Nun Sara (Shirley MacLaine) is on the run in Mexico and is saved from cowboys by Hogan (Clint Eastwood), who is preparing for a future mission to capture a French fort. The pair become good friends, but Sara never does tell him the true reason behind her being outlawed.
A hard but mediocre cop is assigned to escort a prostitute into custody from Las Vegas to Phoenix, so that she can testify in a mob trial. But a lot of people are literally betting that they won't make it into town alive.
San Francisco Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must foil a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled Vietnam veterans. But this time, he's teamed with female partner Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), with whom he's not too excited to be working.
When a madman calling himself "the Scorpio Killer" menaces the city, tough as nails San Francisco Police Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath.
A Stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into in the dusty mining town of Lago, where the townspeople are living in the shadow of a dark secret. After a shoot-out leaves the town's hired-gun protectors dead, the town's leaders petition the Stranger to stay and protect them from three ruthless outlaws who are soon to be released from prison. The three have their sights set on returning to Lago to wreak havoc and take care of some unfinished business. A series of events soon has the townspeople questioning whether siding with the Stranger was a wise idea, as they quickly learn the price that they each must pay for his services. As the outlaws make their way back into Lago, they discover that the town is not exactly as they had left it, and waiting in the shadows is the Stranger, ready to expose the town's secret and serve up his own brand of justice.Written by
A heat haze reigns over the high plains, making them look like the valleys of the shadow of death. Emerging from the mistiness a lone rider seems to make one with the shadow, coming to our direction. It's not an entrance as much as an appearance, and in the small town of Lago, not the most welcomed one. From the simple by-standers to the business owners, gazes of bewilderment and barely concealed fears converge to his direction, stares that say "who is he?" "where does he come from?" "what is he doing here?". As usual, Clint Eastwood looks like he doesn't give a d***, and we -viewers- know we'll be lucky if one of the three questions gets an answer.
That's the attitude Eastwood built his legend on, as the emerging Western icon after John Wayne but closer to a Bogart-like figure, Eastwood had that edge over Wayne, he didn't need a story, his 'presence' could make a film. Eastwood emerged with the late 60s and his "Man-With-No-Name" character immediately appealed to a young generation of movie goers longing for outcasts who could reflect their own defiance toward the petty preoccupations of a conservative society, minus the insecurity. Eastwood played rebellious characters but with coolness oozing from his apparent detachment, he made his charisma so effortless that he stole Wayne's thunder.
Speaking of Wayne, that he criticized "High Plain Drifters" in an open letter to Eastwood proves the latter's point, he might have played a "right-wing fantasy" in "Dirty Harry" but when you're criticized by Wayne in 1973, you're not in conflict with the Western icon but with the out-of-touch director of "Green Berets". Eastwood was old-fashioned but in a revolutionary way. And this is why his figure as the lonesome stranger coming from nowhere but not for nothing became an enduring trademark of his own, one that stuck to him until his Oscar-winning "Unforgiven". And twenty years later, Eastwood knew the secret ingredient he had to instill in his movies: making his Stranger's character as quiet and stingy in words as his Leone's counterpart and as effective in words and action as his Don Siegel's Harry.
Some critics saw in the film an attempt to imitate the masters but that's an unfair trial because what Eastwood imitates (not without a few ounces of self-awareness) is the character he created and whom he plagiarizes with insistence, because that's the way you build your own style. As a director, he's rather minimalist and linear, with a few flashbacks cleverly inserted to give a needed boost to the plot, until a climax that looks like nothing seen before, not in old Westerns, not in Leone's: surrealism with a meaning. In "Pale Rider", a similar confrontation would be handled in a less showy manner but "High Plain Drifters" redeems its lack of subtlety by the boldness of his protagonist and his personal motives that give a weird of plausibility in his actions, it might even be Eastwood's way to renovate the Western genre, whipping the dust off with a mystical savagery.
That's Eastwood's touch, to infuse spirituality in seemingly ordinary stories, with mysterious but not unreal protagonists, men with a way with the gun and the ladies and yet accessible to the common folks, never too detached, never too straightforward... there's an element of humor and balance that keep his heroes rooted in reality while their aura evokes supernatural elements. Now, it would ruin the experience to reveal what "High Plain Drifters" is about but let's say it involves a town that is so full of coward people that it makes Hadleyville people look like the Magnificent Seven The film opens with the Stranger killing three thugs who were literally begging for it, as a result, the town asks him for protection against three outlaws who are coming to attack them. He accepts, but not without a price.
As the plot moves on, a few hints are given, the sound of a whip alerts the Stranger, a woman bumps into him in a way to 'make acquaintance' What he does after is condemnable and ugly but what the scene denounces is the apathy and lack of reaction of the men not without reminding of "Dirty Harry" and whose correlation with the Stranger's mission is revealed later. Meanwhile, the film oscillates between moments of ominous quietness, brutality and humor, especially when the town is ready to accept any of the Stranger's wishes including the nomination of the town's midget (Billy Curtis) mayor as sheriff and mayor. The Strangers throws customers out of the hotel, making an enemy out of the owner, and a friend out of his wife (Verna Bloom). Later, some treacheries are revealed among the "good" people of Lago, which broadens even more the notions of good and evil, an issue that became persistent in Eastwood's body of work as soon he started making movies.
"High Plain Drifters" denounces the evilness lying in every human being who acts wrongly but also the lack of reaction of the seemingly good citizen, the more violent scenes involves a nasty public lynching by whipping where we see people staring at a good man being tortured, with a silence that truly gives consent. We never really get to know what ties the flashback with the Stranger, however we know there's a record to settle and that some incidents are so dramatic that it takes a certain dose of poetic justice to fix it, a vision of what is right that doesn't necessarily indulge in being good, that might not be the vision of everyone of the West, but it was Eastwood's and it fit the mood of the 70s and we're disillusioned enough to embrace his poetry almost five decades later.
John Wayne was in position to criticize him but time certainly did justice to the director who did justice in his own movies... when he gets back to the heat haze, we know justice was done and it's satisfying enough.
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