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By the early 70s, actor Clint Eastwood's career had gone from being a
mere extra to a well-known Hollywood star. Thanks to the success of
Sergio Leone's immortal Westerns, Eastwood was noticed and soon he
began to work in very good projects, with great results. Despite being
a respected actor, nobody could have imagined that his talent as
director was even superior to his acting skills, and after a fairly
good debut in 1971 (the thriller "Play Misty for Me"), he crafted his
first masterpiece in 1973 as a tribute to his own artistic mentors: the
haunting western "High Plains Drifter".
"High Plains Drifter" is the story of a small mining town named "Lago" which is constantly troubled by outlaws and gunfighters. One day a stranger (Clint Eastwood) comes to town, and manages to kill three of those outlaws, gaining instant recognition and the offer of having whatever he wants from the town if he gets rid of the rest of the gang. He accepts but the town doesn't know that the mysterious stranger has a secret that will change their lives for ever.
The figure of the stranger comes to town to alter the fragile equilibrium of their existence, and soon the town's own demons return to haunt them. Eastwood's character is not exactly the hero we know, but a morally ambiguous cruel man that doesn't hesitate to use and abuse the townspeople and that clearly has an agenda of his own. Written by Ernest Tidyman, this is a dark tale that explores the ambiguous morality of people and the concepts of justice and revenge.
Eastwood's second directorial effort is a powerful movie that brilliantly combines the elements of Western with those of suspense and thriller. Due to his solid career in Westerns, Eastwood knows the genre's characteristics and pushes them forward to create something more, a movie beyond its genre. With brilliant camera-work, he goes from dream sequences out of a nightmare to day sequences in Leone's Spaghetti Western style. This is definitely a tribute to his mentors (In fact, he included a small reference to his directors in a cemetery scene).
The acting is remarkably good, with Eastwood himself leading the cast with great skill and his powerful presence. His character is a lot more complex than his "Man With No Name" and it could be said that he mixes in one character the characteristics of the three outlaws of "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly". The underrated Billy Curtis is great as Mordecai, probably the only one in town who knows (and understands) the stranger's secret. The rest of the cast is very good and even those in small roles (such as William O'Connell as the barber) give performances of high quality. Apparently Eastwood's talent with people was there from the beginning.
Tidyman's story is very well-constructed, and can be seen from diverse points of view. Every character in town is well-defined no matter how long their screen-time is, and Eastwood makes the most of it. It's hard to find a flaw in this movie and I really can't praise it enough. It is a story that once that grabs you never lets you go.
"High Plains Drifter" is a must-see, not only for Western fans, it is a powerful story that is more than what it seems. Great camera-work, haunting images, terrific script, superb acting, all pieces fit to create Clint Eastwood's first masterpiece. This dark western sets the path of Eastwood's career as a director and one can see why is he one of the best directors alive. 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The exotic location in the desert, near Lake Mono in the California
Sierras, certainly gives the film a fresh and refined look among
Westerns...The sparkling colors of the backgrounds and the changing
cloud formations gave effective shots...The film has certainly the most
dramatic opening sequence of any Western...
Through the burning desert, Bruce Surtees' lens discovers a lone horseman.... The camera pans with the horseman to reveal a small town by a lake-lagoon... The horseman rides in, the camera tracking behind him, interrupted with faces of suspicious locals - even a coffin maker with his merchandises - and instantly one is reminded of Sergio Leone and his faithful reproduction of Kurosawa... A coach driver cracks the whip... The horseman turns, and moves back... He enters a bar and asks for 'a beer and a bottle.' A town heavy intervenes: 'Flea-bitten range-bums don't usually stop in Lago. Life here is a little too quick for them. Maybe you think you're fast enough to keep up with us!' The drifter replies: 'I'm faster than you'll ever live to be!'
True to his promise, the Stranger kills the 'trouble shooter' and his two friends, and also rapes the town belle who responds as any Eastwood feminine victim is obliged to, with resistance turning strangely to joy... The town midget, Mordecai (Billy Curtis) offers him a cigar inquiring: 'What did you say your name was again?' The hardened Stranger replies: 'I didn't!'
The Man With No Name has returned, this time, quite literally, with a vengeance... His dictatorship is flavored with cool humor... The name Billy Borders is mentioned to him...'Don't know the man,' he confesses.'You didn't have much time to,' comes the reply, 'because you shot him yesterday.'
When his rape victim, Callie Travers (Mariana Hill) inaccurately empties a pistol at him during his bath, he casually resurfaces, cigar still in his mouth, and in an aside to his sidekick, Mordecai, reflects: 'I wonder what took her so long to get mad?' His fellow chauvinist suggests, 'Maybe because you didn't come back for more.'
