Of World Wars and Cold Wars and Hollywood Classics: Noah Isenberg on We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie and Glenn Frankel on High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic
from Film Quarterly Spring 2017, Volume 70, Number 3
Over the past few years “Page Views” has become a space for Film Quarterly to highlight some of the most compelling new scholarship in the field of film and media studies. In collaboration with university presses and scholars, “Page Views” provides a dynamic showcase for critical texts and allows authors the opportunity to think through the impact of their works on the crossover audience that remains a hallmark of FQ’s readership. This column marks the first time that I interview two authors of two books written specifically for the crossover audience.
But make no mistake: film historian, professor, and FQ Book Reviews editor Noah Isenberg, the author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, editor, and professor emeritus Glenn Frankel, the author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, are no lightweights when it comes to thorough research and scholarship. These books are both critical analyses of the films and critical biographies of their writers and stars, featuring both their production histories and the unique historical conditions under which Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) and High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) were produced and premiered. At a time when the nature of American tradition is under siege, I found it fitting to return to the subject of Hollywood cinema and to speak with Isenberg and Frankel about two American classics that were made only ten years apart but mark vastly different political moments.
Casablanca was adapted from the stage play Everyone Comes to Rick’s (Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, 1940) in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and was released in the midst of the U.S. Army’s North African Campaign of World War II, a mere two weeks after General Patton’s troops had taken the actual city of Casablanca in Morocco. From its initial New York premiere on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, the film seemed to take on a life of its own, feeding into a social imaginary that was embraced wholly by the film’s producer Hal B. Wallis (at Warner Bros. studios), the film’s writers and actors, American film critics and audiences, and even the U.S. military. Isenberg’s detailed research reveals that actor and singer Dooley Wilson (Sam) and pianist Elliot Carpenter (whose hands stood in for Wilson’s in the film, since he was not a piano player) took their Casablanca personalities on the road, playing at USO parties for American servicemen (Isenberg, 76).
While undoubtedly most FQ readers are familiar with the legendary careers of Casablanca‘s romantic leads, Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund) and Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), as well as the work of the many character actors who round out the remarkable cast—Peter Lorre (Ugarte), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Madeleine Lebeau (Yvonne), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), and Conrad Veidt (Major Heinrich Strasser)—Isenberg’s book greatly enriches the story of these émigré actors through the exposition of behind-the-scenes production information, biographical information on each of these players, and primary source reviews.
Weaving together reviews of Casablanca by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, as well as those in the New York Amsterdam News (a black-owned newspaper), The Nation, and other sources, Isenberg demonstrates and complicates what was at stake in the portrayal of this story for black actors like Dooley Wilson, for European émigré actors, and for Warner Bros. support of the U.S. government’s efforts to maintain strong public sentiment against Nazi Germany midway through WWII. Isenberg reminds the reader that “what was portrayed onscreen was not a realistic depiction of contemporary America but rather an imaginary North African utopia” (Isenberg, 77). Isenberg found that those European actors forced out of their homelands by the Nazis had more work to do in Hollywood beyond simply delivering their lines. During Casablanca‘s post-production, trade papers were already highlighting this fact. One émigré critic, Alfred Polgar, commented on the ludicrous situation: “Marvelous irony of fate: to become known—indeed, to get star treatment—for playing the part of the bestial Nazis who destroyed us.” Isenberg goes on to note that Conrad Veidt in particular took this task on with gusto in order to do all that he could to support the Allied war effort (Isenberg, 65–66).
Conversely, High Noon came about during a moment of danger to American democracy that was not instigated by an enemy outsider, but rather by “the enemy within.” Frankel points out that High Noon was first conceived by screenwriter Carl Foreman in the wake of the Allied victories over Germany and Japan, but it was not until 1948 that he drafted a short outline in response to a request from a UN representative for a movie about the work of the United Nations; he completed his screenplay in 1951, in the midst of the ongoing House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings that saw many who had previously held the line for the Hollywood Ten in 1947 start to give in, give up, and name names. When Carl Foreman was summoned before the committee in September 1951 during the High Noon film shoot, he testified that he was not currently a member of the American Communist Party but otherwise took the Fifth Amendment, refused to name names, and as a result was blacklisted by Hollywood studios and labeled an “uncooperative witness” by HUAC.
