HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)
Director Clint Eastwood’s film opens on an empty desert rippling with heat. A lone horseman seemingly materializes from nothing as composer #DeeBarton’s eerie & haunting #filmscore hints at something supernatural.
By the time the ‘70s rolled around the story of the cowboy stranger showing up to save the helpless innocents from violent brutes had been well trod. However, what if the townsfolk weren’t good people at all? What if they deserved a nasty comeuppance? This is the scenario that follows Eastwood’s unnamed Drifter into the small mining town of Lago.
In a wonderful opening sequence the Drifter slowly rides into town (the only sound being the horse’s hooves on the dirt street) as everyone distrustfully watches his solemn entrance. Of course, all the stranger seemingly wants is a cold beer and “peaceful hour to drink it in.” But by the end of this opening act three foolish gunfighters are dead and the jittery townsfolk are left defenseless against some vicious outlaws on their way for revenge. They hire the drifter to help them by giving him anything he wants and he takes full advantage of their cowardice.
#HighPlainsDrifter deconstructs a lot of western tropes. The “hero” with no empathy, selfish townsfolk undeserving of help, “bad guys” with a legitimate reason for their rage, the weak abandoned by their hired savior & a climactic showdown that plays more like a horror film. Is the Drifter a supernatural “Angel of Death?” Or an avenging relative or friend? The movie never explicitly answers.
Eastwood, having learned much from his directors #SergioLeone & #DonSiegel, brings a dark cynicism (with a slight tinge of hope) to HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER that permeates the entire story, look & production design. Even the “good” characters, of which there are few, have their demons. While I love the traditional western film of heroes & villains … this cynical little film rings far more true to me.
Written by #ErnestTidyman and featuring a range of wonderful actors of the era including #MitchellRyan, #GeoffreyLewis, #AnthonyJames & #VernaBloom.
A perfect #doublefeature when paired with PALE RIDER (1985). Happy 88th Birthday #ClintEastwood!