The townsfolk accedes to the Stranger's requests, who pushes them to the limit, even forcing them to paint the entire town blood red... 'When we get down,' says one of them, 'this place is going to look like hell.'
This is the Stranger's intention; he takes a brush and strokes out the name 'Logo' on the town sign and writes 'Hell' instead.
In a series of flashbacks, primarily from the Stranger's point of view and later from Mordecai's, it is revealed that the townsfolk stood by and let three men whip their Marshal to death... The Marshal had discovered that the basis of the town's prosperity, a mine, was actually on government land and not on the townspeople's own. He was going to report this, so no-one felt obliged to intervene when he met his vicious end... His body now was lying outside the town in an unmarked grave: 'They say the dead don't rest without a marker of some kind... he's the reason this town's afraid of strangers.'
Now they have reason to be afraid of the three men who paid the price for the crime in which they all agreed... The Stranger analyzes this fear: 'It's what people know about themselves inside that makes them afraid.' The town reaction to his is reserved... A group of vigilantes try to kill him... The Stranger repays them with a stick of dynamite... Despite their training, the remaining locals are horrified when they realize that he does not intend to remain for the final showdown...
"High Plains Drifter" is one of the most important Westerns ever made, and when Eastwood takes his rightful place in film history alongside Cooper and Stewart and Wayne, this is the film that will be seen as the quintessential example of his art...
I really had no idea what to expect when I grabbed High Plains Drifter from
the video store shelf. I recently saw The Outlaw Josey Wales, and really
enjoying that film, I figured I couldn't go wrong; I was right. High Plains
Drifter is more than just another western with the standard assortment of
gun fights, bar scenes, and shots of horseback riding on wide-open prairie.
To be sure, it does have its share of the said events, it is a western
all, but what I particularly liked was the film's character development and
well thought out story.
I don't want to ruin any of the film's enjoyment for any potential viewers, so I won't go into describing any of the characters. Suffice it to say though that they all have a very realistic quality to them, especially Clint Eastwood's character. No stereotyped good guys/bad guys here, thank you very much.
As I mentioned, the story is also very nicely developed. It has multiple layers which are peeled away as the movie progresses, remaining entertained throughout.
High Plains Drifter is an excellent western. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll no doubt find it to be an entertaining watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A small frontier town is worried and scared for it's future. Three men who
murdered the sheriff in front of the whole town have been released from jail
and are heading back to take revenge on the town. When a stranger comes
into town, he is offered anything he wants if he will help defend them
against the men. The stranger accepts but both he and the townsfolk have
High Plains Drifter stands out from Eastwood's many good westerns simply because it is a lack darker than many others I've seen and also possesses a weird supernatural quality to it. The plot is immediately dark, although it starts with Eastwood being who we expect him to be, an early rape sets him out with a more morally complex character than I had expected. This darker, cruel strand continues as it is clear that, although hired to protect them, the stranger also seems to be taking pleasure from harming the town itself.
Those who have seen it will know the ending, although it is evident from the first flashback what the film's twist is. Knowing it doesn't make the film less enjoyable but it is probably better to figure it out yourself. The film also has a good streak of humour going through it and is enjoyable the twist of the stranger punishing the townsfolk easily filling the time.
Eastwood is as good as always but the support cast is also full of well known faces. The direction is good and adds to the weird feel to it, the music makes it feel other worldly and the flashbacks to the whipping stop it all getting too light. By the time the town literally becomes hell, the film has always won me over.
Overall this is maybe not the best western Eastwood has ever done but it is certainly one of the most different! The supernatural twist and the streak of cruelty running through the film make it very interesting to watch.
Obviously this was produced before the age of feminist political
correctness. The anti-hero with no name--Clint Eastwood, of course, a
throwback to his days making spaghetti westerns in Italy with Sergio
Leone--comes riding tall in the saddle down into a valley with a mining
town by a lake. (The movie was shot around the Mono Lake area of
California.) Particularly effective in this unforgettable opening scene
is the music sounding like the high whine of the wind off of the
desert. This town would be "Lago" later to be renamed "Hell" by
Eastwood's character who is identified in the titles as "The Stranger."
The stranger really just wants a shave and a bath and something to
drink and eat and place to lay his head for the night. What he gets is
a bad time from some roughnecks and a woman (Callie Travers, played by
Marianna Hill) who has attraction/avoidance feelings for him. He shoots
the three guys and rapes the woman before the movie is twenty minutes
old. What I mean by this not being politically correct is that, despite
herself, she likes it! That sort of thing is not done in cinema these
days. The idea that a woman might be turned on by being raped would not
play before today's audiences, nor would a Hollywood producer make such
I won't go any further into the plot but suffice it to say that Eastwood is just beginning to kick tail. It seems that everybody in town is cowardly and without the will to protect themselves from the bad guys, especially the three who just got out of jail and are headed their way. How Eastwood, who directed from a script by Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection ; Shaft  etc.), handles the familiar revenge theme is interesting.
