Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Mitch Ryan, Jack Ging, Stefan Gierasch, Ted Hartley, Billy Curtis, Geoffrey Lewis, Scott Walker, Walter Barnes, Paul Brinegar, Richard Bull, Robert Donner, John Hillerman, Anthony James, William O'Connell, John Quade, Dan Vadis, Buddy Van Horn
Written by: Ernest Tidyman
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 105
Date: 04/19/1973

High Plains Drifter (1973)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Seeing Red

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Clint Eastwood's first Western as director is rather fascinating due to its quasi-supernatural component. Some accused the film of "heavy-handed symbolism," but if you're paying attention, it all fits. Eastwood plays "the stranger," who rides into a small Western town, just as three vicious outlaws are about to be released from jail, bent on revenge. The townsfolk hire the stranger to be their protector, and give him free reign in the meantime. He rapes a local woman and strips the mayor and the sheriff of their jobs and re-assigns them to the local laughingstock, a midget called Mordecai (Billy Curtis). He literally paints the town red, all the more to resemble hell itself. Through a few flashbacks and a coda, we learn the stranger's (possible) true identity and motivation. In the movie's most curious scene, the stranger uses his line of credit to buy blankets and candy for an American Indian family; either they don't fit into his plan, or Eastwood wants the stranger to have at least a modicum of humanity. In some ways, Eastwood was already thinking of ways to subvert his screen image, though High Plains Drifter is awfully violent and sometimes unpleasant. Eastwood used the same setup, but with directly opposite themes, in Pale Rider (1985).

In 2020, Kino Lorber released a glorious restoration of the film on Blu-ray. It includes an audio commentary track by filmmaker and Spaghetti Western expert Alex Cox, two other audio mixes (2.0 and 5.1), new interviews with actors Hill and Ryan, a vintage promo short, two episodes of "Trailers from Hell," and a whole batch of trailers, TV spots, and radio spots for this and other Eastwood films. Highly recommended.

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