Classic Movie Of The Week 2017

Classic Movie Of The Week: High Plains Drifter (1973)

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Starring: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill

Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood’s second film as director, following years of starring in spaghetti westerns, is a highly unusual twist on the genre.

Lagos is a town under siege. Three outlaws are about to be released from prison, and intend to return to the town to have their revenge on those who put them in jail. When a gun-slinging drifter rolls in to town, the townsfolk beg him to save them, and offer him carte blanc to do it. Sounds like fairly standard western plot, right?

Well, here’s the thing. The Stranger (Eastwood) is not exactly hero material, he rapes and seduces women, kills people in bar brawls, kicks everyone out of the hotel so he can have it all to himself, and orders the townsfolk to paint the entire town red before eventually setting fire to it.

And those innocent townsfolk are hardly so innocent as they make out they are. They’ve done something very bad that they don’t want anyone to find out about…

But they’re also mostly pretty weak and awful people, willing to stand by while bad things happen rather than stand up and fight. They willingly go along with the absurd orders of the Stranger and allow him to behave appallingly, because they need him and because they fear him.

But the best part of this film for me is the ending. Who is this Stranger? Why doesn’t he have a name? That last scene tells you everything, and I love it.

This film feels very 70’s from the acting style, the themes and the score, even the use of flashbacks, and I like that about it. Other westerns feel like westerns, this one feels like the same but different, slightly off, slightly jarring. Things aren’t what they seem. I also really like some of the wider, landscape shots which capture the beauty and loneliness of the country, something westerns do so well.

It’s a film that bends and changes the western genre, and shows the early genius of a director who is still making some really wonderful films today. It also shows how much America and the world was changing, challenging itself and skewering the falsity in some of it’s classic genres, refreshing them for a more cynical, less innocent audience.

See it If: a kind of dark, anti-western, this film is really entertaining and mysterious. Should amuse western lovers and western haters alike. It is a bit violent, though, no romance here.

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10 thoughts on “Classic Movie Of The Week: High Plains Drifter (1973)”

  1. In The Prince Machiavelli warns against the risk of putting your defence in the hands of mercenaries. The townsfolk of Lago learnt that lesson twice!
    This role was perfect for Eastwood. The Stranger was Harry Callahan in a cracked mirror. He’ll save you from the bad guys – but he knows that you’re all a little bad, too.
    “Be careful. You’re a man who makes people afraid, and that’s dangerous.”
    “It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes ’em afraid.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love pretty much all of Eastwood’s films, High Plains Drifter I think is one that kind of gets overlooked. It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but do remember liking it.

    Taking advantage of the cowardly townsfolk was well done, and you have to love the whole “paint the town red and call it Hell” idea and metaphors

    Eastwood basically re-did it some 10 years with Pale Rider, which is one of my all time favourites. If you haven’t seen that one I’d recommend it, and would love to know what you thought of the similarities between the two.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Second person to ask me to do Pale Rider! Lol. Sounds like I’ll have to get on that! I really like Eastwood films too, and I love the ideas used here. Such an unusual film, I think. I liked it.

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  3. The Western, like the Comedy is my least favorite movie genre. There are always a few exceptions of course, but overall I’m just not a big fan of them. I do like Clint Eastwood however, and if you say it’s a film that Western haters might amuse as well, I trust your judgement on that. Thanks for this amazing review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me know if you end up watching it, I’d like your opinion. I know what you mean, comedy means different things to different people, and can fall flat so easily. And westerns aren’t always easy to watch, I find some of them overlong.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed reading this! When I first tried to watch High Plains Drifter as a teenager, I had to give up as it was so different to what I expected. But when I eventually came back to it, I loved it. It’s a fascinating deconstruction of the Western genre.

    Please do Pale Rider and Unforgiven next ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Its definitely quite different than usual westerns, but I think rewarding. I can see why you couldn’t get into it the first time around. But you’re right, it’s a fascinating deconstruction. No problem, I’ll put them on the list for a review down the line. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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