|High Plains Drifter
1972 - R - 105 Mins.
|Director: Clint Eastwood
|Producer: Robert Daley
|Written By: Ernest Tidyman, Dean Riesner (uncredited)
|Starring: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Billy Curtis, Marianna Hill, Mitch Ryan
|Review by: James O'Ehley
"When I grow up I want to be like Clint Eastwood," I told my wife before popping High Plains Drifter into the DVD player. Except in this particular Western, Clint is a total bastard. In a parody of the quintessential "man with no name" role he rides into town, promptly kills three goons (while getting a shave), rapes the town tart and agrees to protect the townspeople from a group of gunslingers about to be released from prison. In exchange he can get anything he wants, but the Eastwood character is mostly interested in humiliating the townspeople.
Almost all the characters in this 1972 movie are unpleasant and unlikeable. The cowardly townspeople stood by idly and watched as said three gunmen bullwhipped the town's sheriff to death (you read right, yes). These scenes will make you feel icky and you will want to take a bath afterwards. No wonder John Wayne, after seeing High Plains Drifter, apparently wrote a letter of protest to Eastwood complaining about his negative depiction of Wayne's beloved "spirit of the West" . . .
A lot of Westerns kick off with a stranger riding into town, but none of them really progresses the way the unpredictable High Plains Drifter does. I tell you: the 1970s were the best decade for Hollywood movies. In 1972 audiences got to see this part post-modern Western, part black comedy, part supernatural thriller starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. Two decades or so later we got the crappy Wild Wild West!
High Plains Drifter was Eastwood's second movie as director. His first was Play Misty for Me, a predecessor of Fatal Attraction in which a jazz radio DJ is harassed by a psychopathic one-night stand. He has often been accused of being a pedestrian director and while High Plains Drifter may not boast any flashy camera work or other tricks, it is a solid effort.
It features some worthwhile acting. Clint does his usual minimalist acting schtick as a "squinty-eyed son of a bitch" (as one character refers to him). Despite being a nasty piece of work he remains a likeable screen presence (sort of). Also notable are Verna Bloom and Billy Curtis (as the spat upon town midget). You will also recognise character actor Geoffrey Lewis who appears the leader of the bad guys. (Lewis went on to appear in five more Clint Eastwood movies.)
Almost an entire town with some functional interiors was built in the desert near Lake Mono in the California Sierras. Be sure to view the widescreen version of this movie on DVD: in the pan 'n' scan all the scenery will simply get lost altogether.
High Plains Drifter will make an excellent double bill along with Eastwood's other post-modern Western, the 1992 Unforgiven. However beware: some of the movie's violence and its unabashed misogyny and misanthropy might upset more sensitive viewers. Like John Wayne you just might be offended, but you risk missing quite a worthwhile movie . . .