High Noon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new presentation marked a modest improvement from the picture seen on the prior DVD.
Sharpness appeared consistently strong. Throughout the movie, the image seemed nicely crisp and detailed, and only a few wide shots displayed any signs of softness. For the most part, the focus remained clear and well defined. I detected a few instances of moiré effects and/or jagged edges; the railroad tracks were the prime offenders in those regards, and the slats in the door to the saloon also caused some problems, but all of these concerns were small. In addition, some light edge enhancement cropped up at times.
Black levels seemed quite deep and rich, despite the fact that contrast appeared slightly weak. For much of the film, I thought the image looked too bright. This issue arose only during exterior shots; at those times, I felt that the lighting mildly overwhelmed the rest of the picture. Because black levels stayed as solid as they were, I believe the excessive brightness was a filmmaking decision and was done intentionally, a thought validated during some of this DVD’s extras. It surprised me, but it probably added to the spare and desolate look of the film. In any case, dark tones seemed solid, and shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but not overly thick; the brightness issues did not render these segments excessively light.
When I compared the appearance of the old DVD and this one, so far the different factors remained about the same. Where the new release earned higher marks came from the presence of print flaws. Those didn’t seem terribly prevalent on the prior disc, but this one cleaned them up to a certain degree. It still offered some spots and specks, but grain decreased and it lacked some annoying jumps that seemed to appear due to missing frames. On the old disc, the shots in Helen’s room looked consistently weak relative to the rest of the material, but the new one integrated them more cleanly.
Some weird problems still appeared, such as streaks that danced around during the scene in which Will went to the church and for a while after that. The shots of Helen and Amy also came across as moderately murky and fuzzy. Nonetheless, the new DVD of High Noon provided a noticeable if modest improvement over the prior release. As such, it earned a jump from that DVD’s “B-“ for picture to this one’s “B”; the differences didn’t offer any revelations, but they existed.
One annoyance about the presentation: at the start of the film, we see an FBI warning. That may seem like no big deal, as lots of DVDs include these. However, it exists as part of the program, not on a separate chapter, so you can’t easily skip it. I understand why studios place these disclaimers on DVDs, but I don’t know why some make them so onerous.
Although the new DVD provided an “enhanced original restored audio” Dolby Digital 3.1 soundtrack, this really came across as glorified monaural. The disc also included a remastered version of the original mono mix, and I flipped between the two at times. I noticed virtually no differences between them, as I felt they sounded identical. I also felt that this mix matched up closely with the audio heard on the prior DVD; unlike the picture quality, I discerned no significant differences between the old and the new discs.
Which was fine, since the sound always appeared pretty solid for a 50-year-old flick. Overall, the audio seemed clear and accurate without any substantial flaws. Dialogue was distinct and relatively natural, though it displayed some of the thin qualities typical of audio from the era. However, it was quite listenable and I never experienced any problems related to intelligibility. Effects came across in a similar manner and appeared fairly crisp and distinguished without any signs of distortion.
The film's score seemed slightly thick at times; the instrumentation didn't appear very well-differentiated and the overall impression offered by the music could make it sound somewhat muddled. However, it generally remained clear and concise, and I also detected some modest low end as well. The “.1” channel kicked into action in a very light way at times; it was there and it added slightly, but don’t expect much. I noticed some very light background noise a few times during the film; once again, most of these instances occurred in shots filmed at Helen's room. Despite some minor defects, the soundtrack seemed pretty strong for a film from 1952.
This new Special Edition release of High Noon adds a few extras to those found on the old version. I’ll note supplements from the original with an asterisk. First we encounter an audio commentary with the children of some of the film’s principal participants. This track includes remarks from Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, John Ritter and Tim Zinnemann. Although the commentary’s producers try desperately to make us believe that all four participants sat together, that clearly wasn’t the case. Instead, Ritter and Zinnemann formed one tandem, while Cooper-Janis and Foreman watched the film together in a separate session. In what seems to be the current trend for these kinds of edited pieces, the producers combine the remarks to create the illusion of one big group, but it doesn’t work, and the result seems annoying and distracting.
Unfortunately, the content of the commentary doesn’t offer enough good material to overcome those flaws. The Cooper-Janis/Foreman pair dominates the piece, but they offer little useful material. Occasionally they chime in with something moderately informative, but mostly they simply describe the action and tell us how great everything is. On the other hand, Foreman/Ritter give us some reasonably compelling notes about their fathers’ work, but they appear infrequently during the track. This renders the whole program mediocre at best and frustrating most of the time.
Next we find *The Making of High Noon. Hosted by Leonard Maltin, this 1992 program lasts 22 minutes and 10 seconds and offers a nice overview of the movie and its era. We find then- contemporary interviews with producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann, and actor Lloyd Bridges plus David Crosby (son of cinematographer Floyd) and John Ritter. It also includes some snippets from a late Fifties TV interview with Gary Cooper.
In addition to these interviews, “Making” provides some valuable glimpses of the film’s script with Zinnemann's notes written all over them. Overall, the documentary provides a nice discussion of the classic movie that covers a lot of elements in its brief running time. Not only do we learn some details of how the picture was made, but we also receive additional information about the western genre as a whole - especially how High Noon stood out from the pack - and some facts about the "Red Scare". It's a solid little package that will add to your enjoyment of the movie.
We also get a new documentary called Behind High Noon. Hosted by Maria Cooper, the nine-minute and 45-second piece includes comments from Tim Zinnemann, Jonathan Foreman, and Prince Albert of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s son. Some of the material seems redundant after the prior program, but it manages to contribute a few decent facts. Cooper’s exceedingly stiff narration weighs it down, however, and ultimately “Behind” seems like a pleasant but not terribly valuable program.
Next we discover a radio broadcast that features singer Tex Ritter on The Ralph Emery Show. The five-minute and 35-second piece includes remarks about Ritter’s career in general as well as his involvement in High Noon. It seems somewhat flat, but it offers a nice little historical document.
Finally, the DVD includes trailers for the “Collector’s Edition” packages of High Noon, The Quiet Man, and Rio Grande. Note that while the prior Noon DVD provided the film’s original theatrical trailer, the new one did not. The clip for the CE is a different beast entirely.
Frankly, High Noon is such a solid movie that I'd endorse the DVD without any supplements; the documentary qualifies as gravy. The film holds up well after almost 50 years and stands as a strong piece of dramatic storytelling that also features a powerful social connection. The DVD itself shows some signs of age, but I thought the picture and sound seem pretty good overall, and a few decent extras added value to the package. High Noon is a DVD that belongs in the collection of any serious film fan.
While I definitely recommend the SE DVD for folks who don’t own a copy of High Noon, the question becomes iffier for those who already possess the prior release. The new transfer improves upon the old one’s visuals slightly, but the audio tracks seem very similar. The new supplements don’t add much to the package; they include some decent material but not enough to warrant a repurchase on their own, especially since the best component already appeared on the old set. If you’re a die-hard Noon buff, you may want to “upgrade” to the new one, but otherwise I’d stick with the prior release.