Thus, by the time High Noon was released in 1952, HUAC had already launched its second raid of Hollywood, this time under a Democratic Congress, and the Screenwriters Guild—founded in 1933 by a group that included three future members of the Hollywood Ten—gave its consent for studios to omit from screen credits the names of writers who had failed to clear themselves before Congress.
As Noah Isenberg aptly stated when he and I spoke by phone, even through the lens of Hollywood, one can see that from the very beginning American screen culture was always a multicultural, multinational, and transnational enterprise. In the case of Casablanca, the Hollywood mythology was manifested in the form of characters enacting the screenwriters’, directors’, and studio heads’ ideal of submerging one’s own personal needs for the greater good. Each successive chapter of Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca slowly builds the history of Jewish studio head Harry Warner, who embraced American patriotism with gusto, and that of Hungarian-born director Michael Curtiz, who directed nearly a hundred films for Warner Bros., securing their place in the Big Five, while at the same time charting the biographies of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, both unlikely stars who broke the Hollywood mold. Both Isenberg and Frankel’s books remind the reader that this myth of Hollywood was built by the likes of Laemmle, Zukor, Schulberg, Lasky, Fox, Mayer, Warner, Loew, Cohn, Schenck, Goldwyn, Selznick, Thalberg—uniquely positioned yet vulnerable Jewish exiles and émigrés whose “families had fled a forgotten land and who had reinvented themselves as wise, brave and powerful” (Frankel, 13).
The story that Glenn Frankel recounts in High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic also includes a roster of Hollywood’s personalities and legends. With a cast of characters like Carl Foreman, Stanley Kramer, Gary Cooper, and Fred Zinnemann, who needs the film?!? As the book’s title indicates, the story of Foreman’s blacklisting and exile is the heart of the matter.
As I read these two books side by side, it was difficult not to get carried away with all the different ways in which these stories could be taken up in the present political moment. In particular, what came to the fore in Isenberg’s book are the historical reverberations of the global refugee crisis. Of course, in Casablanca this theme runs throughout the film, while the skillful writing sublimates that story to the Bogey-Bergman romance. Isenberg follows this thread of “the long treasured, long repressed Parisian romance between Rick [Humphrey Bogart] and Ilsa [Ingrid Bergman] on the eve of Nazi occupation” (Isenberg, 163). About two-thirds of the way through the book, though, in chapter 5, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Isenberg reveals how these threads of romance, repression, and loss manifest more broadly a wholly acceptable “sacrifice of love for glory” and “patriotic duty over personal libido” that finally saw the film sailing past the Production Code Administration (PCA) censors after several back-and-forths between Joseph Breen’s administration and the Warner studio (Isenberg, 186). The entire chapter is fascinating for the rich archival details that Isenberg is able to isolate in the records of the Office of War Information (OWI) and in the files of the PCA.
It bears noting that the nuances of romance in Casablanca are far more sophisticated than those presented onscreen or even insinuated in High Noon, yet both films continue to work within the confines of the production code to tell quintessentially American stories, presenting a series of archetypal characters that have remained part and parcel of Hollywood films to this day. And yet, films like Casablanca and High Noon seemed to immediately take on distinct lives of their own. As the Ingrid Bergman quote that opens Isenberg’s book attests, “There is something mystical about [Casablanca]. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film, a need that the film filled.”
