Sep. 29, 2009
High Plains Drifter (1973)
Grade: 76/100

Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Mitch Ryan

What it's about. It's a western, and once again Clint Eastwood is The Man With No Name: immortal, lethal, chain smoking, grimacing, and delivering dry one liners. After the town slut (Marianna Hill) futilely empties a handgun into his bathtub, Easwood remarks, "Wonder what took her so long to get mad?", having (sort of) raped her the day before. Mordecai, the admiring town fool named sheriff and mayor by Eastwood, remarks, "Because maybe you didn't go back for more?"

Mordecai may be right. Or, perhaps, even the town slut doesn't know why she does what she does. Certainly, she doesn't spend much time considering her actions. This is probably the best course of action, because the rest of the town has spent too much time on plans, and they all go wrong. The only one who comes out on top is The Man With No Name, but he has an advantage over any challengers. He may not be human.

The isolated town of Lago only has a handful of buildings and a few dozen residents. It exists, apparently, because of a government mine that paid off. The gold rightfully belonged to the government, not the town, and Marshal Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) was about to spill the beans. So, to silence him, the townsfolk allowed Duncan to be slowly whipped to death by three wild-eyed desperados (Geoffrey Lewis, Anthony James, Don Vadis). The trio was then arrested and sent to prison. After a year (only a year???) they are freed, and return to Lago, vowing revenge on the town.

Normally this would not be a problem, since Lago is "defended" by three bullying gunmen who work for the mining company. Unfortunately for them and Lago, Clint Eastwood shoots them in (sort of) self defense. Left without a protector, Eastwood is hired by the cowardly villagers to gun down the three bandits once they reach the town. Eastwood has other ideas, since his motive is to exact revenge for the late marshal, which means the destruction of the town that passively watched him die.

How others will see it. The user ratings at are unusually consistent. There is no substantial difference in how different age groups and genders regard this movie. There is a high body count, but the violence is apparently seen as justified. Eastwood has rough sex with both female cast members of appropriate age, but, apparently, that is how the two women want it.

How I felt about it. The sometimes eerie score suggests that this traditional western has a touch of the supernatural. The first indication of Eastwood's identity comes when he flinches at the sound of a whip. It is the memory of pain inflicted. The last indication is when Eastwood vanishes like a ghost, his duty performed. He is, or was, the spirit of the late marshal. And he has many scores to settle.

Eastwood's primary objective is to humiliate the men who control the town. That is why the sheriff (Walter Barnes) and mayor must surrender their titles to the formerly spurned midget (Billy Curtis). The merchants must be ruined, especially the humorless hotel operator (Ted Hartley). Their racism must also be punished: impoverished Indians are given goods, and Mexican laborers are given work.