Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why The Movie "High Noon" Got It Wrong


Dear Friends,

I truly appreciate your email and comments. And yes, I've gotten a lot of email lately regarding something in my article The Buntline Special vs Colt's Sheriff's Model.

No, it's not about the mythical Buntline. Instead it's about how I describe how truth and historical fact takes a backseat to sensationalism and fiction in Hollywood -- even when Hollywood advertises a film as being a "true story."

I believe part of the problem has to do with these screenwriters and some of the Old West historians out there. Screenwriters write fictional stories, and of course "dramatizations" of history. Many take what some so-called Old West historian puts out there as the truth when in reality it's all simply conjecture, speculation, fiction, romanticizing, and embellishing of what others have already put out as fact.

For example, I remember hearing one very well-known Old West historian claim that Wyatt Earp would have made a great bouncer in a biker bar in today's world because he was just that tough. From the facts that I've found, with all that I have read on Wyatt Earp and newspapers and records, I really believe that that's just wishful thinking at best. Like it or not, Wyatt Earp was simply not what we have been lead to believe.

Yes, some so-called historians are fans and have lost the objectivity, the ability to be neutral, the ability to look at history as an impartial observer. And frankly, that might be the problem with Hollywood screenwriters as well.

Of course, they may be simply being dishonest and are avoiding the truth and going with the myth. In the case of Wyatt Earp, a lot of so-called historians have based their reputations on championing Earp that they can't tell the truth simply because it goes against their best interest.

So, does Hollywood purposely get it wrong or is that they simply don't care? Or, here's another thought, is it that they intentionally get it wrong because they don't know their ass from applesauce?

As stated in The Buntline Special vs Colt's Sheriff's Model, Hollywood's idea of a "true story" versus a story being "historically accurate" are really two different things.

And yes. the historical accuracy pertaining to the movie "High Noon" is only present in the costuming and the scenery. Other than that, the movie is not an accurate portrayal of life in the Old West. Yes, its premise goes against what really took place in the American frontier.

As stated in my other article, the movie "High Noon" portrays the town's people as cowards unwilling to fight for their own town. This is really how people today rewrite history and pass it on as "being accurate" when in fact it is not an honest portrayal of the history. And while I love the movie for its stars and scenery, and of course it's theme song, it is not historically accurate at all.

Why isn't "High Noon" historically accurate? 

Americans in the Old West, those who came west to the American frontier, were hardly, adventurous, enterprising, tougher than nails folks. They were willful, strong, courageous, resilient, resourceful, and fearless. None of these personal characteristics are portrayed in the movie "High Noon".

Friends, people who did not have that "pioneer spirit," that determination, that steadfast desire to make better lives for themselves remained back East and simply did not have what it took to fight the odds and migrate to the frontier.

Pioneers coming West had the courage to travel down unknown trails into perilous territory, all to be the masters of their own destiny. They braved coming around the horn by sailing ship, grueling heat and horrendous cold. They forged ahead when disease struck and water and food were scarce. They died along the way and endured hardship and pain to achieve better than they had back East. 

Miners came looking to better themselves and their families fought the elements, hostile natives, bandits, bushwhackers, and con men among others. Ranchers and cowboys fought all of the same to get their herds to a railhead.

Town's folks such as shopkeepers and restaurateurs braved all of the same and rolled the dice time and time again in their pursuit of making money and living better lives. Farmers plowed earth that never saw a plow and fought dust storms and clouds of locust, dry wells, drought, and famine, yet still persevered.

Does this sound like people who would quake in their boots over 3 outlaws coming to their town?

They faced life head on. They armed themselves and took on the threats just as they had getting to where they were. They grew up  farming, hunting, using firearms, digging wells, storing food, preparing for tomorrow, and fighting to survive. They formed militias, vigilante committees, citizens groups and banished anyone who didn't want to pull their weight.

In the 1860s through the 1890s, many of those in the West were veterans of the Mexican War and the Civil War. Many saw killing first hand and had fought in tougher fights than we can imagine.

