High Plains Drifter (1973)


*. Some critics actually thought this film (Eastwood’s second at the helm) derivative of Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. Really? Well, who else would it derive from? And it’s not as though the Western doesn’t come with a ton of genre baggage. You could call it equally derivative of High Noon.
*. I wonder if Eastwood collected laconicisms the way some writers scribble down epiphanies. How many dry one-liners does he snap off in this movie? A lot. Whether they came courtesy of Eastwood, screenwriter Ernest Tidyman, or Dean Riesner I don’t know, but I would guess they were mostly Eastwood’s own contribution.
*. I find the climax to be rather abrupt and perfunctory, but I don’t know how much of this is due to creeping desensitization. The revenge genre is so overdone now that we expect a spectacular, prolonged, and very bloody reel of retribution. Here the main bad guy gets shot and that’s it.
*. Speaking of the finale, why the hell do the two bad guys stay in the saloon while they listen to their buddy getting whipped to death just outside the door? This makes no sense at all to me.
*. A movie made just a couple of years after Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, which may explain the really crude evolutionary misogyny. It was definitely something that was in the air at the time. Callie is the “blonde bitch in heat” in need of “one honest-to-God man with a full set of balls.” Luckily Eastwood’s Stranger is “the dog that runs the pack” and so Callie can lustily embrace being raped, as Sarah will as well. A good breeding woman just needs to be forced in order to be satisfied.
*. Certainly the local townsmen don’t seem to be doing much breeding. Where are the children? The only kids we see are the natives the Stranger gives candy to.
*. Also part of the reductionist evolutionary perspective is the fact that everyone in the movie is despicable. This is the same sort of ugliness we get in Peckinpah’s parable.
*. After Clint re-branded as an icon of conservatism it became easier to read his work as being right-wing (if not fascistic, in Kael’s formulation). But what is the political message of this film? John Wayne despised it as un-American, but then he despised High Noon as well (and was that movie really as “liberal” as its pedigree and reception would assume?). High Plains Drifter isn’t a movie celebrating the little guy or small-town values, what with its revelation of the good, god-fearing citizens of Lago as hypocritical, money-grubbing, cowardly, and weak. I suppose the “man on horseback” can be seen as reactionary in some way, embodying a purer form of justice than the merely human, but how does that translate to American politics?
*. Lago is a mining town? Where is the mine? Where are the miners?
*. I wouldn’t want to be the one driving that carriage with the dummies on it that is  being used for target practice. Dangerous job, seeing as all the townsfolk are just firing wildly.


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