Reading both of these books post-11/9, I must confess it was difficult to stay the course, so startling are the echoes of today to the moments in which these films were originally created. And yet, these two iconic, genre-hybrid films warrant these two new studies, which in turn deserve to be examined on their own terms. Isenberg and Frankel both offer many well-researched anecdotes about the ways in which Casablanca and High Noon have become iconic in their own right, most especially the ways in which Casablanca has been repeatedly referenced and revered—and occasionally even ridiculed—in subsequent media productions. Perhaps the most notable among the hundreds of films that have conjured the spirit of Casablanca are the satire The Cheap Detective (Robert Moore, 1978), written by Neil Simon, and the rom-com When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989), written by Nora Ephron, which often shows up on the repertory circuit on a Valentine’s Day double bill with Casablanca.
As I enthusiastically jumped in with both feet to each text, alternating among my different hats as film professor, film historian, and cultural history buff, I recognized the value of Isenberg and Frankel’s thorough accounts not only for undergraduate film history courses, but also for people who read serious nonfiction, biography, Hollywood history, and migration history. Even for FQ readers who study, write, and teach these two films (year after year, each time to fresh young minds), which have been critiqued and studied continuously since the time of their initial releases, there are fresh insights to be gleaned. Despite the definitive scholarly texts on both subjects, the archival record made available since those publications has allowed Isenberg and Frankel to fill in gaps that change the historiographies which scholars have long relied on.1 These new histories of Casablanca and High Noon offer readers a fresh chance to think through their own politics and values in a new era of media representation and repression.
I spoke to Noah Isenberg and Glenn Frankel individually, and offered them both the opportunity to reflect on the distinct characteristics of their work, as well as the interconnectedness of their stories. While general consensus within and about Hollywood may have changed dramatically in the ten years between the releases of Casablanca and High Noon, and while Hollywood may indeed be a sideshow for those engaged in a deeper struggle for hearts and minds, as Frankel so eloquently points out in his Introduction, the way that liberal democracies respond when “faced with what they perceive to be an existential threat to their security” often involves the repression of human rights and a great deal of self-righteous rhetoric (Frankel, xi). Would that this current decade could be the exception.
Regina Longo: I am considering We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie and High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic together, in part because you both emphasize the importance of the writers in the histories of Casablanca and High Noon. It would be easy to chalk this up to two writers choosing to place the emphasis on story, but there is obviously more at stake for both of you in making these choices. Can you discuss your motivations for beginning your forays into these popular movies with the stories of their playwrights and screenwriters?
Noah Isenberg: For many years, decades really, the unproduced stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, had either been unwittingly ignored or intentionally neglected. Film historian Aljean Harmetz, in her pioneering work of 1992, Round Up the Usual Suspects, was among the very first to give proper credit to Burnett and Alison, and I took her lead on this—and other critical facets concerning the tangled production history—when trying to provide as judicious an account of the story and its origins as possible. Murray Burnett’s journey to Vienna in summer 1938, soon after the Anschluss [Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria], his direct encounter with the so-called refugee trail, and his observations of a nightclub, a sort of proto-Rick’s, on the outskirts of Nice, are what formed the basis of the story that he and Joan Alison crafted into three highly memorable acts. It wasn’t so much a decision to privilege the writers as it was an attempt to grant proper credit where credit is due.
Glenn Frankel: Actually, I began with Gary Cooper and the rise of the Hollywood studio system, but I went quickly over to Foreman because he was the creator of High Noon. While his creative imagination may have been sparked by reading “The Tin Star,” a short story in Collier’s weekly magazine [December 4, 1947], his earliest draft shifted the center of gravity from the transfer of courage and authority in maintaining law and order from one generation to the next, to the actual meaning of courage and authority and the cost of enforcing these values in the face of community cowardice and indifference.
