Hang’em High (1968)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hang’em High</strong> (1968)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) If you’re having trouble keeping track of Clint Eastwood’s westerns at home—I certainly can use a refresher from time to time—, Hang’em High is pretty much what it says in the title: This is the one where Eastwood (playing essentially the same character) gets hanged by a gung-ho posse too quick to designate a guilty party, but miraculously escapes and becomes a volunteer federal marshal eager to enact some revenge. The third act is also all about a big public hanging. In between, we get thoughts about frontier justice. If there’s anything looking like an unusual take on Eastwood’s persona here, it’s that his character ultimately works within a (very loose) judicial system, although Dirty Harry isn’t too far away in having him go to extraordinary lengths to punish villains with little regard to due process. (In how many movies has Eastwood played a lawyer? I rest my case, your honour.) The atmosphere of a frontier town is well presented, enough to make us reflect about the rocky colonization of the frontier and how justice took a bit longer to arrive. Eastwood is equal to himself (for better or for worse) and the film doesn’t quite have the worst qualities of later westerns that presented Eastwood as a quasi-supernatural figure. The Leone influence is clear, and that probably tells you all you need to know about the film’s direction. Hang’em High remains a solid Eastwood western, not particularly distinctive but not dull either.

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