconic ballad “Do Not Forsake Me. Oh, My Darlin”. We open to arid rolling hills where we see the roll of the opening credits as Jack awaits the arrival of Jim and Ben, whom he will join to support Frank’s revenge against Sheriff Kane. A pulsing novachord ushers in the ballad, which is sung with a folksy simplicity. The song perfectly captures the story’s emotional core and offers testimony to Tiomkin’s genius. “Miller Gang Comes to Town” reveal the three outlaws riding into town as frightened townsfolk recoil. Tiomkin employs the B Phrase of the Ballad (second stanza), which assumes the role of leitmotif for the outlaws. A scene change reveals the marriage ceremony of Will and Amy, for which a melodeon emotes the A Phrase of the Ballad. In “The Depot” the outlaws arrive at the train station to await the arrival of Frank Miller. The stationmaster receives a startling telegraph that informs him that Frank Miller is coming in on the noon train. He flees the station to warn the town. A harsh and aggressive rendering of the B Phrase of the Ballad supports the peril posed by the men, as well as the grim news. We have interplay with a romantic rendering of the A Phrase of the Ballad as we see Will and Amy celebrating their marriage with a kiss, followed by Will surrendering his badge.

“They‘ve Pardoned Frank Miller” is a fine multi-thematic cue and score highlight. The stationmaster delivers the bad news, which sounds atop the B Phrase of the Ballad on ominous trumpets. As Will grabs Amy and they quickly prepare to leave we hear the Fate Motif, which informs us that a man cannot escape his fate. As they flee town in a carriage a spirited rendering of the A Phrase of the Ballad supports their flight, yet we see in Will’s face a growing recognition that he must go back. At 1:33 we change scenes atop Helen’s Theme, which interplays with the A Phrase of the Ballad as we see her and Harvey taken aback by Will’s flight. This cue is nicely done! “Will and Amy Return to Town” features interplay of Helen’s Theme and the B Phrase of the Ballad as we see the outlaws waiting for Frank, and Helen reassured by Will’s return. “About Frank Miller” is a masterful cue and score highlight. Will informs Amy of his history with Frank and his duty to stay. She however will have none of it and states that she will not stay. Tiomkin pulls at our heartstrings with an impassioned rendering of the A Phrase of the Ballad with interplay with both the B Phrase of the Ballad and the Fate Motif. A closure on the last stanza of the ballad’s now altered last line “Until I shoot Frank Miller dead” is poetic. Bravo!

In “Have You Forgotten What He Said?” Judge Mettrick prepares to flee town and counsels Will to do the same. An ominous rendering of the B Phrase of the Ballad supports the scene. In “Harve Gets An Idea” a plaintive rendering of Helen’s Theme is heard as Harve goes to join Kane who steadfastly refuses the judge’s counsel to leave. “Harve s Ultimatum” reveals Harve offering Will support on condition he recommend him as the new Sheriff. When Will refuses, Harve abandons him to his fate. The Fate Motif ticks with a grim relentless power as an ominous B Phrase of the Ballad sounds. In “Helen s Decision” Helen and Harve break-up over his actions and she and Amy both prepare to leave town. The Fate Motif beats with a grim power that dissipates upon a florid rendering of Helen’s Theme, which entwines beautifully with the A Phrase of the Ballad. “Herb’s Ready” reveals Will’s second deputy joining him, but urging he recruit more men. Once again the Fate Motif beats with a relentless purpose. Slowly it joins in unholy purpose with the B Phrase of the Ballad, which mutates into a frightening marcia di terrore. Wow!

