HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. (1973) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. 1973. DIRECTED BY CLINT EASTWOOD. WRITTEN BY ERNEST TIDYMAN. MUSIC BY DEE BARTON. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY BRUCE SURTEES.

STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, VERNA BLOOM, MARIANA HILL, BILLY CURTIS, STEFAN GIERASCH AND GEOFFREY LEWIS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I love my Westerns, spaghetti or otherwise. This film was shot in California but was heavily influenced by Clint Eastwood’s regular collaborator, Sergio Leone, he of decidedly spaghetti western fame.

Thanks to Leone’s DOLLARS trilogy (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY), Clint Eastwood was already an international cinema star with his own film production company, the Malpaso Company, by the time he made HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER.

It’s an excellent and entertaining revenge Western with a possible bit of a ghost story thrown in. No-one plays a Mysterious Stranger Who Rides Into Town And Does A Bunch Of Macho Stuff like Clint Eastwood does, and in this film he’s possibly at his most mysterious and macho, or at least the most so that I’ve ever seen him.

His ‘Man With No Name’ character was already well established by now. Clint had played him in each of the DOLLARS trilogy. Though he was given nicknames like ‘Joe’ or ‘Blondie’ or even ‘Boy’ in the trilogy, he essentially remained formally nameless and without an identity or back story.

We may find out the back story of characters like Colonel Douglas Mortimer (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) or Tuco the Bandit (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) but Clint’s character remains an enigma. He’s the ultimate Mystery Man, A Man Without A Past. We know nothing of his past or possible future, only his present.

Anyway, in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, Clint, again nameless, arrives in the tiny seaside mining town of Lago and immediately starts stirring things up big-time, putting the townspeoples’ backs up and having forced- or is it…?- sexual congress with what can only be described as… ahem… the town slut.

Within his first few minutes of landing in Lago, he shoots three men dead in self-defence and rapes a beautiful local woman called Callie Travers who deliberately singles him out and starts an argument with him. He decides to ‘teach her some manners’ by dragging her into a nearby barn and raping her. That’ll learn her, lol.

You see, I think she’s seeking out Clint’s attentions on purpose on account of he’s the best-looking man to arrive in Lago in many a day. And she looks like she’s enjoying herself to me. Sure, she cries ‘rape’ afterwards to save face but later in the film she joins Clint for dinner and goes to bed with him willingly, openly this time.

Of course, the feminists and the ‘me too’ brigade would be up in arms if such a thing happened in a film today but, back then, stuff like that happened all the time and no-one batted an eyelid.

Just like no-one bats an eyelid in Lago when Callie Travers runs around screaming ‘Rape! Rape!’ after the event in the barn. Some of the townspeople might even decide that that slut Callie got what was coming to her.

I’m a woman and I enjoy watching that scene and find it exciting. I don’t think it means I want to be dragged down a dark alley by a knife-wielding stranger and violated. I just think that Clint Eastwood was one of the handsomest film stars of all time and it’s exciting to watch him having rough sex with a woman in the rather Neanderthal style of the time, that’s all. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, lol.

Anyway, it turns out that the people of Lago need the super-tough, enigmatic Stranger a ‘hell’ of a lot more than he needs them. (See what I did there?) They need him, in fact, to protect them from a trio of lowlifes who are being released from prison in the near future and who are expected to be gunning for the people of Lago who’ve previously double-crossed them in a deal.

The deal apparently involved a previous Marshal of the town called Jim Duncan who, when he became a painful inconvenience to the townspeople, was bull-whipped to death on the main street of Lago by Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis, the grave-digger from SALEM’S LOT) and the Carlin brothers, Dan and Cole, the trio of degenerates.

Well, I suppose that in prison you have a lot of time to think, and it seems like most screen villains don’t waste a minute repenting of their sins and former lifestyles but only entertain thoughts of revenge. Fantasising about vengeance against the person or people who put them in jail is what gets them through their sentence. 

So now the trio of gurriers- that’s what we call lowlifes in Ireland- are riding to Lago to revenge themselves on the townspeople, who have plenty on their consciences themselves. They stood by and did nothing while a man, a fellow human being, endured an agonising death at the hands- and whips- of the three thugs. How can they live with themselves after what they did? A little too easily, it seems to me. 

The Stranger decides to stay and help out the undeserving citizens of Lago when the townspeople promise him that he can have anything he wants, free, gratis and for nothing, from any of the establishments in Lago.

He makes good use of their offer, partaking liberally of free wine and steak dinners while enjoying the willing company of Callie Travers, the blonde woman he ‘raped’ when he first landed in Lago. It’s not a terribly politically correct film, but then again, it probably wasn’t a terribly politically correct era for film-making, as we’ve already discussed.