Friends, if ever there were a people in our history who were meant to exist at a certain time in history because of their toughness -- they are them! They were not to be messed with!

So again, I have to drive this point home, does this sound like the sort of people who would cower and hide when faced with the aspect of only 3 outlaws coming to their town?

No, and more importantly we can thank God that the cowardly citizens of the fictitious town of Hadleyville in the movie "High Noon" did not exist in the real Old West.

Why didn't it exist? The answer is simple: It is a proven fact that people in the Old West fought back time and time again against desperadoes, bandits, killers, crooked lawmen, swindlers, con artists, and other scoundrels who should be dangling at the end of a rope.

Granted that the perfect example of a town fighting back against desperadoes, was how the people of Northfield, Minnesota, shot up the James - Younger Gang during that attempted raid. And yes, part of the reason people did in fact fight back during a bank robberies in those days was because the money in the bank really did belong to the people there -- and there was no such thing as being insured for loss during a theft as there is today.

Here is another fact that demonstrates just how responsive townsfolk were to bad men. I read where "before 1900, there were no successful bank robberies in any of the major towns in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, or New Mexico, and that only a few robberies took place in California and Arizona."

The reason was that people fought back and people carried concealed weapons. Since bad men like easy pickings and usually will not chance getting their butts shot off, they saw bank robberies in most towns as being potentially hazardous to their health. Let's be frank here, even today criminals aren't as likely to pick on people who are willing to fight back or are known to be armed.

The townsfolk in most towns in the West were more like that of the townsfolk in Northfield, Minnesota, up North. In tough situations they reacted like most pioneers did in the Old West. They did not cower, they did not hide or seek out a safe place, or close up shop, or search out their town Marshal and have him face a threat alone.

In more situations than not, townsfolk took the initiative themselves and acted. They used their skills and bravely faced threats both individually and as a group.

Yes, besides taking on the bad guys alone, they were known to band together to form posses, militias, or vigilance committees. When no law was there, they formed their own justice systems which included using age old alert systems such as the "hue and cry".

The "hue and cry" was what was used to sound the alarm and alert the citizenry that a crime has taken place. When a criminal acted, the public raised a great hue and cry. They would yell out and make a clamor to alert other citizens so that all would get in on the pursuit. With loud shouts to alert others, all who were in ear shot were legally obliged to join in the chase. 

As for a town's people allowing three outlaws to tree a town? Friends, there were all sorts of vigilance committees throughout the West. In San Francisco the vigilance committee there had over 2,000 members and actually took over the city to clean up the actions of a few bad apples -- criminals and corruption in government. And yes, that sort of thing went on all over the West. 

While I know that an involved citizenry may sound a lot more like today's Neighborhood Watch than a Police organization, please remember that vigilance committees were also very para-military as far as their organizational setup goes. In most instances, vigilante committees were supported by the townsfolk because they were the first responders of their time -- especially in the days when their was no organized law. 

Neighborhood Watches are set up as eyes and ears to give alarm if there is a problem. In many towns in the West, citizens committees were well regulated and put out the "hue and cry" when needed. They were the security of the time.

But frankly, the "hue and cry" is where the similarity between a Neighborhood Watch and a citizens committee ends. Fact is they not only spread the word, citizens committees took action. And yes, in most cases if their town did in fact have a City Marshal or Police Department of some sort, the citizens committees are known to have worked with them -- or told them the law to step aside.

Now I am not saying that the West did not have some of the greatest lawmen alive, they certainly did. But some vigilance committees were not organized because there were no established law enforcement, but rather because the law could not always be relied on or was itself corrupt -- as was the case of the San Francisco vigilance committee, and what took place with Montana's vigilance committees. 

Unlike the movie High Noon where people were allowing their petty grivances with the city marshal to override their sense of community, people in the West learned to rely on themselves and each other. In many cases they did so by putting such things aside during hard time or times of eminent danger.

