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Hang 'Em High(1968)
A band of vigilantes catch Jed Cooper and, incorrectly believing him guilty of cattle rustling and murder, hang him and leave him for dead. But he doesn't die. He returns to his former profession of lawman to hunt down his lynchers and bring them to justice.
For more about Hang 'Em High and the Hang 'Em High Blu-ray release, see Hang 'Em High Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 14, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Pat Hingle, Ben Johnson, Charles McGraw
Director: Ted Post
» See full cast & crew
Hang 'Em High Blu-ray Review
“When you hang a man, you better look at him.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 14, 2010
After gunslinging and grimacing through three spaghetti westerns by director Sergio Leone—A Fistful of Dollars and its two loose sequels—Clint Eastwood returned to Hollywood in 1968 a bona fide movie star. So much for The Man With No Name. Everyone knew his name. His first movie back in the states was Hang 'Em High, a film that sits squarely in the middle of the spectrum between the ethical ambiguity of Leone's greed-addled escapades and the clean cut, white hat/black hat morality of the John Wayne pictures that had previously defined the American western. Somewhat of a step backward from the evolutionary leap that Leone's Man With No Name trilogy represented for the genre, Hang 'Em High is often underappreciated, both among Eastwood's filmography and westerns in general. While it may not be as inventive, daring, or stylish, the film has its charms, including standout performances from Eastwood and several other genre regulars, and an anti-capital punishment message that's effective without being too preachy.
Set in the Oklahoma Territory of the late 1880s, Hang 'Em High opens with Jed Cooper (Eastwood) leading a herd of newly purchased cattle across a river. We know from the start he's a decent fellow because he stops to pick up a struggling calf, and let's face it, bad guys don't carry baby animals, never in the movies anyway. On the other side of the river, Cooper is accosted by a gang of rustlers, led by ill-intentioned Capt. Wilson (the inimitable Ed Begley), and accused of thievery. This is all a frame job on the part of the wranglers, who pin their own dirty deeds on Cooper, and then summarily hang him, knowing that dead men tell no tales. Only, they totally botch it up and leave before making sure he's really dead. Coop is rescued by a local lawman and taken into town, where high-strung "hangin' judge" Adam Fenton (Pat Hingle) offers him a job as a federal marshal. The pay is good, and the gig will afford him the chance to track down his persecutors and see them prosecuted to the full extent of the law, which, in this town, means certain death at the gallows. Cooper is a conflicted character, drawn between vigilante revenge and proper marshal procedure, and when he inadvertently has a hand in the execution of two young men who really don't deserve to die, he sees that justice isn't always just.
The film's anti-capital punishment message is as pointed as Eastwood's spurs, but the script by Mel Goldberg and Leonard Freeman handles it intelligently, with none of the weepy sense of self- righteousness that you find in many of today's Big Issue movies. The thesis here is that justice doled out by "a judge in a robe standing before an American flag" is sometimes no different than retribution "by a dirty rope on the plain." It's all about intent. Are we looking for repentance, forgiveness and true reform, or just the eye-for-an-eye style vengeance of Hammurabi's Code? In the Old West, the latter, it seems, took precedence over the former. As the film progresses, Judge Fenton begins to loom as a truly frightening character, sickly fascinated with his executions, which are staged to somehow prove that Oklahoma is "civilized" enough to receive statehood. The most effective sequence of the film—a mass hanging where six supposed criminals are put to the rope— is dripping with irony, clever juxtaposition, and, no pun intended, gallows humor. On execution day, the whole community turns out in their Sunday best to watch, vendors hawk cold beer and treats for the kids, and a preacher piously leads the assembled mass in a hymn. "Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace," sing the revelers, as the camera pans slowly across the grim image of the 200 lb. gallows weights that will anchor the convicted as they plunge to their neck-snapping deaths.
