Take a Drink: any time you can see Eastwood’s hangin’ scar
Take a Drink: for every non-hanging death
Drink a Shot: for each cow-poke what git’s hung
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is driving a herd across the Oklahoma plains when he is surrounded by gunmen on horseback. They falsely accuse him of stealing cattle and killing the owner, and waste no time in lynching him. Fortunately for Jed, a U.S. Marshal heard gunshots and manages to cut him down before it is too late. After being officially cleared of the charges, Jed speaks with the Judge, who offers him a Marshaling job hunting down the men who hung him, as well as other criminals in the territory. Jed accepts, and quickly takes to his work.
Hot on the heels of his international success with the “Dollars” trilogy films, Clint Eastwood starred in his first American western. Hang ‘Em High was designed to ape the Italian-made Western style which had suddenly come into vogue. Like so many “Spaghetti” Westerns from the period, the film boasts brief, but furious violence, and darker themes than the standard “good guys vs. bad guys” formula. The film’s structure challenges conventions while effectively world-building. The west of Hang ‘Em High is desperately undermanned, with only one Judge to over see law for thousands of miles around. As a result, the people have become somewhat maddened, and are quick to turn to vigilante violence. Most effective is a tense scene of a quadruple hanging being treated as a community event, with beer and snack vendors selling their wares right next to the gallows.
Clint Eastwood cemented his image as the ultimate tough-guy western star, surviving just about everything the baddies can throw at him, while ensuring the film’s plentiful body-count. Supporting Eastwood is a whose who of 1960s character actors, such as Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Ben Johnson, and Ed Begley. Particularly noteworthy is Pat Hingle as Judge Fenton, the obsessively righteous Hanging Judge. Also worth mentioning is the appearance of Alan Hale Jr. fresh out of work following the cancellation of Gilligan’s Island, playing a member of the hanging party that catches Eastwood at the film’s opening.
The film’s theme by Dominic Frontiere is an excellent, catchy tune that is sure to get into your head. Clearly the film’s producers were excited to borrow more than just visuals and storytelling style of the Spaghetti Western trend. The song would become a hit instrumental-rock single when re-recorded by Booker T. & the MG’s. While their jazzier version of the song is certainly good, I like the subtle electric guitar and harmonica and contrasting orchestra of the original. Here are both versions for comparison/enjoyment:
Just before the film’s final act a totally unnecessary and hopelessly underdeveloped romantic subplot is brought into the fold. This sequence detracts from the otherwise wonderfully paced action and suspense sequences. Bathroom breaks were designed for this sort of moment.
The final scene of the film, in which Eastwood angrily confronts the Judge, who convinces him to stay on as a marshal, lures the audience to feel like the film is going to keep going. It ruins the devastating catharsis of the film’s climactic scene that occurs right before it. Perhaps this was meant to hint at a possible sequel? Either way, it seems tacked-on, particularly since no sequel ever surfaced.
A dark and pulpy revisionist Western for serious genre fans.