Longo: Interestingly, there is one passage in We’ll Always Have Casablanca that mentions High Noon. In the chapter “I Stick My Neck Out for Nobody”—which recounts the September 1941 U.S. Senate Subcommittee on War Propaganda hearings for which Harry Warner was summoned to testify about some Warner Bros. anti-fascist titles in which Humphrey Bogart had played the lead—Isenberg states that “Rick’s implied status as an outlaw, a frontier renegade, further links him to a long line of heroes of the American western, who similarly know when to do the right thing, even if it means taking the law into their own hands. (Think of Gary Cooper in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, made a decade after Casablanca, and the vigilante justice inflicted upon the band of criminals, stand-ins for Nazi thugs, on the American frontier.)”2 And yet, Bogart’s deeply creviced face is such a different kind of anti-hero than Will Kane. Do you, too, find parallels between Rick and Will?
Frankel: It’s a fascinating question. Rick is an anti-hero and outlaw, while Kane is a lawman and official authority figure. Even if technically he has resigned his post, Kane understands he still is in charge. His actions are not those of a vigilante but of an officially appointed guardian of law and order. Rick is essentially a loner, yet one who finds he has friends and allies in unexpected places at strategic moments, whereas Kane is the official representative of a community who finds his expected friends and allies melting away when a crisis looms. Rick is a cynic who learns to become a true romantic, sacrificing his personal desires for a larger cause; Kane is a believer in a moral code who comes to discover he can only rely on himself (and his new bride) because the community he seeks to defend is morally corrupt. He winds up disillusioned, rejecting the community for his own well-being. In cinematic terms, the heroes in both films are fated to succeed because they are played by Bogart and Cooper, two guys who never fail.
Longo: What distinguishes the type of anti-hero that Bogart embodies during WWII in Casablanca from that embodied by Gary Cooper during the Cold War in High Noon?
Isenberg: I think both are rugged individualists, with deep archetypal resonance, Bogart the classic “reluctant war hero,” as Barbara Deming calls him, and Cooper the kind of “Westerner” that Robert Warshow describes in his famous essay of the same name: “lonely and to some degree melancholy.” In worlds that are morally and politically compromised, if not thoroughly corrupt, they both take justice into their own hands. The lessons gleaned from Casablanca are completely antithetical to what Trump et al. are trying to pawn off now as core American values—[because] there is the point at which the characters need to recognize solidarity and what they are fighting for. There is something so deeply humane about this. While Casablanca is not the same as Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion [The Grand Illusion, 1937]— even though they share Marcel Dalio—there is a certain embrace of humanity [in both] that is timeless, and so very important in 2016 when, as Americans, we are still overcoming a powerful isolationist faction in Congress and in the population at large. There are voices today that are trying to revive the toxic beliefs that were [present] in Congress in 1941 when they brought in Harry Warner to testify. I find it so sad that we have this giant leap back to an ugly moment in American history.
Longo: I hope you will allow me to engage in the historian’s game of counterfactual history. What would be at stake if Will Kane, the putative hero of High Noon, failed?
Frankel: That is a really interesting question. I know that Foreman and Zinnemann had discussed the ending, and that Carl in his earlier note to Fred said that he felt that the logic of the story should realistically lead to the marshal’s death: one rapidly aging ex-lawman against four young ruthless killers. But he wrote to Fred afterward, and Zinnemann seemed to agree, that had they ended this with the logical extinction, this would have told the audiences that there was basically no hope—more than sobering, this would have led to despair.
So they rejected it, and came up with mechanics of the shoot-out that could have plausibly led to the marshal’s success. One of the keys aspects of this scene is that the new bride [Grace Kelly as Amy Fowler Kane] plays her role by killing outright one of the gunmen and rendering the other vulnerable by poking him in the eye—and she gets credit for the killings and this works well with the themes of the story of the new bride—and more importantly this knits the two characters together. Kane walks out on the community, but not on humankind, and not on his new bride. This is an optimistic ending for the couple, but not for all. Foreman uses the ending to make the points he needs to make.
