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"Hang 'Em High" is a fictionalized account of Hangin' Judge Parker's
court at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Judge Parker had jurisdiction over a
large chunk of Indian Territory (Oklahoma today). The house of ill
repute in the film is a fictionalized version of Miss Laura's Social
Club which still stands in Fort Smith and has the dubious distinction
of being the only whore house on the National Register of Historic
Places. In the movie, Fort Smith becomes Fort Grant but a few of the
place names used are actual names of towns nearby, such as Alma,
Arkansas, and Poteau, Oklahoma. The river in "Hang 'Em High" is too
small (even before the locks and dams) to be the Arkansas River but
could stand in for the Poteau River; the confluence of the two rivers
occurs at Belle Point in Fort Smith. Most of the movie was shot in
California and New Mexico (certainly not eastern Oklahoma) but the
scenes of the gallows and the judge's court and office look very much
like Judge Parker's Court in Fort Smith that is also on the National
Register of Historic Places. If not actually filmed there, then the
producer and director did an excellent job recreating it as a set. Even
the dungeon jail is correct.
This was Clint Eastwood's first American western following his triumph in Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy. Eastwood wanted Leone to direct this one but he was already committed to another project. From what I read neither Eastwood nor director Ted Post worked well with the producer/writer Leonard Freeman.
"Hang 'Em High" starts out with a bang, a lynching that backfires. To show the audience that Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is a good guy, Cooper rescues a calf from drowning. This ploy was later used in "Tombstone" when Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), on his first appearance on screen, aids a horse that is being mistreated. Wyatt gives the perpetrator a taste of his own medicine reprimanding him, "Hurts, don't it?" Veteran actor Ben Johnson, who was from Oklahoma, happens on the scene while Cooper is still dangling, cuts him free, then throws him into the "tumbleweed wagon" full of thieves and cut throats bound for Fort Grant and justice. After lingering in the dungeon jail awhile, the judge clears Cooper and makes him a federal Marshall, warning him to bring the nine men in who attempted to hang him, but bring them in alive. The rest of the film deals with Cooper rounding up the nine plus a few other killers along the way. There is also emphasis on the different interpretation of justice by Cooper, a former lawman, and the judge. This leads to several dramatic confrontations. There is a parallel story of a search for justice by Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens)who falls for Cooper and visa versa. They have a thirst for vengeance in common.
Much of the movie is fiction, but parts are based on history. The circus atmosphere that accompanied the public hangings in Fort Smith during Judge Parker's rule is shown basically as it has been reported. There were vendors present, hawking all types of goods and goodies. Children wandered around with or without their parents. The fathers would sometimes place their children on their shoulders so the tads could get a better view of the executions. And there were multiple hangings recorded, similar to the one in the film.
The viewer may enjoy seeing a lot of familiar faces in the cast. Veteran actor Bob Steele plays Old Man Jenkins, a member of the lynching party. Bruce Dern is as ornery as they come. He is not only a member of the lynching party but a cold-blooded killer as well. Alan Hale, Jr. (The Skipper to his Little Buddy), one of the lynching party, is a blacksmith who seems apathetic to the incident. Dennis Hopper has what could be labeled a billed cameo role. The viewer barely sees his face at all. L.Q. Jones is a member of the lynching party turning in his usual fine performance. Charles McGraw plays the sheriff of Red Creek (possibly Garrison Creek, which today is Roland, Oklahoma) who has a back problem--or is it a spine problem? James MacArthur makes a solemn preacher extracting final confessions from the condemned.
Pat Hingle portrays the hanging judge in fairly realistic terms. The real hanging judge never watched the condemned swing. Judge Adam Fenton not only watches but nods to the hangmen when to pull the lever. The masterful Ed Begley is the vicious leader of the lynching party who is determined to make amends for his botched hanging of Cooper by hanging him even higher next time. The lovely and sexy Inger Stevens turns in a winning performance as a supplement to Cooper's vengeance. And Clint Eastwood, well, he's Clint Eastwood. Need I say more?
I found this to be a pretty solid western, not one you hear a lot about
but a fast- moving film which means it entertains. It doesn't dawdle on
any one particular scene.
There is a good cast in this Clint Eastwood-starred movie. Pat Hingle did an outstanding job as the too gung-ho judge but isn't all bad and has an interesting explanation of the situation he was in near the end of the film.
Overall, this a gritty story with Eastwood in his customary revenge-minded role, although he mellows somewhat by the end of the film. I also appreciated all the good facial closeups in here. As with most westerns, the movie is nicely photographed.
This movie had a odd combination of being really raw in parts but yet thoughtful. I think it's a very underrated, under-appreciated western.
Clint Eastwood's most underrated film, Hang 'Em High is a throughly
enjoyable movie. It has the feel of a John Wayne western, as opposed to
the spaghetti western formula in which Eastwood with Sergio Leone
combined so magnificently with each other in the Dollars trilogy.