First it is no accident that Eastwood's protagonist is named "the Stranger." That is the English title of a famous novel by Albert Camus that surely influenced Eastwood. Camus's stranger is an existential anti-hero, a kind of benign sociopath who really doesn't feel anything for others except as they affect his life. But he is not particularly violent and just lives from one day to the next without any direction or goal. He just "exists." Eastwood's stranger does more than just exist. He takes action, and he is very good at it. Indeed, I can't recall a western movie in which a gunman could draw faster or shot straighter, or any movie hero who was less afraid of putting his life on the line. So, in a sense what Eastwood has added to Camus's stranger is Nietzsche's superman. And herein lies, I think, the underpinning of Eastwood's philosophy and his "message." Note that the people in the town to a man are cowardly. The only exception is Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) who, like the aforementioned Callie Travers, can't resist the stranger's forceful charm, and falls in love with him. This somehow inspires her to leave the corrupt town.
Yes, the town, like most of human society is corrupt. And yes the average man in the street is cowardly and without the will to defend himself. It is only the ubermensch, that rare breed celebrated in the works of the German philosopher, who has the skill, the strength and the will to bend events to his liking and to take on those who would use violence to achieve their ends.
So what Eastwood does here in his second directorial effort (following Play Misty for Me, 1971) is to diverge from Leone's formula. While there is some very funny and intentionally ridiculous dialogue in such films as, for example, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), or For a Few Dollars More (1965) or A Fistful of Dollars (1964), there is little that is funny, intentionally or otherwise in High Plains Drifter. Furthermore, whereas Leone just wanted to make a buck and saw that tough-minded heroes or anti-heroes involved in action-filled revenge plots was a good way to do it, Eastwood is interested in also making a philosophic (and perhaps political) statement. We are degenerate, we humans, he is saying, except for those rare individuals who take the law into their own hands, make their own rules, and through superior skill and bravery, make their own luck and create their own reality, as does his stranger.
In this film there is also an element of the supernatural, or so it would appear. The stranger "sees" in his head the whipping of a past sheriff of the town. Perhaps it comes from the mind of the dwarf Mordecai (very well played by Billy Curtis, by the way) who witnessed the tortured death while hiding under the saloon. At any rate, the stranger shows that he is just as handy with the whip himself as he is with his six-gun.
By all means see this for an early look at the work of Clint Eastwood as both an actor and a director. You will not be bored I can assure you. But don't invite the girl friend over. If there was ever an anti-"chickflick," this is it.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
As is often the case with a Clint Eastwood western, High Plains Drifter is
The usual scenario opens, with Eastwood (playing an unnamed character again) riding into a small mining town, Lagos, where a small group of thugs unsuccessfully try to kill him.
This small act serves as an introduction to the local townsfolk: small-minded cowards who are all talk and no action. They also bear a horrifying secret.
Eastwood is eventually approached to help them fend off an upcoming attack from three criminals who have just been released from prison.
He also suffers from a recurring nightmare, which I will leave to you to find out.
Needless to say, all of the pieces come together by the end, and those of you not astute enough to have noticed will be saying, "of course!"
A good story combines with Eastwood's anti-heroic personality (he never really played a good guy, did he?) and a good supporting cast to produce one of the best westerns of the 1970s. As the Maltin summary states: "Half-serious, half tongue-in-cheek, with great role for midget Billy Curtis."
Curtis plays Mortecai, the town dwarf, who shadows Eastwood around Lagos. Some of the scenes in this are extremely funny, but are balanced by some harshly violent moments, of which Eastwood's nightmares are a prime example.
1985's Pale Rider bears similarity to High Plains Drifter in certain areas, but you'll have to watch that yourself to find out where.
A lone gunman with no name and seemingly with no past, rides into the
dusky town of Lago. The residents of Lago at first view the stranger
with suspicion, but when news that some outlaws that are out for blood
are on their way to town, they ask the stranger for his help.
This is Clint Eastwood's first Western film that he directed, and it's clear and evident that the guy not only loves the genre that made his name, he also knows what makes it work. Obviously having worked for Sergio Leone, Eastwood was making notes because High Plains Drifter oozes the mythical aura of many of Leone's finest genre offerings. To which, with thanks, the result is one of the best offerings in the 70s for the Oater enthusiast.
