High Plains Drifter (1972)

“It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes ’em afraid.”

High Plains Poster

Synopsis:
A nameless gunfighter (Clint Eastwood) is hired by the cowardly inhabitants of Lago to protect them against three vicious killers (led by Geoffrey Lewis), who brutally murdered their former marshal.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “well-directed, exciting, oddly amusing film” — which was “inspired by the tragic case of Kitty Genovese, who was brutally murdered in New York while her neighbors pulled down their shades, locked their doors, and turned off their lights” — remains one of the most provocative films in actor-director Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre. A darkly satirical “anti-western”, High Plains Drifter spares no effort in exposing the cravenness of an “entire population [who] did nothing while three bad men killed their marshal”; it boldly posits that these cowards deserve the descent of Eastwood’s nameless stranger (“a ruthless, avenging angel dosing out retribution for a wrathful god”) onto their town, which turns into a literal hell on Earth. As in Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace (1963), the moral of the story here is that a town’s collective actions against truth and justice will inevitably return to haunt them. Note that the opening scene — in which Eastwood brutally “rapes one woman” (Marianna Hill) — remains difficult to stomach, despite one’s eventual understanding that Eastwood’s actions should be read on a metaphorical level.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Billy Curtis as Mordechai the Midget
  • Geoffrey Lewis as Stacey Bridges
  • A powerful, visually stunning denouement
  • Bruce Surtees’ cinematography
  • Effective set designs (built along the shores of Mono Lake in California)
  • Ernest Tidyman’s boldly satirical script

Must See?
Yes. This provocative western should be seen by all film fanatics.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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