- Directed by Clint Eastwood
- August 6, 1973
A mysterious stranger is recruited by the people of a small frontier town to bring them together to defend against a group of outlaws that are on their way to exact revenge.
High Plains Drifter is a Revisionist Western (with a hint of the supernatural at the end). I can’t say I embrace the Revisionist Western all that much. Some can be good but in the narrative it’s one group of terrible people facing off against another group of terrible people with the least awful person or group coming out on top. Does good win? Maybe. Why should you care which side wins if they are both terrible?
I miss the mythmaking aspect of old Hollywood films set in the West. They were about good people overcoming adversity or bad guys who were the adversity. They were characters you could cheer for and who faced off often against villains that you despised. That type of story is sadly gone.
I’m not saying everyone has to be a saint in a movie but not everyone has to be despicable. Who cares who lives or dies in that kind of story? They’re all pieces of shit anyway.
Clint Eastwood is The Stranger. He is pretty much the stereotypical Eastwood performance in the part. All squinty eyes and low voice that is. Not that such a thing is bad. He does it very well. So well in fact that it gave him a career. I am not busting on his tough guy style.
My issue is that the hero is a bit of a turd. The Stranger does something you cannot do today. He forces himself on a woman (Marianna Hill) who at first refuses but then appears to give in. And while she does later try to kill him with a gun for what he did, she happily sleeps with him later on in the film though as part of a plot by the towns people of Lago to kill him.
The Stranger comes to his position of authority when the town of Lago needs a hired gun to protect them from a gang that was just released from prison. The whole story centers around a scheme by the townspeople and how they double crossed this gang and now are afraid of the gang getting revenge. They sure can screw people over but are incapable of doing the tough stuff themselves.
I had a hard time caring about what happened to anyone in High Plains Drifter because there was no one to care about. The more I saw of the people and learned of their scheme the less I cared what the people coming did to them. I kind of wanted the outlaws TO get there and kill them. Was that the point of the story? The more I think about it that just might be.
The most engaging reason I found to watch High Plains Drifter was the gunplay. It was gleefully violent in a way that only the 70s could be. It was always frenetic and over the top.
I know there are plenty that feel High Plains Drifter is a great movie but as you can tell I’m not one of them. There is no character arc for anybody. One doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be something. Nobody changes from the beginning to the end.
High Plains Drifter is one of those movies that should be watched not because it’s necessarily great but because people feel it’s great. You want to at least know what others are talking about. For that reason alone I will suggest you watch it but don’t make it a top priority.