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:
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