Review: High Plains Drifter (1973)

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A town all in red looks mega cool to me!

Written By: Dean Riesner & Ernest Tidyman
Directed By: Clint Eastwood

High Plains Drifter is a mishmash of movie ideas. It exists in a weird place where the modern Western blends with the classical Western aesthetically. High Plains Drifter brings forth an amoral approach to attack the morality of the Old West and it introduces a supernatural element not often found in Westerns. It is a Clint Eastwood film so it does all this in simple fashion and contains great depth in its direct approach.

I’m not going to go so far as to call High Plains Drifter an allegorical Western, because I don’t believe it’s allegorical as much as it is plainly subversive. By 1973 the Western was on its last legs, pretty much dead in America and restricted to the works of Sergio Leone from abroad. High Plains Drifter wasn’t a typical Western, it feels as if it is a response to the death of the Western. Eastwood’s first attempt at turning the genre that created him inside out. I find this to be a good accompany piece to High Noon, operating on almost the same wavelength. The villains in the piece were wronged by the townsfolk. The nice townsfolk are in fact cowardly and evil. The hero of the piece is a rapist and a killer. In High Plains Drifter Eastwood has taken the Leone idea of Western morals even further. Instead of simply showcasing the actions of evil men and not judging, he is presenting evil people across the board and asking you to reevaluate how you have viewed your Westerns through the years.

There is plenty of dry, sardonic humor present in High Plains Drifter. This type of humor is a staple of Eastwood’s film and it always gets me. Eastwood also shows some nice flair with the camera. There is one shot in particular that takes place in the bar early on. He starts with an out of focus shot from the Stranger’s perspective. As the Stranger lifts his head up and the bill of his hat passes over the screen the men the Stranger is surely about to kill come into focus. There are other little things that Eastwood does throughout High Plains Drifter, but as always his films are a study in simplicity in direction and film making.

There were a few issues I had with High Plains Drifter, like the somewhat clunky reveal of why the Marshal was really killed. I also felt his importance to the story became overstated when random characters would spout off about him. Unlike others I had no problem with the ending. It was supernatural, so what? It fit with the framework of the story and provided an interesting twist on the avenging angel story and the Western genre.

I remember starting High Plains Drifter a few years ago and never finishing it for one reason or another. It’s safe to say I should have finished it, because High Plains Drifter is a splendid spin on the tropes found in Westerns. It’s a good sophomore effort from Eastwood the director and a suspenseful yarn of a story. Red, the entire town was red, how cool is that?

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: High Plains Drifter (1973)

  1. I have hitchhiked through Lee Vining, California/Mono Lake many times (where “High Plains Drifter” was filmed). Beautiful country.

    I think “High Plains Drifter” is one of the best westerns ever made.

  2. I’m sure it is beautiful country, and one thing is for sure, High Plains Drifter is a great Western.

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