High Plains Drifter 1973 A Movie a Day Day13

We just got back from the Yenny’s where we had a great visit with our friends and a wonderful meal. Rick and Mary were on their way to Ontario to pick up Jimmy, so they stopped and had dinner with us as well. I reminded them about this blog and if they don’t bother to bookmark it and read it on a regular basis, the next entries will be less friendly. All of this fits in with the theme of today’s movie “High Plains Drifter”. A vengeful spirit finds cruel ways to extract justice from a town that ignored the desperate pleas of their last lawman. Ok, I’m not a Marshall and no one is whipping me to death, but I am flogging this blog so give it some attention or I will haunt you.

Clint Eastwood is the star of at least a half dozen films on my summer blog list, this is the first one that he is featured in that I got to. I was a little annoyed to hear that Sam and Nate had not seen “Dirty Harry”, and Ellie came in after the Rollino’s left and did not even know what “Dirty Harry” was. Now let’s get this straight, Clint Eastwood has been a movie star for twice as long as any of these kids have been alive, and It is just Un-American not to have seen Clint in his most iconic role. However, since it was not available at Blockbuster at a price the young Yenny boys could afford, I will give them some credit if they see this movie this summer. Other than Harry Callahan, Clint is best known for his westerns. “High Plains Drifter” was Clint’s third directorial effort and it is a western that is substantially different from the Italian films he made in the 1960s. Although it might at first appear that the character of a nameless gunfighter is not too far from the Sergio Leone epics, the truth is this movie is a lot more twisted and the protagonist, a lot less sympathetic or heroic. In fact, this is actually a ghost story masquerading as a western. As the movie goes on, it gets creepier and crueler, and most of us would hope not to have a vengeful wraith like this after us.

A town is deeply afraid of three violent criminals that are set to be freed from the penitentiary. Their hired gunslingers are killed and they turn to the man responsible for leaving them in this situation. It turn out that this is not a remake of High Noon, with Clint in the Gary Cooper role. Instead, this movie is more like “The Haunting”, where the innocent are few and the guilty are punished. The town of course has a secret, and none of the townsfolk are blameless in the back-story. Clint’s character gets away with mentally torturing the towns people, stealing from them in the most obnoxious ways, and even getting away with rape. Still as the history of the story is told you don’t take much pity on the residents of Lago. When the town gets relabeled “HELL”, it is literally true. I may have already given away more of the story than I should, but you oldtimers who have seen it won’t care and if any one has yet to see it, there are still a lot of key things I have left out. The trailer at the top of the page is actually pretty effective at setting up the movie and not giving anything away. The supernatural twist is left out entirely, but I think you will enjoy the movie more if you are spooked a little from the beginning.

There are a bunch of familiar faces in the cast. Anthony James appears as one of the merciless outlaws, his is a face you will recognize from a dozen places. He usually plays a sniveling heavy,he has a gaunt, greasy look that filled that bill in most of his movies. Early in his career, he played the killer in “In the Heat of the Night”, and his last movie before retiring from acting was “Unforgiven” where he played “Skinny” the owner of the billiards parlor that makes the mistake of decorating his saloon with the body of Clint’s friend. Not a bad pair of films to bookend your career. Geoffrey Lewis plays another of the killers, and he must have been in every movie Clint made in the 1970s. His daughter is the actress Juliette Lewis. There are several other faces that will pop up in Clint films over the next twenty years. Everyone one in the movie is just fine, and the whole town plays chicken quite convincingly. The only brave souls are the little person that becomes sheriff/mayor of the town and the current sheriff.They might be considered brave because they parade around a target for the rest of the town’s men to practice shooting at, and none of these guys could hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun. The two sheriffs could have been drilled during target practice.

For at least a year, Dan Hasegawa, Art Franz and I would accuse anyone who couldn’t hear us of having “pigshit” in their ears because of a line in this movie. When you are fifteen, saying “pigshit” seemed cool. Clearly it was not and that might explain why none of us had a date to take to the prom in high school. Well, live and learn.

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