High Plains Drifter
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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for High Plains Drifter can be found here.

A stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides his horse out of the hot undulating waves of the desert and into the mining town of Lago and asks for a beer, a bath, a shave, and a haircut. After being shot at by the town's three hired gunmen, the stranger shoots all three and then asks for a room for the night. Because of the stranger's expertise with a gun, the town votes to hire him at any cost to protect Lago from three outlaws—Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis), Bill Borders (Scott Walker), and Cole Carlin (Anthony James)—who have just been released from jail after they brutally whipped to death Lago's previous Marshal Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) and who are believed to be on their way back to Lago.

American screenwriter Ernest Tidyman wrote the screenplay for High Plains Drifter and followed it up with a 1973 novelization of the film.

One gravestone shown in the intro is dated to 1882, so this movie most likely takes place in the mid-1880s.

After having the townfolk paint the entire town red, rename it "Hell", and set up a picnic and welcoming banner for the outlaws' return, the Stranger rides out of town, leaving them to fight their own battle against the three outlaws that brutally whipped Duncan to death while the townies stood and watched. As night falls and the town burns, it looks like the outlaws are getting the better hand. The Stranger suddenly returns and kills the outlaws one by one, whipping Cole to death, hanging Dan with another whip, and shooting Stacey. The Stranger is almost shot by Lewis Belding (Ted Hartley), but Mordecai (Billy Curtis) shoots Belding first. The next morning, as the Stranger rides out of town, he passes Mordecai carving a fresh grave marker. Mordecai says, "I never did know your name," to which the Stranger replies, "Yes, you do." The camera then reveals the name on the grave marker to read "Marshall Jim Duncan, Rest In Peace." In the final scene, the Stranger rides his horse out of town into the hot undulating waves of the desert and disappears.

This is purposely left ambiguous to give it an almost supernatural feel, but the theories put forth are as follows: (1) The stranger is Marshal Jim Duncan's brother who learned that the three men who killed his brother were being released from prison and would likely return to their town, so the stranger "passed through" in order to take revenge on the three men and on the town itself for simply standing by and watching as his brother was brutally murdered. (2) The stranger was Marshal Jim Duncan himself come back to exact his revenge (perhaps through a deal with the devil.). This would explain why nobody in the town recognized him, but he knew how exactly the Marshal was killed and he was able to kill the three men in the same way. (3) The stranger was the ghost of Marshal Duncan.

It appears to have been cut at around 45 minutes into the film, when someone yells, "What the ... you doin' to my father's house?" This is even true for the DVD version.


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