Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > HIGH NOON – Dimitri Tiomkin

HIGH NOON – Dimitri Tiomkin


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 and hired European director Fred Zinnemann to direct. For the film 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 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.

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.

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.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score I have embedded a YouTube link to a concert suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QLuyXofoYY&list=RD-QLuyXofoYY

A comprehensive review of the score may be found at: https://moviemusicuk.us/2014/09/15/high-noon-dimitri-tiomkin/

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. April 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

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