The Stranger also has sexual congress with Verna Bloom as Sarah Belding, an unhappily married woman who at first appears to resist the Stranger’s advances but who then capitulates to his stubbly and no doubt ever-so-slightly malodorous charms.

Her husband, the hotel-keeper, is so useless and lily-livered that he stands by like a mouse and does nothing when he thinks that his wife, whom he presumably promised to love, honour and cherish till death do them part, is about to be raped by Clint. He doesn’t deserve a good strong woman like Sarah, the only person in the whole miserable town of Lago to speak out against the horribly inhumane death of Marshall Duncan.

The Stranger, aided and abetted by a dwarf called Mordecai, the only person he troubles to befriend in Lago and whom he has ‘promoted’ to the twin roles of Marshal and Mayor, wreaks havoc in Lago.

He forces the townspeople to paint every building in town bright red and paints the word ‘HELL’ over the town sign as an ominous welcome to the little gang of hoodlums. He trashes the town completely in the name of ‘helping’ them, and I think it’s because he figures they deserve it. They got away scot-free after the death of Jim Duncan, after all.

Anyway, the three lads eventually turn up and start shooting up the town but it’s not too long before Clint, at his enigmatic best, dishes out some good old-fashioned Wild West retribution with a little whip-action of his own.

“So, you guys all like whipping then, do you…?” he so easily could have said, though he doesn’t. “Well then, me buckos, let’s see how you like THIS…” Whip crack away, whip crack away, whip crack a-WAAAAAY and so on and so forth…

I love the character of the cowardly sheriff because he openly admits that he only got the badge by sort of default when Jim Duncan died. (That’s how Police Chief Wiggum in THE SIMPSONS got HIS badge…!)

I love the cowardly- and mercenary- town preacher too and I’m certain I’ve seen him in other films before in a similar role. I like the cowardly greasy barber with his comb-over as well. There are some great characters amongst the townspeople.

I love that Clint, who’s accused of being ‘cruel’ by the townspeople, is openly kind, decent and generous to the Native American Indians and the Mexicans in Lago. They’re treated like dirt by the townspeople who abuse them (the Indians) and make them do their dirty work for them (the Mexicans). What a rotten lot the townsfolks of Lago are. Clint should leave ’em all to rot in Hell…

You should watch this brilliant sort-of-spaghetti Western if you want to see Clint all bristly and manly and shooting up a storm with, as usual, one hand tied behind his back. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean. Hey, it works for me.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. (1965) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. (1965) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE. MUSIC BY ENNIO MORRICONE. STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, LEE VAN CLEEF, GIAN MARIA VOLONTÉ AND KLAUS KINSKI.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘This train’ll stop at Tucumcari.’

‘In ten minutes, you’ll be smokin’ in hell. Get up!’

‘When the chimes end, pick up your gun. Try and shoot me, Colonel.’

‘Where life was cheap, death sometimes had its price. That’s when the bounty killers appeared.’

‘Why’d’ya choose my bar to commit suicide in, Mister? I know that man. And if that man didn’t kill ya, then he musta had a very good reason.’

This won’t be a review so much as one great big love-in. I bloody ADORE this film. It’s a spaghetti western shot in Spain (with the interiors done in Rome) and the middle film in what is commonly referred to as the ‘Dollars’ trilogy, its predecessor being A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and its successor, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Sequels, as you know, can get something of a bad press but this film, in my opinion, is a classic example of the sequel far, far surpassing the original in just about every way you can think of.

Like the way the original FRANKENSTEIN, made in 1931 by James Whale, as brilliant as it is, is somewhat eclipsed by the 1935 sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, also made by James Whale.

And the way that I prefer JAWS 2 to the original JAWS. although that’s not quite the same thing, that’s more a matter of personal taste. For which I’ve gotten a lot of abuse, I might add. (‘You think JAWS 2 is better than the original JAWS? What the fuck is the matter with ya, ya fuckin’ idiot? Ya must need your fuckin’ eyes tested!!!’)

The plot is simple enough, but it works so, so well. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, in roles that made them both into internationally recognised cinema stars, play Manco and Colonel Douglas Mortimer respectively, a pair of bounty killers from the bad old days of the Wild, Wild West who each share a common aim.

What aim is this, I hear you say? You might well ask. They both want to claim the massive bounty- ten thousand dollars to be precise- on the head of El Indio. Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) is a decidedly sociopathic bank robber-slash-murderer-slash-all-round bad guy, who is drugged up for a lot of the movie on some intoxicating addictive substance that he smokes nearly non-stop.