“Kane Warns Helen” is a score highlight where tension mounts as Will reaffirms to Amy his decision to stay and later counsels Helen to leave. This beautiful cue features exquisite writing with interplay of the A and B Phrases of the Ballad as well as Helen’s Theme. In “Kane Runs into Ben Miller” is seeking to recruit deputies when he runs into Ben Miller at the saloon. The Fate Motif informs us of the impending confrontation. “Horse Laugh” reveals townsfolk refusing to join Will and laughing at his predicament. Tiomkin plaintive strings usher in a surprisingly optimistic rendering of A Phrase of the Ballad, which informs us that despite his setbacks, that Will remains determined. In “Harve Confronts Helen” Helen tells an angry Harve that she is leaving him and that he will never be the man Will is. Repeating phrases of her theme ascend in discordance to mark the tension of their break-up, yet her theme regains its surety and resolve, finishing strongly. Bravo! “Seeking Help in Church” reveals another fruitless attempt by Will to recruit men as he interrupts a church sermon. The plaintive strings of the Futility Theme entwine with fragments of the B Phrase of the Ballad to inform us of the futility of Will’s efforts.

In “Pierce Is Anxious” we hear the B Phrase of the Ballad as an impatient Pierce asks if the train is on time. “Better for You, Better for Us” reveals the townsfolk telling Will that it would be better for all if he just left town. The A Phrase of the Ballad informs us of his resolve. In “Put That Thing Away” Colby’s frays Pierce’s nerves with his incessant harmonica playing. The B Phrase of the Ballad on harmonica erupts in fury with Pierce’s anger. “The Retired Marshal” reveals Will’s increasing urgency for men leading him to visit the former marshal Mart Howard for advice. Plaintive strings usher in the A Phrase of the Ballad with vocals, which dissipates, overtaken by the plaintive string line. “They Don’t Care” is a score highlight. Mart counsels Will to go, turning down his request to join him citing age and arthritis. We are treated to a wondrous extended rendering of the Futility Theme, which opens on a solo English horn that is joined by elegiac solo trumpet and strings for a stirring expression. The moment is shattered by the onset of the relentless ticking of the Fate Motif, which crescendos with deafening power as the clock reveals 11:45 am.

“Kane’s Women” is yet another beautiful score highlight. The scene reveals a tense encounter between Helen who cannot understand how Amy could leave Will, and Amy who cannot understand why Will will not leave with her. The cue offers wondrous interplay of a lyrical string laden rendering of the Futility Theme and an impassioned Helen’s Theme. “Saloon” is a source cue that features interplay of the Ballad and “Buffalo Gals” on piano. We see the Saloon owner’s subtle inference to Harve of his cowardice. In “Stable Brawl” we see Will angrily rejecting Harve’s suggestion to leave town. A fistfight ensues with Will prevailing. This cue is a tour de force, which features the most dramatic and powerful action music of the film. Wow! “Nearly Train Time” is a magnificent score highlight. It reveals Will, now reconciled to his fate, telling his lone recruit Herb that there are no other men and that he should go home to his kids. We open dramatically and Tiomkin utilizes the lyrics of the B Phrase of the Ballad to speak to us of Will’s dire situation. Interplay with the Futility Theme and struggling statements of the A Phrase of the Ballad raise this cue to the sublime.

In “Two Minutes to Twelve” Tiomkin delivers yet another stunning highlight where his mastery of his craft is on full display. We feel tension build, as the train’s arrival is now imminent. Tiomkin opens with the Fate Motif that ticks relentlessly towards its dire end. Soon we begin a stunning crescendo ascent atop of the Fate Motif and B Phrase of the Ballad that coalesce and join in a truly horrific union. The marriage of film imagery and music is outstanding! “Let s Get Started”, reveals Frank disembarking, receiving his guns and walking into town for the showdown with Will. A powerful rendering of the B Phrase of the Ballad supports the narrative. As Will waits in town we hear the A Phrase of the Ballad sound, yet it slowly descends into an eerie discordance. In “Miller Gang Hits Town” Frank, Ben, Colby and Pierce slowly approach Will. Tiomkin twists the B Phrase of the Ballad into a dark and formidable marcia di terrore, that slows with menace as they move closer. Will stands firm and a statement of the A Phrase of the Ballad attempts to rise up but is quashed.