The film opens with our mysterious drifter slowly coming out of the beautiful sprawling haze and into Lago, it's ethereal, then there's just the sound of the horse breathing and the clop of its hooves that can be heard (the sound mix here is incredible), it's a gloriously mysterious opening that sets the tone perfectly. Yet Eastwood is just toying with us though, for a quick jolt of sex and violence snaps us out of the beatific warmth and into a quite hauntingly cold and morally challenged place. From here on in the stranger will demand all manner of odd things from the residents of Lago, he seems to be toying with them and revelling in their discomfort, with Lago quickly resembling an arid hellhole. You see, Lago has a dark secret, and our mysterious stranger has a purpose, and it's this purpose that makes High Plains Drifter an intriguing and gripping experience.
A well known fact now is that the great man of the genre, John Wayne, wrote Eastwood to strongly complain about his harsh vision of the West, one can only think the Duke failed to grasp the post Vietnam feel of a 70s made Western. It's a great directorial effort from Eastwood, more so when you marry up his acting performance to his directorial duties. Very much the perfect role, it lets Eastwood accentuate his rugged Western leanings. Eastwood would direct the similarly themed Pale Rider in the 80s and then the genre crown topper Unforgiven in the 90s. A Western great in each decade? Well that will always be debatable, but what we do know is that the Western genre was considerably lucky to have had such a man to keep the genre going for the newer interested wanderers into the Wild West.
Beautifully photographed (Bruce Surtees) on the shores of Mono Lake, California, it's a film pungent with sex, sadism, retribution and risks. High Plains Drifter is mystical and magnificent and essential Western fare. 9/10
"High Plains Drifter" is probably Clint Eastwood's darkest western and
that says quite a bit. It has similarities with "Pale Rider", his other
western gem. The hero is a mysterious, ghost-like figure and he fights
against the evil and corruption that infests a small town in the middle
of nowhere. What sets these two films apart is that here Eastwood is
fighting a lone battle , and his only sidekick is the midget Mordecai,
while almost all other inhabitants of Lago are corrupted or/and
Eastwood delivers one of his strongest performances here and manages to be charming and humorous besides exacting cool-blooded vengeance. His interactions with the two women (Marianna Hill and Verna Bloom, both solid in their roles) who are very different draws comparisons to his earlier film "Hang 'Em High". But what sets this apart from the typical Eastwood fare is the dark nature of this movie. Anthony James, the man with the unforgettable face, is once again back as one of the main villains. The rest of the cast are quite forgettable and lesser known names, which adds credibility to this movie, making it a film to be taken seriously and not just a gathering of famous faces.
This film's perhaps strongest asset is the excellent screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, the Oscar-winner for "French Connection" and it is probably the best screenplay ever written for an Eastwood-directed western. The storyline never ceases to surprise and is full of suspense and great dialogue. As always, Clint knew who to pick. As always in the Clint films, this movie is not about love. Clint and Bloom's affair almost results in love, but it never gets the chance to develop. The surprise ending adds a great touch. This film really is a delight for fans of Clint Eastwood and unusual, film-noirish westerns.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the coastal city of Lago, a stranger (Clint Eastwood) arrives and is challenged by three `bad guys'. He kills them and sooner is invited by the locals to protect the city against three outlaws that would leave a nearby prison in a couple of days. One year ago, these bandits killed Marshal Jim Duncan using whips. The marshal asked for help and the coward persons did not help him. The killers were sent to jail and promised to burn the city when they leave the jail. The citizens offer anything the stranger want `free of charge' if he protects them against the rage of the criminals. What they do not know is that the stranger is the avenger angel of the killed marshal looking for revenge. This movie about revenge is great: we never know whether the `stranger without a name' is a brother or friend of Jim Duncan, or whether he is Jim Duncan himself looking for revenge. Fans of western movies will not be disappointed with this story, no matter whether he is a cowboy or a supernatural character. My vote is seven.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most people are turned off by this film because it won't surrender to the audience. The film won't let people like the characters but I think that's the great element of this film. This town is chock full of cowards and not one(except the midget) deserves to be rescued. See most westerns have the undeniable lovable characters that deserve to be saved from corruption. Eastwood takes this film in a twisted, unique direction. Someone on this board said this didn't appear to have supernatural elements in it. I disagree. At the end Eastwood's character is asked by the midget Billy Curtis who he was. Eastwood told him that he knew. Billy then looked down at the tombstone of the dead sheriff that was killed by the three bandits. Eastwood then disappears into the sun's haze as he rides away from the town of Lago(at the conclusion of the film) with eerie music in the background. I liked the film's dark tone and thought this was more than just a western. It had those thriller elements,too. One other part of the movie that adds to it's supernatural aura is when Eastwood remembers back to the sheriff's whipping death at the hands of the three bandits(Eastwood wasn't even there, how would he know about that). This has it's detractors for it can be very off putting and very violent. But it's still fresh and very creepy. 10/10.
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