He commits mayhem with impunity all over the place with the help and backing of his notorious gang of unwashed cut-throats and thieves: Niňo, Slim, Paco, Chico, Hughie, Franco, Groggy, Wild and all the rest. Life is cheap in their world and they never shed a tear for any of the lives they snuff out so carelessly. Easy come, easy go, huh?

We first see Indio when he’s being broken out of prison by his gang. Then, in a super-cool scene in an abandoned church that’s breath-taking in its magnificence, he revenges himself against the man who got him sent to prison.

Taking out a musical pocket-watch that chimes a haunting little melody, Indio tells his betrayer to try and shoot him when the music stops. Watched by the members of Indio’s gang, the two men wait for the delicately tinkling chimes to end. And wait…

After initially locking horns over who has more right to go after El Indio and his gang and claim the whopping reward, Manco and Colonel Mortimer, after a very funny hat-shooting scene that breaks up the tension, decide that two heads might just be better than one when it comes to getting the better of the band of brigands.

They join forces and Manco is chosen- slightly to his alarm- to infiltrate Indio’s gang in order to bring down the enemy from the inside. This he does just in time for the gang’s next big job: robbing the bank at El Paso, legendary for its impenetrability.

The bank is successfully robbed, partly because Indio has some inside information as to the existence of a hard-to-open safe disguised as a drinks cabinet reserved for fancy guests who frequent the bank. The safe may contain as much as a million dollars in cash. It’s a very attractive proposition indeed for Indio and his gang. Irresistible, in fact.

They return to their hideout with the stolen safe, only to discover that they can’t risk opening it without damaging the money contained therein. What to do, what to do? Re-enter Colonel Douglas Mortimer with a handy solution and a proposition for El Indio…

There are just so many things to love about this film. It’s worth watching just for Ennio Morricone’s fabulous musical score alone. I promise you that you’ll be humming dum-dum-di-dum-dum-di-dum-dum-di-dum long after the credits have rolled. There’s some beautiful Spanish guitar in there too.

Blonde German actor Klaus Kinski (Werner Herzog’s haunting NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, COBRA VERDE, FITZCARRALDO) in a supporting role is deliciously twisted- and gorgeous- as the hunchback who goes berserk when the cool-as-fuck Lee Van Cleef strikes a match off his hump. The two ‘smoker’ scenes are excellent and great fun. ‘Cucilio, count to three…’ What I want to know here is, can Cucilio count at all, never mind to three?

Clint Eastwood is gorgeous in this, full stop. Seeing him in his poncho, all stubbly and manly, chomping on a cigarette and shooting a villain stone-dead without even looking directly at him makes me seriously wish that I could live out my naughty sex-fantasy of living in Wild West times when men were men and women were glad of it… Ahem…! (Coughs and clears throat and goes bright red in the face…) What I wouldn’t give to be dragged into a barn by my hair and shown Manco’s secret weapon, and what it’s used for…

But for me, the highlight of an already bloody brilliant film has to be Gian Maria Volonté, who plays the part of the utterly psychopathic robber-baron to perfection. He has the most beautiful eyes too, have you noticed that?

He is moody, broody and just ever so slightly insane as he opens his little pocket watch containing the photograph of the woman he raped and lets the tinkling chimes play out before the shooting of his adversaries can commence.

What’s the secret of the little pocket-watch he carries that plays music when you open it? The story is told in two gripping flashbacks. Indio seems haunted by the memory of it and smokes drugs to blot it out. I hardly think he feels any remorse for what he’s done as he’s a total sociopath but maybe his ego was slightly dented by what happened.

Think of what Lisa Simpson says sadly in the TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episode entitled BAD DREAM HOUSE. ‘It chose to destroy itself rather than live with us.’ You can see why Indio might have been a wee bit miffed all right.

He’s so good at being bad that I must admit I always shed a few sly tears every time I watch the showdown between him and the two bounty killers (they’re not called bounty hunters here but bounty killers) in the sweltering heat of the Agua Caliente sun.

So, do Manco and Colonel Mortimer ride off into the sunset together having each achieved what they set out to do at the start of the movie? Does Manco bag himself a cartload of dead villains for which he will receive a huge bounty and will Colonel Mortimer’s attempt to avenge the beautiful doe-eyed woman in the picture be a success? It’s all to play for, folks.

If you like spaghetti Westerns, then you need to watch this film. Then watch it again. Watch it even if you don’t normally like spaghetti Westerns. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed. This film is a real little exploding cracker of a movie. Bang bang, you’re dead…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor