Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hang 'Em High: the Clint Eastwood primer

Hang 'Em High (1968), Clint Eastwood's first American western after the Sergio Leone trilogy, contains many of the motifs recurrent in Eastwood movies of the following decades, particularly his action movies and Westerns.

The lawman who clashes with the law
Eastwood's Marshal Jed Cooper repeatedly disagrees with his boss' idea of justice, at times seeing it as too lenient, at others too severe. This conflict is further played out in the Dirty Harry movies.

Delivering prisoners against great odds
Jed's cross-desert trek with three murderous cattle rustlers and no backup sets precedent for elements of Coogan's Bluff, Joe Kidd, The Gauntlet, and In the Line of Fire.

Back from the dead — for vengeance
Jed Cooper is left for dead twice‚ at the lynching that opens the film and the saloon shootout later on. Both times Cooper surprises his would-be assassins by reappearing and taking revenge, either with badge or gun. Other Eastwood characters make similar death-defying comebacks, symbolic or otherwise, in High Plains Drifter, Sudden Impact, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven.

Sex crime
Rachel Warren, Jed's love interest, is on constant watch for the men who raped her years ago. She looks at every prisoner brought before the judge, hoping one day she will see her assailants hang. Similarly victimized characters — several of them prostitutes — appear in The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Gauntlet, Sudden Impact, Tightrope, and Unforgiven.

The Clint Eastwood Repertory Company
Several actors appear frequently in Eastwood's movies. Hang 'Em High features regulars Pat Hingle (The Gauntlet, Sudden Impact) and Jack Ging (Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter).


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