A Show Called Fred
I think — bear with me now — that Fred Zinnemann might be underrated. Oh, I know he won four Oscars, but that cuts no ice with the auteurists. It doesn’t really matter much to me, either, come to that. And I know HIGH NOON gets listed on all the AFI top 100s and all that, or I assume it does, because I haven’t looked. And I know FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is celebrated in the same circles. THE NUN’S STORY and OKLAHOMA! and DAY OF THE JACKAL have their rabid fans, but I’m not sure they’re really considered “director’s films,” which is ridiculous. And THE MEN was Brando’s first film, and there’s always A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. But they’re not that impressed by that down the auteurist pubs I drink in.
I wonder if it’s because he was at MGM, or because he had “white elephant art” tendencies, or because Howard Hawks didn’t like HIGH NOON, but Zinnemann seems to get short shrift, and I don’t think it’s right. Hawks’ objections to HIGH NOON are interesting, by the way, solely for what they tell us about Hawks. Considered by themselves, they’re crazy.
Hawks, as you may know, objected to the way Gary Cooper spends the film trying to get help to fight the four men coming to kill him, then defeats them single-handedly. Why did he need to ask for help in the first place? “Man’s not a professional,” grumbled HH.
Well, I don’t give a damn whether he is or not. Professionalism is the prime virtue in Hawksian cinema, but not in Zinnemann’s, where it is evinced by the Nazis fought in THE SEVENTH CROSS and the assassin in DAY OF THE JACKAL. Cooper’s nobility is what counts in HIGH NOON, and it’s not the kind of movie where one man can be assumed to defeat four, just by being noble, so it’s understandable he should ask for help. Hawks made RIO BRAVO, he claimed, as an antidote to HIGH NOON, and I’m really glad he did — it’s the high water-mark of his late career. But the scene where Wayne refuses help from amateurs is pretty silly from a tactical viewpoint. He could’ve used them to create a distraction, at least.
Anyway, I’m going to be concentrating, as much as possible, on lesser-known Zinnemanns. It’s my contention that his reputation would be higher if some of his early films were held aloft more regularly, perhaps rather than some of his later films. And the techniques and themes which bind his varied body of work together need shouting about too.
To explore why I think Fred Zinnemann is very much worth bothering with is going to take a little time — maybe a week.
So here it is — Fred Zinnemann Week on Shadowplay.