The plotting, even for a western, is exceptionally simple—Cooper merely tracks down the men who lynched him, all while illustrating the inadequacies of so-called justice—and there's very little of the genre's characteristically tense gunplay. (When it happens, though, Eastwood is a total badass.) Rather than being action oriented, the story is tonally focused on the thematic conflict between revenge and fairness. Not much actually happens, but the film keeps us engaged with a few misdirects and mysteries. Of course, the big question is how Cooper will treat the men who wronged him. The comeuppance that's ultimately delivered isn't exactly surprising or satisfying, but that seems precisely the point. What are we supposed to feel when justice (or vengeance) has been served? There's also a subplot with the local blond bombshell, played by Inger Stevens, who keeps tabs on the comings and goings of prisoners in an attempt to find the men that wronged her and get some retribution of her own. Inevitably, a love story is shoehorned into the script, but it never really gels emotionally, mostly because Stevens' acting is as wooden as a fencepost. She's the only weak link, though, as the rest of the players—a who's who of western character actors—deliver memorable performances, especially Ed Begley and Pat Hingle. There's even a bizarre cameo by Dennis Hopper as a crazed prophet. Eastwood, though, is the one your eyes won't leave. He doesn't act so much as simply exist on screen, a palpable presence as he glowers and delivers his dialogue through gritted teeth. He's the face of the modern, revisionist western, and that's reason enough to give Hang 'Em High a shot.
Hang 'Em High Blu-ray, Video Quality
MGM's release of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was met with no small amount of controversy over the amount of digital noise reduction that was applied to the image, but rest assured, western fans—Hang 'Em High's 1080p/AVC-encoded picture is beautifully resolved and naturally filmic. I'm even tempted to say that barring some miraculous frame-by-frame restoration, this is the best the film has looked and perhaps will ever look on home video. But let's run through the brief negatives before we get to this transfer's many positives. First of all, as implied, the film has not been given a frame-by-frame restoration—white and black specks salt and pepper the image frequently, and you'll notice some minor color fluctuations throughout. If you can look past the age-related wear and tear, however, you'll find a film that still looks quite good after all these years. All of the visual characteristics of the western genre are in place—the tight close-ups of grizzled faces, the wide vistas, the low angles—and this transfer seems absolutely true to source. The film's dusty color palette is natural and nicely saturated, with warm skin tones and hues that are vibrant when called for, like the plush golds and crushed velvet reds inside the brothel's honeymoon suite. Black levels are solid, shadow detail is revealing, and the tightly tuned contrast gives the image a realistic presence. Though there are a few soft shots, with a general air of haziness during many of the outdoor scenes, clarity is decent, with ample detail to be seen in faces, props, and period clothing. Likewise, grain spikes a bit during darker scenes and wide establishing shots, but most of the time it's richly textured and unobtrusive. On the technical side of things, the encode is strong, with some blotchiness apparent in sky blues, but otherwise no overt banding or other compression-related problems. Fans of the film should be plenty pleased.
Hang 'Em High Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Hang 'Em High swings onto Blu-ray with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track that expands the film's original mono presentation into a fairly successful 5.1 surround mix. We're dealing with dated audio stems here, of course, so there's really not much that can be done to make the experience any more immersive, but I'm impressed with some of the subtlety of the rear channel usage. Dominic Frontiere's effective revisionist western score is full of the usual elements—jangly guitar, piercing strings, clop-clop percussion, lonesome harmonica—and it all sounds bright and detailed, though, as you'd expect from a film from the mid 1960s, low-end response is lacking, giving the sound a slightly tinny quality. The music plays powerfully from all channels, and in the rears you'll also hear some place-establishing ambience, like carousing riders in town, as well the occasional cross- channel effect, like the ping of gunfire. There's nothing particularly remarkable here, but there's also nothing that stands out artificially. Aside from a few muffled moments, dialogue is handled cleanly and clearly, riding on top of the mix and letting us appreciate each of Eastwood's growled commands. For diehard purists, the film's original mono is included via a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
Hang 'Em High Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, there are no bonus features whatsoever included on this disc.
Hang 'Em High Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Hang 'Em High may not be as original or as widely regarded at the Man With No Name trilogy or some of Eastwood's later films, but it's an entertaining genre piece that relays a strikingly effective anti-capital punishment message. Armchair gunslingers should also be pleased with the film's solid audio/video presentation on Blu-ray, especially if they were the sort that was displeased with MGM's release of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Fans should have no hesitation adding Hang 'Em High to their collections.
Hang 'Em High: Other Editions
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Hang 'Em High Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Hang 'Em High, Man in the Iron Mask Blu-ray - March 26, 2010
An early announcement to retailers indicates that MGM will release two catalog titles on May 11: Hang 'Em High, a 1968 western starring Clint Eastwood; and The Man in the Iron Mask, the 1998 retelling of the Alexandre Dumas novel with an all-star cast. As with ...
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