1973’s High Plains Drifter is actor/director Clint Eastwood’s take on a Revisionist Western with spiritual and supernatural overtones. The premise of the story, as seen in a flashback from Eastwood’s character, is the death of Marshal Duncan, of the corrupt mining town Lago. The Marshall was about to expose an illegal mining operation, but before he could, he was brutally killed by 3 murderers hired by the town. On the day of the murderer’s release, Eastwood’s stranger rides into town looking for peace and quiet, however, when he dispatches 3 would-be assailants, it becomes clear that the townsfolk need Eastwood to protect them from the recently released killers. The mayor and sheriff plead with Eastwood, but only after they offer him anything he wishes does he comply. He proceeds to make Mordecai, who is a midget and fodder for the townspeople’s insults, the mayor and sheriff, as well as giving minorities a chance to be freed from oppression. After filling his end of the bargain by attempting to train the townspeople to defend themselves when the criminals return, Eastwood calmly leaves right before their arrival, leaving them to the mercy of the murderers. With the townsfolk held hostage by the criminals, Eastwood returns after nightfall and swiftly kills the 3 criminals, getting his redemption on them for the death of the Marshall. The next day, Eastwood’s character leaves, but not before Mordecai realizes who the Stranger is. It is implied that the stranger is either a relative of Marshall Duncan, or Duncan’s reincarnated spirit.
There are many references throughout the film which suggest the later, such as when one of the criminals is dragged out the saloon door by the Stranger’s bullwhip, it comes from an impossibly high angle, suggesting supernatural intervention. Another reference pointing towards supernatural is when Eastwood’s character is bathing, and the woman he raped near the opening comes back to kill him. Eastwood ducks under the water and comes out unscathed, even though the shots would likely have killed him.
In closing, I give the movie 9.4/10. Eastwood handles the direction marvelously, and pulls off the supernatural overtones well. The classic Western style of a revenge movie takes a twist with these overtones, but nonetheless it is an excellent movie, and Eastwood handled it like a true professional. A must-see for any western fan, and for those who enjoy a compelling moral drama.