A Stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into in the dusty mining town of Lago, where the townspeople are living in the shadow of a dark secret. After a shoot-out leaves the town's hired-gun protectors dead, the town's leaders petition the Stranger to stay and protect them from three ruthless outlaws who are soon to be released from prison. The three have their sights set on returning to Lago to wreak havoc and take care of some unfinished business. A series of events soon has the townspeople questioning whether siding with the Stranger was a wise idea, as they quickly learn the price that they each must pay for his services. As the outlaws make their way back into Lago, they discover that the town is not exactly as they had left it, and waiting in the shadows is the Stranger, ready to expose the town's secret and serve up his own brand of justice.Written by
Any holes in the plot were filled with black humor and allegory to Sergio Leone. Eastwood thought the allegory of this movie was "a speculation on what happens when they go ahead and kill the Sheriff and someone comes back and calls the town's conscience to bear. There's always retribution for your deeds." See more »
After the town has been painted red, a shot pans past the bell tower atop the church. The (lack of) application of paint on the bell tower edges shows it was painted with a spray gun. Also, many of the buildings have a very thin and even coating of red paint applied. Again, obviously done with a spray gun. This technology would not have been available at the time. See more »
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.
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