Sunday, July 13, 2008

Film #63: High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood's oddly scary initital directorial foray into the Western genre has Clint himself again playing a silent stranger who ambles into a small desert berg populated only by villains, cowards, and helpless townspeople. When a gang of escaped convicts returns to wreak vengeful havoc on the town, its inhabitants naturally turn to this enigmatic gunman for protection, thereby giving him complete license to kill and maim at will...which is what he wanted in the first place!

This energetic, eerie oater scripted by Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection, Shaft) was director Eastwood's darkest film until he captured kudos in 1991 for the similarly somber Unforgiven (this film often seems like a trial run for that Best Picture winner). This first portent of Eastwood's filmmaking proclivity is filled with deep-dyed images: the town is inexplicably painted a bright, bloody red; Eastwood atop his horse, disappearing and reappearing in the desert's mirage-bound heat; the fiery, whip-snapping, disorienting climax played out again cinematographer Bruce Surtee's trademarked nighttimes. It also sports one of my favorite movie posters of all time, a beautiful red-tinted view of Clint in near-action mode.

And, to boot, it has a great supporting cast: Geoffrey Lewis (a sniveling villain, as usual), Mitchell Ryan, Anthony James, Mariana Hill, John Hillerman, Verna Bloom, Richard Bull, and Billy Curtis, who steals the show as the dwarf who manages the local hotel and becomes deputy under the stranger. Curtis's performance ranks with Tony Cox in Bad Santa, Michael Dunn in Ship of Fools, Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist, Billy Barty in The Day of the Locust and Night Patrol (ahahahhahaaha!!), and Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent as one of the great little-people performances of all time. See High Plains Drifter and try and count the goosebumps you get as it ends.

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