A stranger (Clint Eastwood) on horseback rides into the mining town of Lago, where the townspeople are living in the shadow of a dark secret. Three gun-toting men follow him into the saloon, taunting him. When they follow him to the barbershop and threaten him, the Stranger shoots and kills all three, who served as the towns hired-gun protectors. Sheriff Sam Shaw tells the Stranger he will not be charged for killing the three men and eventually the towns leaders petition the Stranger to stay and protect them from 3 ruthless outlaws, Stacey Bridges and the brothers Dan and Cole Carlin, who are soon to be released from prison.The town´s previous Marshal, Jim Duncan, had been whipped to death by Bridges and the Carlin brothers, while the people of Lago looked on. A corrupt faction in Lago wanted Duncan dead because the Marshal discovered that the town’s mine is on government ground, the townsfolk fearing that this news, if reported, would result in the mine’s closure, which would threaten the town’s livelihood. The townspeople double-crossed the three gunfighters after they killed Duncan, leading to the trio’s imprisonment, and the men are expected to seek vengeance. The Stranger declines the job until Shaw tells him he can have anything he wants. Accepting these terms, the Stranger indulges in the town’s goods and services, including giving away goods to a law-abiding Native American and his children who have been verbally abused in a racist manner by the town elders. He then makes Mordecai, the outcast midget both sheriff and mayor. He also has everybody moved out of the local hotel, dismantles a barn in order to make picnic benches, has the entire town painted red, and paints the word “HELL” on the “LAGO” sign just outside town. While the Stranger trains the townspeople to defend themselves, Bridges and the Carlin brothers are released from prison and make their way to Lago…

Universal released the R-rated “High Plains Drifter” in the US in April 1973, and the film eventually grossed $15.7 million domestically, ultimately making it the sixth-highest grossing Western in North America in the decade of the 1970s and the 20th highest grossing film released in 1973. John Wayne, however, disdained “High Plains Drifter” and its iconoclastic approach, writing Eastwood a letter declaring, “That isn’t what the West was all about. That isn’t the American people who settled this country.” The film received positive reception from critics, and has 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, they did have some criticisms. A number of critics thought Eastwood’s directing derivative; Arthur Knight in Saturday Review remarked that Eastwood had “absorbed the approaches of Siegel and Leone and fused them with his own paranoid vision of society”. Jon Landau of Rolling Stone concurred, remarking that it is his thematic shallowness and verbal archness which is where the film fell apart, yet he expressed approval of the dramatic scenery and cinematography.During an interview on Inside the Actors Studio (1994), Clint Eastwood commented that earlier versions of the script made The Stranger the dead marshal’s brother. He favoured a less explicit and more supernatural interpretation and excised the reference. Although the Italian, Spanish, French and German dubbings retain it. Any holes in the plot were filled with black humour and allegory to Sergio Leone. Eastwood thought the allegory of the film was “a speculation on what happens when they go ahead and kill the sheriff and someone comes back and calls the town’s conscience to bear. There’s always retribution for your deeds.”

The Stranger is similar to The Man With No Name persona familiar to Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns, and they even wear a similar hat. The character in the film has no personal name and is only referred to in the billing as The Stranger. “High Plains Drifter” portrays The Stranger as a quite misogynistic character. He does what he wants, he takes what he wants, he demands what he wants. He´s not very likeable, yet Lago knows that he is the man who can stop Stacey Bridges and the Carlin brothers. There´s something ambiguous and not human about The Stranger as in some other Clint Eastwood roles, almost like an archangel coming down to earth to punish the three antagonists for their crime of whipping someone to death. I do like that. “High Plains Drifter” really stands out during the whipping of Marshal Duncan sequence (with the camera angles and almost horrorlike music) and the final showdown with Bridges and the Carlin brothers. I haven´t seen this film for several years until I just saw it again the past week, but the whipping sequence has been burnt into my mind since I saw it the first time back in the 80s. A truly horrifying scene. In one way “High Plains Drifter” is a bit close to several other western movies Eastwood has made, so it loses a bit with that, but there´s still an original touch to it partly due to the fact that Eastwood´s character is very anti-hero like and the same goes for the whole town of Lago. “High Plains Drifter” is nevertheless still amongst Eastwoods best westerns. (4 out of 5)

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 12.39.29