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HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriter: Ernest Tidyman; cinematographer: Bruce Surtees; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Dee Barton; cast: Clint Eastwood (Stranger), Verna Bloom (Sarah Belding), Marianna Hill (Callie Travers), Ted Hartley (Lewis Belding), Mitchell Ryan (Dave Drake), Jack Ging (Morgan Allen), Stefan Gierasch (Mayor Jason Hobart), Billy Curtis (Mordecai), Geoffrey Lewis (Stacey Bridges), Anthony James (Cole Carlin), Dan Vadis (Dan Carlin), Walter Barnes (Sheriff Dan Shaw); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Daley; Universal Studios Home Video; 1973)
“Clint’s a supernatural amoral mythical hero (of the pulp novel kind), bent on cruelty and getting revenge for a past misdeed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Clint Eastwood (“Play Misty for Me”-1971), in his second directorial attempt, offers a loving farewell to the Sergio Leone western (Leone made him a star) in this ghostly revenge tale involving a mysterious vengeful nameless gunslinging drifter, who is forcefully played by Eastwood. Clint’s a supernatural amoral mythical hero (of the pulp novel kind), bent on cruelty and getting revenge for a past misdeed. The almost surreal cinamatography is deftly handled by Bruce Surtees’s stylish photography. The by now familiar script is by Ernest Tidyman (wrote the script for Shaft), who allows the excesses of violence to punctuate the story at every opportunity giving it a curious cartoonish flavoring.

The No Name stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into the lakefront mining town of Lago (filmed near Lake Mono in the California Sierras) and passes an unmarked grave. The stranger stops in the local saloon for a drink, where he’s harassed by three thugs. When they try to jump him while he’s getting a shave at the barber shop, he kills all three with a gun he had hidden under his barber’s apron. He then rapes Callie Travers, the nasty local slut who bumps into him in the street. The town authorities are impressed enough with his macho display to offer him anything he wants in town if he’ll take the job of professional gunslinger (replacing those he just killed who were hired for that job) and protect them from Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis) and his cousins, the Carlin brothers, who were mining company troubleshooters before they were railroaded by the town officials and sent to jail. The stranger makes the town’s laughing stock dwarf, Mordecai (Billy Curtis), the sheriff and marshall, gives an Indian family blankets, gets the saloon to give everyone in town free drinks, and removes residents from the Belding Hotel so he can take over the best rooms. In preparing for a special homecoming welcome for the three returning revenge-seeking goons, he drills the citizens in self-defense and ends up humiliating everyone in town for being gutless, hypocritical, corrupt, and a slimeball. He makes them paint the town buildings red so it resembles hell and while sleeping in the hotel has flashbacks of honest marshal Jim Duncan getting bull-whipped to death by the outlaw Bridges and the Carlin brothers in front of the Belding Hotel on orders from the town officials while they watched in glee. It seems the marshal discovered the mining company was involved in an illegal claim and he was going to report it to the government, ruining their investment.

By the conclusion, when the town is burned to the ground and the dead bodies pile-up in great numbers, we are led to realize that the stranger is the ghost of Jim Duncan, as he leaves town (renamed Hell) just as mysteriously as he entered. There’s a strange boldness running through the film that makes this Clint’s own unique western version even though it’s in the same vein as the formulaic Spaghetti Western.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”