Without being glib, Hollywood did and does require creating certain kinds of endings for certain characters and actors. Let’s face it, you cannot kill Gary Cooper just like you couldn’t kill John Wayne. And it is very, very hard to kill Bogart unless he is acting against type like he did in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [John Huston, 1948].
Isenberg: I am not sure I want to go the counterfactual route, because perhaps in some ways, Casablanca is the more progressive film. But if you take all westerns as allegory, in High Noon there is a way of looking at the return of the three thugs and their leader Frank Miller [Ian MacDonald] as Nazi henchmen, and Gary Cooper’s Will Kane as a Rick Blaine–kind of reluctant hero who returns for the unfinished business of removing the threat of tyranny. … Strictly on the level of reluctant heroes, Bogie is one and so is Gary Cooper. In the beginning, Kane tries to leave, but he can’t leave when he realizes this threat continues. There is a strong affinity between these two rugged individuals and loners who recognize that they have to act against the different forms of tyranny that threaten the masses…but I don’t want to overreach.
Longo: Your work here on the Casablanca script is so astute in bringing to light the tightrope between sexual suggestion and breach of the production code that studio writers had to walk in this era. In chapter 5, you take the reader through the incredible twists and turns of the Production Code Administration [PCA], and Joseph Breen’s concern with the sexual suggestiveness of the script. By the time that Casablanca is produced, do you think it was so simple as the “Virtue in Cans” formula?3
Isenberg: The “Virtue in Cans” formula, as conceived in the early 1930s, before the formal establishment of the PCA, was “five reels of transgression and one of retribution.” You could say that the script more or less adheres to that rule. After all the loose morality and total lack of a political backbone, not only does Rick (Bogart) do the right thing by subordinating his libidinal desires and his considerable ego for the larger cause, but Renault joins in the fold (tossing the Vichy water into the wastebasket), as does Yvonne in singing an impassioned rendition of “La Marseillaise” in the film’s most stirring scene.
Longo: By the time High Noon hits the screens, you note that Hollywood was a mere sideshow within greater ideological and political struggles. Your book does a great job of dissecting the lives and motivations of so many of the key players in High Noon’s creation and production. I wonder what you might suggest that readers revisit in your account of the making of this film to help make meaning out of this current historical moment and the stakes for the media industry now.
Frankel: My book is about the personal consequences of political acts and the political consequences of personal acts. High Noon was created at a time of repression, when forces on the right that had been held at bay for nearly a generation reasserted themselves and launched a counterrevolution against the New Deal and its allies. It was a time of paranoia and persecution, and its public anxieties, ritual humiliations, vicious rhetoric, and moral corruption in many ways echo those of our own turbulent era. Under these conditions, people have to decide whether to stand against those who have the power to threaten their careers, their freedom, and even their lives. This was the dilemma that High Noon‘s screenwriter, Carl Foreman, faced and the one he created for his main character, Marshal Will Kane. Ultimately, High Noon teaches us, this is a matter of personal courage. It’s very clear that this lesson is as applicable to today’s toxic political climate as it was in 1951.
Longo: I find the chronicle of the writing/rewriting/revisions process for Casablanca fascinating. It is incredible to think of the sheer number of people involved in this process and tasked with different aspects of the screenplay. Can you share with FQ‘s readers anything about your expectations and your encounters with the archival record?
Isenberg: Among the things that I found most fascinating in the writing process—and the jagged path from stage play to screenplay to finished picture—was, on the one hand, how much of Everybody Comes to Rick’s was retained and, on the other, how many different writers had a hand in the final script: the three credited, Oscar-winning screenwriters, Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch, but also Casey Robinson and various other contract writers at Warner Bros. who offered input at various stages. We sometimes forget the kind of assembly-line production, especially as it concerned the writers, that reigned supreme in studio-era Hollywood. With so many script doctors, the battle for credit was sometimes not just meaningless but almost impossible to prove.
