Hang ‘Em High (1968)
After barely surviving a lynching, an innocent man (Eastwood) becomes a marshal and tracks down his attackers….whilst at the same time working for a morally-questionable Judge, who just wants to Hang ‘Em High!
Whilst this film isn’t technically brilliant, it’s a bloody good ‘popcorn’ movie full of veteran character actors. These include Ed Begley – most memorable not for a western but for his cracking performance as the racist juror in Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic “12 Angry Men” -as the cunning yet terrified lynch-mob leader “Captain Wilson” and Ben Johnson as an admirable deputy marshal. Also, look out for a Dennis Hopper cameo as the completely mental “prophet”.
The film begins in much the same way as “The Ox-bow Incident (1943)” – see my earlier review – and concerns the lynching of a seemingly innocent man by a group of excited vigilantes. Of course, Eastwood survives the unfortunate experience and seeks revenge on his assailants. Pat Hingle (“Commissioner Gordon” to Batman fans) plays a morally complicated Judge who offers Eastwood a marshal’s badge to do just that, providing that he uphold the law.
Things all go fine for a while but soon enough, Eastwood captures 3 men accused of cattle-rustling. 2 of whom are actually teenage brothers. The other is one of the men who lynched Eastwood. Hingle’s judge, despite Eastwood’s testimony and reservations, proceeds to hang all 3. This, for me, was one of the most powerful – and longest – scenes in the film. There is a superb build up to this ‘circus’ hanging – the street-seller screaming “cold beer! get your cold beers here!” makes the whole charade seem like a football match – and there are some excellent shots of the condemned men as each is offered a last request including a gut-wrenching moment when all one of brothers can muster in response is a glassy-eyed “Goodbye Ben” to his older sibling.
The final scenes in the film involve a showdown between Eastwood and the remnants of Capt. Wilson’s gang – but I won’t give the game away as to what finally happens – all I will say is that these closing moments are very well-acted. The script is also a big positive, with some intelligent debates between Eastwood’s marshal and Hingle’s judge about what really constitutes justice in “the territory”. What is lacking throughout the picture is a bit of panache and style from director Ted Post – but I am being pedantic here – Films are primarily about entertainment, not art.
A nifty score provides the backdrop for what is a thrilling western (surprising given the notorious problems this movie had during production) – and although far from the stylistic heights of either Peckinpah or Leone – is worth repeated viewings.
If you like this you might want to try High Plains Drifter (1973), another Eastwood western which is often-overlooked.
hotdog rating: 8/10