“First Shots Fired” offers the score’s supreme moment as it culminates musically with rousing thematic interplay. It reveals the gunfight, whose first skirmish leads to Will killing Ben and Colby. The tide turns as a now mounted Will has his horse shot out from underneath him. As Pierce reloads Amy, who has come back from the train to help her man, shoots him in the back. A furious Frank grabs her and orders Will out to face him. Tiomkin expertly supports the extended scene of the showdown with a dynamic and spirited contest of the A and B Phrases of the Main Theme. We flow seamlessly into the final cue “Frank Miller Shot/Finale” where Will comes out into the open. As Frank takes aim, Amy pushes him in the face, which distracts him, allowing Will to gun him down. As the relieved townspeople come out from the shadows, Will stares at them with palpable contempt. He throws his marshal’s star in the dirt with disdain and leaves the town with Amy. We end our journey with a splendid rendering of the Ballad on solo viola, which ushers in one last refrain of Ned Washington’s singing.

Please allow me to thank Ray Faiola, Craig Spaulding, Screen Archives Entertainment and Chelsea Rialto Studios for the world premier release of the score of “High Noon”. The score’s restoration from the original acetate discs and subsequent digital mastering has produced good sound quality, although there a several instances where you will discern high end break-up. Taken in totality, I do not believe these imperfections devalue the listening experience. This effort by Tiomkin offers beauty born of simplicity. He creates a simple ballad, whose melody and lyrics perfectly capture the emotional core of the film’s narrative. The interplay of it’s A and B Phrases to animate the contest of heroism and villainy is perfectly conceived and testimony of Tiomkin’s mastery of his craft. Scene after scene his music is astutely attenuated to the film’s imagery and narrative. This seminal score introduced the practice of creating a title song integrated within the fabric of the film’s tapestry. A practice still evidenced today in modern filmmaking. “High Noon” is a classic traditional Western score and brilliant example of Golden Age scoring at its finest. I highly recommend and encourage you to add this great score to your collection.

Buy the High Noon soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:45)
  • Miller Gang Comes to Town (1:09)
  • The Depot (2:47)
  • They’ve Pardoned Frank Miller (2:52)
  • Will and Amy Return to Town (0:45)
  • About Frank Miller (3:18)
  • Have You Forgotten What He Said? (0:45)
  • Harve Gets an Idea (1:12)
  • Harve’s Ultimatum (1:12)
  • Helen’s Decision (1:26)
  • Herb’s Ready (1:13)
  • Kane Warns Helen (4:38)
  • Kane Runs Into Ben Miller (0:36)
  • Horse Laugh (1:47)
  • Mrs. Fuller’s Clumsy Lie (0:11)
  • Harve Confronts Helen (2:04)
  • Seeking Help in Church (0:51)
  • Pierce is Anxious (0:33)
  • Better For You, Better For Us (0:28)
  • Put That Thing Away (0:23)
  • The Retired Marshal (1:23)
  • They Don’t Care (1:57)
  • Kane’s Women (2:02)
  • Saloon (1:49)
  • Stable Brawl (1:45)
  • Nearly Train Time (3:16)
  • Two Minutes to Twelve (1:32)
  • Let’s Get Started (1:23)
  • Miller Gang Hits Town (1:55)
  • First Shots Fired (6:49)
  • Frank Miller Shot/Finale (1:37)
  • Do Not Forsake Me (Demo Recording) (written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington) (3:24)
  • Do Not Forsake Me (Rehearsal) (written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington) (1:56)

Running Time: 61 minutes 43 seconds

Screen Archives Entertainment SAE-CRS-018 (1952/2007)

Music composed and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin. Orchestrations by Manuel Emanuel, Paul Marquardt and Herbert Taylor. Score produced by Dimitri Tiomkin. Album produced by Craig Spaulding and Ray Faiola.

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  1. March 27, 2017 at 10:01 am

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