Hang ‘Em High (1968)

Directed by Ted Post

Following the trilogy of films he made with Sergio Leone (as the Man With No Name), Clint Eastwood finally made a Hollywood western – Hang ‘Em High.

While not in the same league as the Leone films, it’s a good, journeyman kind of western. Eastwood plays Jed Cooper, an ex-lawman who has bought some cattle and is driving them across land. A posse catches up to him.

Mistaking him for a rustler (the cattle he purchased had been stolen), they lynch him on the spot.

Unfortunately for the nine man posse, they left Eastwood’s character hanging without being certain he was dead. He wasn’t. Rescued by a federal sheriff, he is taken to the territory’s judge, found innocent of any wrongdoing, and given a job as a deputy sheriff.

From here, the movie catalogs Jed Cooper’s rounding up of the men who tried to lynch him. It’s a variation on the western revenge movie and goes pretty much as you would expect it to.

The movie doesn’t aspire to be much more than a good, entertaining western of the late 60s period and to that extent it’s successful. The music is styled on the music created for the Leone films (with that mid-sixties guitar sound) and has a raw visual look, though certainly not as raw as what Leone gave us.

In a sense, it’s kind of like a sequel that doesn’t match the original but does manage to entertain to an extent. Eastwood’s performance is good, though he isn’t doing anything he hasn’t done in the Leone films.

And the Leone films are the inevitable litmus test of this movie since it is trying so hard to model itself on them. As such, it falls short though not so far as to be a poor movie. The central idea is a good one, given the genre, and it is worked out well, if not particularly imaginatively.

The image on the MGM DVD is far from great. This, I think, is partly due to the film’s age and partly due to a lack of effort in trying to put together a good transfer.

If you’re interested in Eastwood spaghetti westerns, stick to A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. If you want to see an interesting coda to those films, Hang ‘Em High is worth a look.

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