Eastwood gives a very worthy performance as Marshall Jed Cooper. The central dilemma of having to operate within the law in conflict with his own personal view of justice is executed very well by Eastwood. On the whole, Eastwood's performance is certainly a strong point of the film and a great performance in its own right.
The storyline itself is relatively well structured with interesting elements relating to the law and the justice system. However, a rather pointless, rushed and half baked romantic subplot by Inger Stevens (who is sadly woefully out of her acting league alongside Eastwood) adds nothing to the story and becomes rather annoying on repeat viewings.
However, special mention must go to both Pat Hingle and Ed Begley who both give some excellent performances, perhaps even superior to Eastwood himself.
Hang 'Em High is a great Eastwood western, provided you don't expect something magical like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly or Unforgiven. Entertaining and more complex than you would expect but sadly, greatly underestimated. Every Eastwood fan should at least give it a chance.
Overall I give it a solid and well deserved 8/10. Be sure to get a copy of this hidden gem.
The film begins brilliantly and brutally with a lynch mob leaving
Eastwood for dead at the end of a rope...
He is rescued, eventually cleared of suspicion, and appointed deputy with 'a license to hunt' by a famous hanging-Judge Parker (Pat Hingle) with a clear warning: All the criminals are to be taken alive for trial...
Eastwood proceeds to clean up the worst crimes in the state, but doubting his own motives, he always avoids capturing the gang of nine vigilantes who were responsible for his near-death...
Inexorably, the confrontation comes nearer. The leader of the gang, Captain Wilson (played by Ed Begley), returns to town and wounds Eastwood. This provides an encounter with another victim of the vigilantes, Rachel (Inger Stevens) who nurses Eastwood and reveals that the same gang raped her after murdering her husband...
Eastwood's character is unlike Gregory Peck's character as the blind seeker of justice in "The Bravados" (1958), and much different for the 'Stranger.' He has now more dialog, he has a romance of sorts, and although he is equally proficient with the gun he always waited for the court's justice rather than dispensing his own, as he readily did in the Italian Westerns. He also exhibits less of the dry humor that had characterized the Stranger, and most sacrilegious of all, he has a name, Jed Cooper.
"Hang 'em High" remains a study of differences between public and private forms of justice, but the motivations behind both are left confused and unsatisfying... The gripping mass execution on a big platform, is brilliantly directed by Ted Post, but the film has neither the magic or the mystique of a Leone film...
This was Clint Eastwood's American Western debut that I had never really
seen all the way through until now. At first I thought it would be
ride 'em high, cowboys n' indians flick that was popular in America those
days... before Sergio Leone shook the genre down to its raw and merciless
The film was pretty good, and the moral undercurrent of justice "by a dirty rope on the plain, or a judge in a robe standing before the American flag" is rather striking. The Federal judge is by far one of the most interesting characters I have seen yet in a Western.
Indeed, the grittiest and most barbaric scene is not the lynching of an innocent man, but the public hanging on the eve of statehood... to prove that Oklahoma Territory executed the sort of justice required of a "civilized" state of the Union. It is made a public spectacle with beautiful hymns and cold beer. And just the way each of the condemned faces his execution is tongue in cheek.
Then there was the campfire scene where Captain Wilson confers with his employees regarding their options: irony, fear and desperation. They put a human face on their culpability, similiarly echoed decades later by Little Bill's "I don't deserve this, I was building house." And the few who chose not to run chose a desperate and violent option.
A dillemic "no one wins" justice spiralling into graphic violence... and ultimately an undiginified and graceless death. What was perfected into poignant brevity by Unforgiven was born in Hang Em High's exploration of two men's differing approaches to an unforgiving justice... a justice that led either to the end of a noose, or the end of a gun.
Not bad at all...
I realize "Hang 'em high" isn't the most well-known of Clint Eastwood's
westerns but it sure as hell is a one wonderful and successful movie. The
first scene is a classic and the hanging scene in the somewhat middle of the
film is very powerful and memorable. Dialogue is splendid and the acting is
truly excellent. No need to mention Pat Hingle shines as Judge
Almost all of Eastwood's other American-made westerns did have that certain spaghetti-oriented feeling in them. "Hang 'em high" is perhaps perhaps the one that looks most like so-called traditional American western. However the role of Jed Cooper is like a tailor made for good-old Clint, or in this case young Clint. He's tough, charming and downright marvellous and once again he shows why John Wayne can kiss his boots.
