Hang ’em High Review

There is no doubt about the influence Clint Eastwood had on the spaghetti western genre and the subsequent, mini revival Hollywood would afford it. Usual suspects for the genre are the Dollars trilogy and High Plains Drifter. But there is a film to bridge that gap. Slotted between them, taking the spaghetti western charms and planting them firmly in a genre that would soon die out, only to be used as a nostalgia tool for those that needed it, like Eastwood, over the decades to follow. Hang ‘em High feels like that midpoint. A straight-shooting, down-the-middle piece that can afford to play loose with its story so long as it highlights the booming star right at the heart of it. Wise moves from director Ted Post give this the sixties flair it so desperately needs. 

Eastwood’s Marshal Jed Cooper suffers the usual cuts, bruises and hangings that often featured in the western genre. However the brutality Post displays through it is centred more on the fast cuts of reaction, rather than the action or violence being exposed. He is settled more on the sorrowed faces of those lamenting the loss of a great cowboy than on the actual near-death opening of this feature. Eastwood twirls around, hanging from a tree and the actual effect here is that it gives a cutting backdrop to the opening credits, rather than anything incredible. Still, it is a scene that would provide replication in other features. The hero is saved by an unlikely and happenstance encounter with someone that would eventually aid them along the way.  

Aside from that memory-making scene, Hang ‘em High is a forgivable affair. It has the usual music cues to let audiences know how to feel and what to fear, but it also has the attitude of that post-spaghetti western period. It was down but not out yet Hollywood directors like Post would shy away from it. He and Eastwood would work together again on Magnum Force, so clearly Eastwood liked the movement of the camera or the focus on detail without much fanfare for it. Something has to be working for Hang ‘em High in favour of Post, it just never comes clear as to what that could be. It certainly can’t be the action, of which there is little and when it does crop up feels completely valueless and shepherds the characters rather than explores them. It is the usual copout affair hoping to last longer on the star power of a man not far off of crafting Dirty Harry. 

Still, this is an important feature not because of what it does but because of where it plants Eastwood. He closes in on that big career moment. The big boom that could give him the boost needed to the next level. That it did. His next films would be Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes. Arguably, it was up and up for Eastwood. He polished his star time and time again, proving if anything with Hang ‘em High, that his time spent in Italian feature films was not just a fluke that cemented him as a star of foreign-made westerns. He had the chops to make it big in the States. It is telling though that his output in American waters would often pale in comparison to the big trilogy that got Eastwood the stardom he was so clearly built for.  

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