At the climax of the 1952 Western classic "High Noon," Marshal Wil Kane (played by Gary Cooper) takes a lonely walk down an empty main street to take on four gunslingers bent on killing him. He faced them alone because the townspeople, who he thought were his friends, were too selfish and cowardly to lend him a hand.
Stanley Kramer, who produced "High Noon," directed by Fred Zinnemann, must have identified with Kane. In his belief that movies should contain important social messages, Kramer trod his own lonely path in Hollywood. At the time of his death Monday at age 87, he still walked alone.
Kramer became so associated with message movies that he grew sick of the term. Yet he worked tirelessly to earn his reputation as a filmmaker who eschewed slick escapism in favor of social relevance.
After he started directing as well as producing in 1957, Kramer poured out a stream of movies on weighty subjects, including racism ("The Defiant Ones"), intolerance ("Inherit the Wind"), interracial marriage ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"), nuclear holocaust ("On the Beach"), and the Holocaust ("Judgment at Nuremberg").
While Kramer's integrity earned him great respect, it's no surprise he never won a best picture or best director Oscar. The films he directed himself lacked the finesse of "High Noon" and were often criticized as solemnly self-important.
But Kramer's legacy will certainly be his artistic statements, if not artistic quality. His lasting triumph will not be how well his pictures were made, but that they were made at all. Directors who believe the movies should stimulate thought on important themes will always stand apart from the crowd in Hollywood.
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