Longo: You have to share the story about the script for Casablanca being submitted under a pseudonym to contemporary Hollywood producers who reject it outright or critique it harshly!
Isenberg: In 1982, an aspiring screenwriter and lowly freelancer named Chuck Ross wanted to make a point about the difficulty of unknown writers getting their work produced and about Hollywood talent agents’ inability to recognize a gem when they see one. Under the pseudonym Erik Demos, he sent out a fresh typescript of the Casablanca screenplay—he used the less identifiable Burnett-Alison title Everybody Comes to Rick’s—to more than two hundred agencies. Of those, only a few dozen recognized it; quite a few rejected it outright; and a number offered formulaic feedback (e.g., “I strongly recommend you leaf through a book called Screenplay by Syd Field”). Screenwriter Howard Koch was mortified when he learned of the hoax (“The Great Script Tease,” as it came to be known), and wrote a rueful opinion piece in the New York Times: “One of the most popular films of all time was either rejected or not recognized.”
Longo: You cite Jeffrey Meyers’s biography Gary Cooper: American Hero  as the definitive one, though it came out almost twenty years ago. Your book’s endnotes indicate that you located some new materials on Cooper in the personal papers of Patricia Neal.
Frankel: I had access to the papers of actress Patricia Neal, who was Cooper’s mistress around the time of High Noon, in the Northwestern University Archives. There are two letters from Cooper there, but still I didn’t see much. They are not very revealing and I only quote very briefly from one with Northwestern’s permission. I didn’t uncover much that was new, but I tried to interpret them through my own lens of Gary Cooper’s frustration with the Hollywood blowhards. His own self-critique of his inadequacy as a performer is also fascinating to me. I did not perceive it as false modesty, but it stands out that someone so successful could be so self-deprecatory about what makes him so successful.
Longo: You also mention that you had access to new information on Carl Foreman and materials from the HUAC files that were still confidential in 1980, when Victor S. Navasky’s Naming Names and Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund’s The Inquisition in Hollywood were first published.
Frankel: I was extremely lucky finding new materials about Carl and the situation; more on HUAC has become available since earlier accounts of the Blacklist were written. In particular, I was able to access notes of the executive sessions of HUAC with Foreman, Martin Berkeley and many other Hollywood personalities. Berkeley was an obscure writer who had already left the Communist Party at the time of the hearings, but nevertheless he was named by fellow screenwriter Richard J. Collins, and he proceeded to name more than 150 people as party members, including Foreman. These files were made available only after others had written their books. I was also able to access untranscribed interviews at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills and the University of Southern California archives with Stanley Kramer, Carl Foreman, Director of Photography Floyd Crosby, and Film Editor Elmo Williams that shed new light on the creative process and conflicts over High Noon.
Longo: How did Gary Cooper, by all accounts a very conservative Republican, become involved with a former communist like Carl Foreman?
Frankel: Cooper is a tall, reticent, and unpretentious Anglo-Saxon Protestant from rural Montana who lands in Hollywood and is an almost-immediate success in the emerging new star system of the first talkies because he exudes authenticity and charisma. He becomes well-established Hollywood aristocracy, yet by the early 1950s is burdened by increasingly poor health, self-doubts about his own talent, a troubled marriage, and a career that is beginning to decline as the star system itself starts to crumble. While his politics are deeply conservative and anti-Communist, he respects talent and personal integrity and seeks to help his new friend and creative collaborator Carl Foreman escape the blacklist by supporting Foreman’s efforts to launch a new film production company. But faced with opposition from right-wingers like Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, Cooper quickly backs down, abandoning Foreman to his fate. His efforts on Foreman’s behalf are sincere but ineffectual.
Longo: In chapter 3, you cite novelist Leslie Epstein: “There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself—tough on the outside and moral within…No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made—the early days of WWII— and the psychological needs of audiences decades later” (114). Is it stretching things to want to return to Rick’s to think through what is happening now?
