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By Brad Laidman | May 28, 2001

Clint Eastwood is the ultimate thinking man’s cinematic killing machine. “High Plains Drifter” is his spooky, dark, and vicious version of the Sergio Leone Man With No Name Spaghetti Westerns he once starred in, and a moody existential meditation on gunplay, revenge and karma. Payback! Clint rides into town, grabs a drink, and promptly blows away a three man welcoming committee (while getting a shave no less), and as if he hadn’t already made his presence known with authority, proceeds to rape the first woman he sees. A day and a half later she tries to shoot him while he’s taking a bath. She fires into the metal tub about four times. He doesn’t die. Not a good sign.
High Plains Drifter is an angry shamed warped version of High Noon. Stacey Bridges and The Carlin Boys are getting out of jail and the first stop on their menace list is Lago, the mining town that set them up and used them. Lago has this history it seems of hiring people to do their dirty work. The whole town watched as Bridges and his cousins violently whipped the town’s Marshall to death in order to hide some illegal mining profits, and then railroads them into jail when they get to be too uppity. The three guys Clint kills in the opening turn out to be this year’s recruits of gun fighting defenders. Backed against the wall, the town promises Clint anything he wants to protect them. As it turns out, what he wants is revenge.
Clint, presumably back from the dead and equipped with near supernatural killing skills, is out to get everybody, Stacey Bridges, The Carlin Boys, and the whole town. He grabs himself a bunch of cigars, and proceeds to inflict detailed pain and embarrassment to the cowardly hub. He gives blankets away to Indians, hires Mexican workers to throw the coming outlaws a big picnic welcome, makes the town midget both Mayor and Sheriff, and then sees to it that the town is painted blood red and re-dubbed Hell. In the end, Clint deserts them anyway, watches the eerie town burn to the ground, and still gets his revenge against the trio that left him dead in an unmarked grave. Unlike the moral High Noon the whole thing goes down in the spooky darkness of the night.
The town’s preacher is the guy who played Exidor on Mork and Mindy. With all the talent he can muster Exidor questions Clint’s decision to paint the church red, but Clint’s drifter is apparently no longer a religious guy. In High Plains Drifter the only religion that matters is huge wrath of God type vengeance. There’s probably nothing better than fulfilling every one of your darkest motives.
Clint kills people in this movie with utter boredom and business like contempt. He’s quick and venomous, but he’s disgusted that he even needs to bother. In essence, he’s one ticked off perturbed cowboy, and what could be more entertaining than that? All the tawdry action and violence you’re not supposed to enjoy is here in spades until Clint and his “I’m willing to kill your entire family” glare disappear back into the dry pained heat from which they so coldly once emerged.
Steve Dahl used to be Chicago’s version of Howard Stern. There was this one horrible late night radio host who he hated with a passion. Dahl wasn’t happy until he hired the guy for his own station and made his life miserable. Revenge doesn’t do much for your claims to nobility, but more often than not it makes for some pretty good stories and lots of guilty pleasure. Although, if I get the message right, none of this would have happened if they had just marked that damn grave.

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