HANG ‘EM HIGH (director: Ted Post; screenwriters: Leonard Freeman/Mel Goldberg; cinematographers: Richard Kline/Leonard South; editor: Gene Fowler Jr.; music: Dominic Frontiere; cast: Clint Eastwood (Marshal Jed Cooper), Inger Stevens (Rachel Warren), Ed Begley (Captain Wilson, Cooper Hanging Party), Pat Hingle (Judge Adam Fenton), Ben Johnson (Marshal Dave Bliss), Charles McGraw (Sheriff Ray Calhoun, Red Creek), Bruce Dern (Miller, Cooper Hanging Party), Alan Hale Jr. (Matt Stone, Cooper Hanging Party), L.Q. Jones (Loomis, Cooper Hanging Party), Russell Thorson (Maddow, Cooper Hanging Party), Ned Romero (Charlie Blackfoot, Cooper Hanging Party), Bob Steele (Jenkins, Cooper Hanging Party), Jonathan Lippe (Tommy, Cooper Hanging Party), Paul Sorenson (Reno, Cooper Hanging Party), Arlene Golonka (Jennifer, the Prostitute), Rick Gates (Ben, Billy Joe’s Brother), Bruce Scott (Billy Joe, Ben’s Brother); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Leonard Freeman; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1968)
“Move over squeaky clean John Wayne, a new darker western hero by the name of Clint Eastwood has arrived to challenge your title as top cowboy star!”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the first American western Clint Eastwood did after three spaghetti westerns for Sergio Leone in Europe.It’s snappily directed by Ted Post (“Magnum Force”/”Go Tell The Spartans”), who directed Clint in the hit Rawhide TV series. Producer and co-writer Leonard Freeman, with Mel Goldberg, got under Clint’s skin with needless interference and caused Clint to tell Freemen lay off or he walks. It seemed to work, as the film was put in the can on time. From now on, Clint would try and produce his own films to avoid studio interference. Interestingly enough, the film was made by Clint’s own company, Malpaso, whereby he earned $400,000 and 25% of the take.
It’s a revenge tale that offers an argument over the dichotomy between the natural and legal law. It follows Clint’s innocent man character who was almost lynched and seeks Old Testament vengeance and a judge played by Pat Hingle who stands for law and order, who even though his rational approach to justice doesn’t always take into account emotional and other outside factors it’s seen as the most socially responsible way to administer the law.
Set in the Oklahoma Territory, Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is stopped with his herd on the trail by an angry group of nine vigilante cowboys led by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley Sr.). They accuse him of rustling and murdering the owner and refuse to believe his bill of sales or that he’s an ex-lawman from St. Louis. Somehow Jed survives the sloppy hanging with only a neck scar, as a passing marshal (Ben Johnson) cuts him down and brings him by wagon with other prisoners to the town of Fort Grant to stand trial. But after a night in jail Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle) says he checked out his story and they got the man who did the killing he’s accused of and after releasing him talks Jed into becoming a deputy marshal. They make an uneasy pact as Jed is now broke after forking over $800 to the rustler and the high paying job is tempting, also the judge will allow him to bring in the men to stand trial but insists he wants them alive. That task proves difficult, as the first man from the hanging party he runs into is Reno. He’s killed when he tries to draw on the marshal. When the guilt-ridden old man Jenkins hears what happened, he turns himself into Judge Fenton and gives up the names of the seven others. The marshal goes alone to nearby Red Creek to retrieve them, and captures the blacksmith Stone (Alan Hale Jr.) and turns him over to Sheriff Calhoun (Charles McGraw) to hold while he rounds up the others. While the marshal is going out to Maddow’s Big W ranch, a rancher tells the sheriff his father and brother were killed by three rustlers. Because the sheriff has a bad back, the marshal goes in his place. One of the men captured is Miller (Bruce Dern), the vilest one in the Cooper hanging party. With much difficulty, the severely injured Cooper brings the three back to Judge Hingle, but only because of the help from the two boys. The man known as the ‘hanging judge’ is happy with Cooper’s work as a marshal and sets him up with a prostitute (Arlene Golonka) as a reward. The judge’s brand of justice is questioned by Cooper as not that different from the vigilantes, as Cooper is disappointed the two teenage boys with Miller will be hanged even though they did the rustling but only Miller did the killing. In their heated conversation the judge tells of his ambition for the territory to achieve statehood and further states in order to accomplish that “We have to bring in the evildoers and show we have law and order in the Oklahoma Territory.”
The marshal will form an uneasy relationship with Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens), who runs a variety store in town. Every time a prisoner is brought in she must take a look for herself. It turns out she’s as equally obsessed as Cooper is with hunting down those who did him wrong, as she’s haunted by the two men who murdered her doctor husband and raped her.
When Cooper recovers, he goes after the other men. But none of them wants to go to jail. Maddow and Charlie Blackfoot flee the territory, while Wilson, Tommy and Loomis decide again to take the law into their own hands and try unsuccessfully to ambush the marshal.
This is Hollywood borrowing from the spaghetti western the gore and shading the hero with amoral behavior; that’s standard fare in the spaghetti western and changes forever how Hollywood westerns would be made from now on. Move over squeaky clean John Wayne, a new darker western hero by the name of Clint Eastwood has arrived to challenge your title as top cowboy star!REVIEWED ON 3/13/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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