Clint Eastwood’s second film as a director—and his first western, High Plains Drifter takes us back to his days making spaghetti westerns in Italy with Sergio Leone. His character, a gunslinger known simply as “The Stranger” passes an unmarked grave as he rides into the weary, lakefront mining town of Lago. The stranger stops in the local saloon for a drink, where he’s harassed by three thugs. When they try to jump him as he’s getting a shave at a local barbershop, he coolly kills them all with a gun hidden under his barber’s apron. As it turns out, the dead men were hired mercenaries, tasked with defending Lago from three recently released convicts headed to Lago to exact vengeance on the citizens they believe railroaded them.
It’s not long before the mayor pulls out all the stops to convince The Stranger to defend the town, something he agrees to do after he is offered anything he wants in return; exactly what he wants turns out to be more bizarre than anyone could have imagined. All pf a sudden this seemingly standard story turns into something rather dark and strange.
High Plains Drifter works quite well, because Eastwood, aided by Dee Barton’s unsettling score, creates a sense of dread the moment he appears on screen. Though the plot is disappointingly obvious, the disturbing flashbacks which give the plot away are very well done. Nonetheless, once The Stranger orders that the town be painted red and renamed ‘Hell,’ its clear things are moving into horrific/creepy territory. It’s important to point out that cinematographer Bruce Surtees work makes the landscape look gorgeous in the first half of the film and flips the switch in the second to make things look genuinely menacing.
As expected, Eastwood dominates the film, but the supporting cast is solid. Verna Bloom is excellent as the reticent hotel owner. Of note, is Billy Curtis as the town midget Mordecai, whom the Stranger declares sheriff and mayor. Marianna Hill, playing the towns promiscuous blonde, is part of the film’s most controversial scene; raped by the Stranger, not only does she appear to enjoy it, it’s suggested she deserves it. If High Plains Drifter were made today, I think that scene would be handled much differently, if included in the film at all.
Apart from the rape scene, High Plains Drifter has aged rather well. While not a perfect film, it’s still an effective an exciting genre piece. It also served as early evidence that Clint Eastwood would be a force to be reckoned with in the director’s chair.
Kino’s new Special Edition looks great. The image is well defined. Contrast is dialed in and colors are bright. Bruce Surtees cinematography pops. This is a top line 1080p transfer throughout.
Kino offers a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround or a lossless 2.0 channel. The surround offers up some excellent effects—echoey gunfire is a noticeable addition. Dee Barton’s score is nicely separated from dialogue and suits the film well. Dialogue is clear and concise throughout.
English SDH subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Alex Cox
- NEW! Interview with Actress Marianna Hill (HD, 14:12)
- NEW! Interview with Actor Mitchell Ryan (HD, 8:14)
- NEW! Interview with Actor William O’Connell (HD, 16:12)
- A Man Named Eastwood: Vintage High Plains Drifter Promo (HD, 7:08)
- TRAILERS FROM HELL: with Josh Olson (HD, 2:33)
- TRAILERS FROM HELL: with Edgar Wright (HD, 2:32)
- Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
- Reversible Art
- Poster and Image Gallery (HD, 4:02)
- Two Theatrical Trailers (New HD transfers – 2:31, 1:25)
- TV Spot (HD, 1:01)
- Radio Spot (0:54)
High Plains Drifter (1973)