High Plains Drifter is a crude and violent western, shot in a beautiful landscape, where realistic costumes and settings meet with a supernatural atmosphere.
A shadowy figure rides across the plains in a baking heat and slowly approaches the mining town of Lago. The townspeople seem fearful and worried as the stranger (Clint Eastwood) passes by; nevertheless, he decides to stop by the saloon for a beer. Soon enough, three bad men taunt him and decide to follow him to the barbershop to teach him a lesson; but he shoots and kills them all. Shortly afterwards, a beautiful woman called Callie Travers (Mariana Hills) willingly bumps into the stranger and takes this opportunity to insult him. In return, he violently drags her into a stable where he rapes her, under the watchful eye of a dwarf called Mordecai (Billy Curtis). On his first night at the hotel, he dreams about a man being viciously whipped by three men, but nothing indicates his identity, even though his resemblance to the stranger is uncanny. Instead of turning against the stranger, the townsmen hire him to protect them against a group of lawless men set to take revenge on this small settlement that has wronged them in the past. Yet, rather than protection, the stranger will bring hell to Lago.
Released in 1973, this is the first western ever directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. This movie was shot on location (Mono Lake in Nevada) as Eastwood wanted a more realistic approach to the story. The entire town was built on site to achieve the same desired effect and to shoot the interior scenes on location as well. The screenplay was written by Ernest Tidyman, best known for co-writing the screenplay for the film version of his famous novels featuring the character of John Shaft. Dee Barton composed the music, according to Eastwood’s wish. The story goes that in 1969, Barton’s ensemble played in North Hollywood night clubs when Eastwood heard them and asked Barton to collaborate with him. His work can be heard in the soundtracks of Play Misty for Me and the famous film series Dirty Harry.
Clint Eastwood injected in High Plains Drifter his own vision of the West and imposed his own style, mixing well-known Western movies components – such as the “Man with No Name” (which shot him to fame, thanks to Leone’s trilogy), the baddies, the whore, the virtuous woman – with a supernatural storyline. Don Siegel and Sergio Leone greatly inspired Eastwood in the aesthetics – realism over romanticism, flashbacks, extreme close ups – and the surreal atmosphere rendered by Dee Barton’s music is amplified by the stranger’s dream and Mordecai’s flashback. All of these elements lead the audience to question the identity of the stranger: does this Man with No Name have something to do with the whipped man? Are they related? Or is he his ghost? Is he an angel or the devil in person?
This movie is an allegory, drenched in violence, crudeness and black humour. Although the rape scenes are horrifying and the humour sometimes appalling, Eastwood manages to make the audience sympathize with the stranger as he humiliates and torments the people, for this town exemplifies a major paradox in human nature: people claim the moral high ground but do not do anything when it is time to react. Instead bigotry, apathy and cowardice take over noble intentions. And there, in Lago, almost everyone is beyond redemption. Albert Einstein once said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” This quote certainly encapsulates the substance of that movie.
It is with talent that Eastwood told the story of this avenging angel, turning the hero into a supernatural creature, capable of inflicting pain to anyone lacking noble qualities in order to restore the honor of mankind.
High Plains Drifter (1973)
Clint Eastwood…..The Stranger
Verna Bloom…..Sarah Belding
Mariana Hills…..Callie Travers
Drake Jack Ging…..Morgan Allen
Stephan Gierash…..Mayor Jason Hobart
Ted Harley…..Lewis Belding
William O’Connell…..The Barber
Geoffrey Lewis….Stacey Bridges
Scott Walker…..Bill Borders
Dan Vadis…..Dan Carlin
Anthony James…..Cole Carlin
Walter Barnes…..Sheriff Sam Shaw
Paul Brinegar…..Lutie Naylor
Richard Bull…..Asa Goodwin
John Quade…..Feight Wagon Operator
Buddy Can Horn…..Marshall Jim Duncan
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Ernest Tidyman
Producer: Robert Daley
Music: Dee Barton
Distribution: Universal Studios
Running time: 105 min.