If a member of their community, camp, town, big or small, didn't step forward, the word usually spread that he was a "shirker". And back then, if one was seen as a "shirker", as someone who will not step up to do one's civic duty -- then they may as well pull up stakes and leave. In most cases they were shun, and in other cases they were driven out.

Carrying one's weight in the Old West meant pulling your own weight. It was seen as all a part of one's "civic duty." And frankly, back then civic duty meant a lot more than just serving on a jury.

Civic duty meant being part of the bucket brigade during fires, posses when called on and even the local militia. It meant volunteering to make the town work by rolling up your selves and doing the dirty jobs of digging a community well, building a jail, building a town wind mill, helping others during barn raisings, and much more.

Towns back then didn't depend on others to do what was needed to make things better. They did it themselves because there was no one else to do it. They looked to the people who lived there. When talking about our pioneers, and saying they built their towns. That's not a figurative statement, that is a literal statement of what they did with their own two hands.

Citizenship was something that meant stepping forward to pitch in to fulfill one's duty as a citizen. And yes, that included serving on posses, being deputized, serving on the local militia when called, and providing law enforcement to their towns.

Whether it was a mining camp in California's gold country, a small town or big one, or even a city, citizens stepped forward and banded together to provide towns with a way of dealing with threats from criminal types when organized law simply didn't exist. Citizens also stepped forward and banded together to provide towns with a way of also dealing with situations when the law was out and out corrupt and useless. 

And yes, that's what we are talking about here. We are talking about their willingness to take responsibility and fight back if need be, and that's what the movie "High Noon" consciously fails to portray. 

Historian Roger D. McGrath stated, "Communities were recreated quickly and relatively easily again and again across thousands of miles of frontier. Part of the explanation lies in the natural affinity the people had for one another: with only a sprinkling of diversity, they were united not only by religion, language, traditions, and history, but by character. The weak and feckless, the slothful and dull witted, the timid and unadventurous, did not often put themselves on the frontier. The frontier and its conquest was left to the most ambitious, intelligent, hard-working, enterprising, and courageous -- and those characteristics coupled with the natural bonds of blood and culture are what made America's westward march across the continent not only irrepressible but also our Homeric era."

So again I ask, does this match those who people in the movie "High Noon"? Does Hollywood's portrayal of frontier Americans, portraying them as being scared of three outlaws sound close to being factual or historically accurate?

I don't think so because they left out the spirit and character of the townsfolk who build the West. The people who truly fought the odds, yet persevered and made the West flourish. And yes, that's what we are talking about here.

We are talking about how they stepped forward time and time again to be deputized and join posses, stepped up to chase criminals, stepped up to do their civic duty, and how they did not cower as Hollywood likes to portray them.

We are talking about the very character of those pioneers who crossed the plains in wagons, many on foot, weathered all sorts of hardship, fought illness, hunger, pestilence, hardship, fought for life, and watched loved ones die along the way.

Yes, we are talking about how Hollywood should be more concerned about being fair and honest and real. And really, we are talking about how Hollywood should learn to give credit when credit is due. Those who came West were a lot tougher than Hollywood portrays.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.
Tom Correa

3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you. Something to think about. Is there anything good from Hollywood?

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  2. You are correct in this assertion. However, as I understand it, "High Noon" was written as a allegorical tale about the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. The film's screenwriter Carl Foremen was a victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee and experienced first-hand the isolation and estrangement as he was black-listed in Hollywood, and as people he knew turned from him in an effort to save their won skins. As the classic American genre, Westerns have often been used to address social and political issues which were/are affecting our country (think of "Sgt Rutledge," "Broken Arrow'" or "The Outlaw Josey Wales"). No, "High Noon" is not a accurate depiction of Old West communities, but it is an accurate representation of what out country was becoming - of the effects of self-interest, cowardice, and apathy - during the Cold War era.

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  3. There were countless incidents of townspeople fighting back against outlaws. The better known incidents are Northfield with the James-Younger gang and Coffeyville with the Daltons. There were others, such as Delta, CO with the McCarty gang and Medicine Lodge, KS with Henry Brown's gang. The list could go on...

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