"Hang 'em high" is an exquisite experience, clever, deep, impressive and entertaining. Actually this is even better than Don Siegel's "Two mules for Sister Sara" and I loved it too. This is a movie that gets better every time you see it. If you didn't fully appreciate or understand it the first time you should watch it again and again and again and notice that every single time it offers something new to you. To all of you dear Eastwood-fans across the world, watch this fantastic film! 9/10
Big Clint's first film outside of Serigo Leone's sensational Dollars
trilogy is none other than...a Western. Hang 'Em High is a rather
overlooked entry in Clint's long and impressive film wagon, even though
it is a serious, no-nonsense and modest look at crime and punishment
and a subtle dig at the injustice system, which was somewhat forgotten
by his critics who emphasized that he was a symbol of violence,
especially in the Dollars trilogy and the Dirty Harry series.
Clint plays an ex-lawman who picks up a new badge after he is almost killed by a group of men who hang him and leave him for dead. He then embarks on a mission to hunt them down one-by-one and hand them over to the law.
Ted Post's watchable Western drama is definitely a refreshing break from most other 'revenge' movies. Instead of cold-blooded vengeance, the script decides to display Clint's character, though still as the cold, silent anti-hero, as a more peaceful person who would truly like to see men behind bars rather than shooting them down. The film also keeps it grip, rarely letting a boring moment crawl in even though this is more talk than action.
Its not a perfect, polished or particularly great film - the characterization always stays pretty low and the romance between Clint and the charming Inger Stevens isn't fully developed, for instance. However, it has its highlights - a memorable opening sequence and an effective musical score - along with its notable touch for seeing justice rather than violence and killing. A good effort that's worth watching and not ignoring.
Eastwood, as Jed Cooper, sits on both sides of the fence in American criminal
jurisprudence. First, he is hung (although they didn't get the job done) in
a deputized mob lynching. After he recuperates (the first time), he returns
to his career as lawman to help a "hangin' judge" grease the wheels of
justice. Of course all that Cooper really wants is to see justice done to
the mob that lynched him. He soon finds out that his transgressors were
"men of the community" or leading town folk.
The irony is plentiful in this film. For example, the two young men who go peacefully in an impossible 3 day ride, submit completely to the new Marshall. How are they rewarded? Well, they are hung of course! This really sets the tone of the film. The audience quickly recognizes that the "hangin' judge" just might me a bit too effective in his role of "statemaker."
While the movie does get a bit tedious, the story is razor sharp, the soundtrack is good although a bit epic, and the acting is very well done.
One is left with a sympathy for the men Cooper is hunting. Of course, this is a deliberate result of the filmmakers who meant this to be a commentary on capital punishment. Well, I enjoyed the film despite the deeply woven propaganda.
Ex-lawman turned cattle rancher Jed Cooper is taken newly purchased cattle
back home when he is caught by a posse who accuse him of murder and lynch
him. They ride off to leave him to die, however he is cut down by a group
of marshals who add him to their prisoners and take him to the judge.
Having had his story cleared Cooper is offered a job as a marshal and agrees
to do it. However when his first task is to arrest the men who hung him can
he take the stand away from revenge and on the side of the
I watched this cause I do like a good western every now and again. The actual plot is quite simple on the surface man out for revenge, but it uses it quite well. It makes some interesting parallels between the hanging of men by the lynch parties and the hanging of men by a judge. It doesn't fully make it's point but it is good to have something to think about in a western. Outside of this the film has some good drama even if the end feels more like the conclusion of an episode in a TV series rather than the finale of a film.
Of course the reason for this may be Post's involvement as director. He used to direct Rawhide with Eastwood and was picked for this film to support Eastwood. This was his first American film after doing all those spaghetti westerns and I assume he wanted a familiar hand on the tiller. He does well here as he always did with his western characters, I read that he also directed some of it. The rest of the cast are made up of a few famous names (Bruce Dern, LQ Jones for example) but regardless everyone does well in their roles.
It's not a classic western but it rises above the average by having a good lead in the shape of Eastwood and some plot strands that go beyond the revenge storyline and encourage you to think of deeper issues.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although Clint Eastwood is incredibly famous for his "spaghetti
westerns", this film was made domestically just after his spaghetti
phase and I think it's as good any of these movies (even "The Good, The
Bad and The Ugly"). His acting is about the same, maybe a little
better, but it's nice to see his supporting cast is much more competent
than what we'd been used to seeing. Pat Hingle, Charles McGraw, Bruce
Dern and Eg Begley, Sr. all provide able support, as do lesser-known
characters such as the "good man" about to be executed or the two young
boys who assisted Dern in his cattle rustling.
So apart from an able cast, why did I like it? Well, the story was the key. Clint Eastwood was wrongfully hung by a lynch mob at the beginning of the movie. He miraculously survives and becomes a lawman bent on apprehending the men who almost killed him. Despite this, Eastwood's character has depth and the movie really has something to say about frontier justice. Unlike some westerns, the bad guys are not ALWAYS killed by the Marshall but are brought to justice--which almost always means a hanging. Over time, Eastwood's lust for vengeance diminishes, as it's tough and not always a fair way to exact justice. You see and ultimately believe Eastwood's internal struggle.
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