High Plains Drifter (1973) * Top Pick *

Oh... my... Awesome.
Oh... my... Awesome.

Genre: Western Drama Thriller

Starring: Clint Eastwood (Escape from Alcatraz; Where Eagles Dare); Verna Bloom (Animal House; The Last Temptation of Christ)

Directed By: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby; Mystic River)

Overview: When a gunfighter drifts into the small mining town of Lago, the town hires him to defend them from the three outlaws who vowed they'd return to settle a score.

Divider Ravens

If you were asked to think of 'the best Westerns that exist', The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Once Upon a Time In the West, and Unforgiven would most likely be some of the titles that come to mind. Even if you were to keep listing off the films you know, High Plains Drifter may well never make your list. For as much as the second feature directed by Clint Eastwood has earned its place in the annals of its genre, its popularity seems almost non-existent, and certainly nowhere near the degree that it deserves.

Thematically fitting Sergio Leone's 'Man With No Name' trilogy, we find, on the surface, a weary stranger enter the town of Lago looking for a drink and a bath. Instead this man finds himself facing extreme trials. As character studies go, High Plains Drifter goes beyond the question of moral ambiguity and dives deep into humanity's darkness. Our stranger is more than a man coping harshly with the cruel world around him, he's sinister in his villainy, all too often going overboard in the resolutions of his challenges. Yet, rather than making the townsfolk drive him away, it inspires them to hire his gun slinging skills to protect them from three men who were imprisoned a year ago. They vowed that the town would suffer for putting them away and that day is fast approaching.

I do all I can to avoid spoilers and the better the film, the more cautious I become, so you'll have to pardon me for not going into detail about the plot's genius, but I can tell you that the musical score is a true tribute to the Western style we've all grown to appreciate, though it displays a darker, more haunting air, properly representative of the stranger whose moment in life we follow.

High Plains Drifter is a film that can be described as pure, rugged Western with a heavy streak of Film Noir, both in the cinematographic silhouetting as well as the exploration of the character as an anti-hero, and I believe that this film, though perhaps not as perfect as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, is a heavy-hitting tale that belongs in everyone's repertoire.

Isaiah 53:3-4, the verse written on the church wall, perfectly describes the trek this story takes and the dark waters in which this film travels: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted."

Never has anyone drifted so dramatically!

Overall Rating: 90% (Sit A Spell)

In my experience, the Western isn't a popular genre. Women seem apprehensive to watch these rugged man-flicks, and guys who are new to them may find themselves resistant to a period piece, regardless of the guns and the action. I'll put it this way: if there are only three westerns that you ever see in life, make High Plains Drifter one of them. It's so dark in fact that the online rumour mills say John Wayne wrote a letter to Eastwood condemning the film, stating that the 'Spirit of the West' was tainted by this film.

Well kids, if nothing else had sold me to see this, that certainly would have.

Dug up from the archives for the 1001 Must See Movies Club. Originally written way back on July 7th, 2007.

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