Isenberg: Without overstating the case too much, I hope, I actually think that Casablanca resonates in a new register in our current political moment. I think that the film’s refugee story, its core story, still has much to say to us, and that the kind of civil courage that Rick shows, and that his patrons show in the singing of “La Marseillaise,” retains meaning today: we still need to stand up against all forms of tyranny and oppression, demagoguery, and nativism. Sure, like all great Hollywood films (“only more so,” as Rick himself might say), Casablanca traffics in powerful myths and archetypes. But those same myths and archetypes endure, continuing to shape us long into the twenty-first century. At a time when we are increasingly hopeless, a movie like Casablanca can at least give us a few flickers of faith in humanity, studio-confected artifice or no artifice.
Longo: In chapter 17, “The Movie,” you share with the readers a quote from Bosley Crowther’s 1952 New York Times review of High Noon, which concludes: “And, overall it has a stunning comprehension of that thing we call courage in a man and the thorniness of being courageous in a world of bullies and poltroons” (248). What is the moral equivalent for our times of Foreman’s courage and resolve? Is there a High Noon to be written for today?
Frankel: This is a tough one to answer. High Noon is essentially a simple story of courage and cowardice in the face of evil, a story that each generation re-creates and retells to fit its own sensibilities and imperatives. Hannah Arendt once wrote that it is necessary to rescue true tales of moral courage and decency from the memory holes that totalitarian regimes seek to bury them in, because these stories explain and confirm what it means to be human. The same is true of fictional morality tales like High Noon. So yes, it should be rewritten and retold to ourselves and our children today and every day around the human campfire.
While I usually end my interviews with the question of what comes next for the author, both Isenberg and Frankel expressed some uncertainty about what their next projects would be. It is clearly evident that whatever Frankel puts his mind to will be meticulously researched and compellingly written: he is finding his groove with Hollywood history, and thankfully for readers, he is not quite ready to leave his investigations into the Golden Age of Hollywood behind, even if he is ready to leave the realm of the western.
Likewise, Isenberg finds himself in a new position and period of transition. Having written and edited primarily scholarly texts in the past, including Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (2014) and the edited volume Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classical Films of the Era (2008), he is setting his sights on changing gears. First up is an article on the global refugee crisis as seen through the lens of Casablanca. After that, he will continue his research into a rather diverse group of German critics, writers, and filmmakers, including Lotte Eisner, Billy Wilder, and Fatih Akin. Not all at once, of course, but all in due time.
Noah Isenberg, We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie. New York: W.W. Norton, 2017. $27.95 (hardcover). 336 pages.
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Glenn Frankel, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. $28.00 (hardcover). 400 pages.
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1. Isenberg acknowledges Aljean Harmetz’s Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of “Casablanca”—Bogart, Bergman, and World War II, first published in 1992 and then reissued on the sixtieth anniversary of the film as The Making of “Casablanca,” and Rudy Behlmer’s 1985 anthology Inside Warner Bros., 1935–1951. Frankel acknowledges Jeffrey Meyers’s biography Gary Cooper: American Hero (1998), Walter Bernstein’s memoir Inside Out (1996), Stephen J. Ross’s Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics (2013), J. Hoberman’s An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011), and most importantly Victor S. Navasky’s Naming Names (1980) and Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund’s The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–60 (1980).
2. The Warner Bros. titles singled out for scrutiny were Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Anatole Litvak, 1939), Underground (Vincent Sherman, 1941), and Sergeant York (Howard Hawks, 1941). Isenberg notes that Warner had in fact claimed three years earlier, as the moral voice of his studio, that he was intent on “making important social pictures to combat Fascism” (Isenberg, 103).
3. The term “Virtue in Cans” was first used in an editorial by the same name in the April 16, 1930 issue of The Nation, for which the author remains unnamed, and it argues the futility of the production code. The “cans,” of course, referred to the mode of transport for the 35mm reels that comprised those films.