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High Plains Drifter(1973)
A gunfighting stranger comes to the small settlement of Lago and is hired to bring the townsfolk together in an attempt to hold off three outlaws who are on their way.
For more about High Plains Drifter and the High Plains Drifter Blu-ray release, see High Plains Drifter Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on November 17, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Mitch Ryan, Jack Ging, Stefan Gierasch
Director: Clint Eastwood
» See full cast & crew
High Plains Drifter Blu-ray Review
The rapeiest gun in the West.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, November 17, 2013
Around the early 1970s, Clint Eastwood was a major actor looking to make a transition to directing. Cutting his teeth on actioners and westerns, it would've made perfect sense for Eastwood to select a project that played to his strengths, allowing him a chance to impress the industry by taking the easy career route. Instead, the star made "Play Misty for Me," an itchy psychological thriller that showcased his gifts with modest staging, performance, and mood. Finally, in 1973, Eastwood was ready to saddle up again, with "High Plains Drifter" a return to form, assuming command of a flinty, violent western, finally able to craft his own take on a well-worn genre. Channeling the spirits of former collaborators Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, along with decades of experience on the backs of horses, Eastwood rose to the occasion, generating a refreshingly bizarre feature with an unexpected mean streak. Mysterious, sporadically comical, and classically Eastwood, "High Plains Drifter" is a wholly satisfying revenge saga that's askew enough to surprise as it exercises known elements.
Emerging out of the haze, The Stranger (Clint Eastwood) has come to the mining town of Lago for a break in his travels. Greeted by violent members of the community, The Stranger quickly erases any potential threat, with his powerful gun-slinging ways impressing town leaders. Offered a job as an enforcer to help protect Lago from three nasty gunfighters (including Geoffrey Lewis) out to exact revenge on the town that betrayed them, The Stranger is tempted by the promise of free supplies and powerless women, electing to hang around and help train the citizens in the ways of murder. Growing accustomed to his gift of carte blanche, The Stranger begins to work out the details of his secretive plans, forcing angry residents to destroy their property and humiliate themselves in preparation for war. With the villainous gang making their way to Lago, slaughtering innocents along their path, The Stranger concerns himself with troublesome naysayers, watching as the town melts down in dissent and fear as their day of defense arrives.
"High Plains Drifter" isn't a straightforward revenge saga, but something a little different. It's a full-blooded western with jangly spurs, shootouts, and dangerous terrain, but it retains a slightly supernatural touch, announced at the outset of the effort, with The Stranger emerging out of thin air as he trots into Lago. Explanations are not a key component of Ernest Tidyman's screenplay, finding Eastwood taking hints of mystery and stretching them out across the feature, leaving the viewer to wonder just who this man is and why he's so willing to help out a largely ungrateful community of paranoid people. Clearly, The Stranger is up to something, but it's not immediately clear, infusing "High Plains Drifter" with unusual tension that's played out in extended silences and staring contests, while oddity is preserved in the character of Mordecai (Billy Curtis), a demoralized little person The Stranger anoints as sheriff and mayor of Lago to rile up the locals. Despite its recognizable working parts, the movie never plays out as expected, observing Eastwood's habitually patient direction generate an unsettling mood of preparation and confrontation, hinting that the good people of Lago might not be the upstanding Christians they appear to be.
If there's any outright discomfort with "High Plains Drifter," it's found in its treatment of female characters. Westerns aren't typically know for their respectful feminine approach, yet the picture confounds when it turns The Stranger into a rapist, though one with victims who quickly melt into an orgasmic puddle once manhandled and forcefully penetrated by the scruffy enigma. The Stranger is no hero, but it's unnerving to watch this particular personality trait celebrated in the film. The screenplay's coldblooded enough, finding the sexual assault tangents unnecessary, especially while passed off as harmless mischief. At the very least, this unsavory quality could've been used to make The Stranger into a challengingly menacing figure, but Eastwood's not that brave here. Instead, rape is recreation -- ugliness disguised as frontier life, without inspecting why the character is so consumed with taking unwilling women.
Back to the basics of squinty encounters, lightning gunplay, and a motivated menace on their way to Lago, and "High Plains Drifter" hits all the Western highlights, greased considerably by Eastwood's obvious influences. With a Morricone-esque score from Dee Barton and Siegel-style austerity, the helmer pours his history into the picture, creating striking images of travel and conflict, while making time for citizen personalities to shine through, funneling oddball antagonism into revelations teased throughout the feature. It's deceptively simple work, focused on training drills and The Stranger's steamrolling presence in Lago, yet there's a real sense of life in "High Plains Drifter" that helps it to stand apart from the competition, reflecting the chaos of mob rule and the comedy of religion, with sinful townsfolk comforting themselves with the church as they partake of inhumane acts to protect their future. There's more to the film than surface details, though admittedly, leathery genre trimmings are irresistible at times, especially when articulated by Eastwood's precise mannerisms.
High Plains Drifter Blu-ray, Video Quality
In a rare show of catalog interest, Universal has issued a fresh scan of this 1973 feature. The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation provides a crisp, clean HD appearance, with only a mild amount of filtering to manage the grain, not erase it. Detail is superb, isolating facial particulars in meaty, sweaty close-ups, while locations reveal naturalistic textures, adding to the remote mood of the film. Blacks are consistent and deep, with little lost to evening incidents, while period outfits retain their craftsmanship. Colors are balanced and purposeful, with Lago's transformation into a red-painted Hell a highlight of the viewing experience, while costuming allows for additional explorations into primaries. Skintones are natural and communicative. Print is clean, without damage. Overall, I wish all the studio's vault titles were treated this kindly, as a simple effort of preservation allows "Drifter" to ride confidently on BD.
High Plains Drifter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix finds a suitable equilibrium for what amounts to a spare soundtrack punctuated with blasts of violence. Dialogue exchanges are crisply defined, with group activity managed acceptably, while purred threats from Eastwood are never buried. Scoring cues retain character and instrumentation, supporting comfortably without intrusion, setting the eerie mood of the picture, dialed up in intensity when the moment calls for it. Atmospherics are satisfactory, preserving metal spurs and environmental influence. Sound effects are a real treat here, finding whip cracks and gunshots pronounced, while explosions add a little low-end hustle to the listening experience. Surrounds are eager during scenes of chaos and for musical leadership, but the majority of the track is enjoyably frontal. Possibly inherent distortion is detected in the finale, leaving behind a few crackly moments.
High Plains Drifter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
High Plains Drifter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ordering Lago painted red to greet the villains, "High Plains Drifter" morphs into a vision of Hell, with a corker of a finale that carries the movie's mysterious origin to the final frame. Although it's the first western Eastwood directed, "High Plains Drifter" remains one of his finest efforts, exuding such visual confidence (the California locations are a knockout) and atmosphere, collected in a complex package of revenge. It's Eastwood hungry to prove himself, but also laying the foundation for a sharp cinematic instinct that would come to bear incredible fruit in the years to come.
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• High Plains Drifter 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray - July 23, 2013
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release of director Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, starring Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Mitch Ryan, Stefan Gierasch, Billy Curtis and Geoffrey Lewis. Digitally ...
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