A sad sack mining town hires a mysterious, short on words, high on action gunslinger that just rode in, to defend them from some recently released outlaws. The town folks slowly learn THE HARD WAY that the strange stranger has his own dark agenda and its called PAY motherf*cking BACK!
"It's what people know about themselves inside that makes 'em afraid.” – The Stranger
After the utter let down that was the summer release of JONAH HEX, I craved for a top notch horror western, one with ambiance, a great story and sprinkled with unapologetic violence...so what’s a man to do but to go back in time, a time when Hollywood aimed higher than an opening weekend and made real films. So I doggied HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER again. The flick was man's man Clint Eastwood's directorial follow up to his superb debut Play Misty for Me (which Fatal Attraction owes a lot to), and once rolling on my screen, HIGH PLAINS DIFTER went down as smooth as a shot of whiskey.
The moment the opening shot of The Stranger riding into town with only the sound of his horse's footsteps ringing out kicked in, I was in goosebump heaven. Yup, Eastwood smartly took what he learned from Sergio Leone's Westerns (swaying atmosphere and style) and Don Siegel's action flicks (gritty and unflinching violence) and created his own morbid ode to the Old West, a mean spirited, sexist and go f*ck yourself oeuvre if I've ever seen one. Let me put it this way, Eastwood's anti hero The Stranger kills 3 dudes and rapes one chick within the first 10 minutes of the picture. And to make matters worse, not only does he somehow manage to remain likable but every dame he takes againts their will down the road, kind of like it afterwards. Shit, one chick even falls in love with him after an old school Eastwood forced entry. WTF?!? You don't see that kind of UN PC attitude from the castrated, eye liner abusing scene now of late that for sure. Ahhh the 70s...
And like any SOLID movie should, this baby's chamber was fully loaded with potent bullets at that. It had a compelling script by Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection); one charged with tight dialogue and back-handing suspense. Moreover, the narrative unraveled at an even pace and peeled away like an oignon as the more we clocked forward the more we figured out what's going on, hence making for a highly griping ride. Now that I think of it; at the core, this was a revenge picture, but with Eastwood taking it to a higher level than the norm. There's vengeance than there's The Stranger's vengeance; extended, calculated, inventive and cold as ice. LOVED IT! Visually the flick was shot near Lake Mono in the California Sierras, and it made for a striking location to gawk at (must visit that place). Think a mix of pure beauty (the imposing mountains, vast clouds and lake) and oppressive dread (the desert, the mirage like effects on the horizon). Eastwood eye's behind the lens was axed on dry (loved the flashbacks...ouch), somber and moody imagery, making way for an hypnotic visual feast. The man‘s take on action was on the ball as well, the pow-pow bits hit home and hit hard. No candy coated shit here, it was as edgy as it can get. Lets face it, nobody does Old West badass better than Clint Eastwood…no…not even John Wayne.
Then we had the acting, which was just as well rounded as the rest. Eastwood's no bull, always chill and bigger than life presence tipped its hat to his famous Man with No Name character while the supporting cast backed him up with chops and class. Specific props goes to the ladies (Verna Bloom and Callie Travers) for their brave showcases, Geoffrey Lewis who made for a menacing love to hate villain (again) and Billy Curtis as Mordecai, the little guy that seemed to "get it". Add to all that loving a haunting score (by Dee Barton who also worked with Eastwood on Play Misty for Me and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) that really upped the eerie vibe of the affair, some twisted ideas that took me aback (paint the town red), Eastwood masterfully playing with sound/silence and a supernatural undercurrent that Eastwood went on to reprise in Pale Rider (1985) but that was much more fleshed out and impactful here and you get a a celluloid treat that supercedes the genre it toys in by reaching further to become its own animal i.e. A CLASSIC. Any gripes? Not really. Other than the whole "mining" angle begging to be fleshed out further...nope, nope, nope! You've heard the old saying: they don't make films like this anymore... let me say it again right here: THEY DON'T MAKE FILMS LIKE THIS ANYMORE. Saddle up for this one and don't look back!
Even though Eastwood rapes a couple of gals, it’s all implied. Smart move! The ladies get Eastwood’s long legs hanging out of a bathtub.
I have a thing for Westerns now of late. Not sure why... am sure the fact that men were men back then and that conflict could been solved with a shotgun has something to do with that... but I digress. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER was film-making at its best. A solid and layered screenplay, wonderful actors, complex relationships, untamed violence and striking imagery galore. It's a Western with the roughness of a cop thriller, and a thriller with the supernatural flavor of a horror film. Eastwood's keen eye and ear behind the camera was the cherry on top of the whip cream laced tittie, elevating an already sturdy and compelling storyline, to masterpiece level. If you crave a film with all its headstones checked off, you don't need to look any further than High Plains Drifter.
Universal Pictures wanted Clint to shoot the film on the Studio lot. Clint said no dice and had a whole town built near Mono Lake in California.
The editing of the film was done in a log cabin near Mono Lake.
The flick was shot in six weeks.