Grandpa Felicius: “The hanging was the best show in town. But they made two mistakes. They hung the wrong man. And they didn’t finish the show.”
What a succinct, exhilarating premise! That’s 1968’s “Hang ‘Em High”! Ted Post (“Magnum Force”) directs Clint Eastwood through a revenge yarn that plays like a Wild West “Count of Monte Cristo.” Innocent cowpoke Jed Cooper thinks he’s made a nice purchase in cattle. Instead, he’s been framed for theft and murder; nine men on horseback track him down and decide to lynch him without much ceremony- or much evidence. But Hanging Jed Cooper doesn’t quite die. Escaping from the narrow noose of death with a scarred neck and a just cause, Cooper becomes a Deputy Marshal and decides to bring his 9 lynchers before the local Judge. Dead or alive, I need not add.
Trent: Oh man, that Dirty Harry is always getting into trouble! Here he makes a big tactical mistake, abandons the police force to go into cow collecting, and moves to Oklahoma, (official motto: “The state that is only OK.”) I understand Harry’s need to run away from earthquakes, patchouli, and Bay Area rents. But it doesn’t work out great for him.
Beatricia: Forgive Trent, darlings. He put too many crayons up his nose as a baby, and I’m probably at fault for that. Except he kind of gets it right; this character IS Dirty Harry time-machined back by 100 years; a lawman fed up with the way the law fails to get things right. There’s even a badge-dropping scene that anticipates the one at the end of that Don Siegel movie.
Hank: I wanted to like this. It was Eastwood’s first post-Sergio-Leone Western, so the spaghetti portion is smaller, and the soundtrack mimics Ennio Morricone music. Badly. Grandpa Felicius’ synopsis fails to mention that most of the movie is spent with Cooper romancing a woman who’s apparently the Wild West’s sole non-whore (Inger Stevens) and tracking down people who are NOT his 9 would-be killers.
(SPOILER! When he DOES remember to get revenge, boring things inevitably happen. A few of his would-be killers turn themselves in peacefully. He doesn’t even get to all 9 before the movie decides to wind down!)
I hope Eastwood and his Malpaso buddies learned a lesson: when it comes to revenge movies, 3 memorable villains are better than 9 anonymous ranchers.
Tracey: “Hang ‘Em High” is a pretty entertaining commentary on the inhumanity of the death penalty. Who knew Clinty had such depths!
Cousin Franz: Oh, it is absolutely an anti-death penalty movie, although any polemic is always going to be second to watching Clint shoot down his foes. But “Hang ‘Em High” makes you feel some sort of horror for the people who hung from the gallows with little discrimination in a West in which the idea of “The Law” was a crudely developed concept. One crucial scene of a group execution shows us murderous monsters, career swindlers, brave old fools, sniveling sots, and pitiable juveniles dying all at once. They’re lined up, their fate identical, no matter how startlingly different they are as humans, or how many varying degrees of guilt they exhibit. As for Cooper, the ghost who escaped the gallows, he eventually learns that revenge is a dish best served with a cold glass of justice and a side of mercy.
Blurbarella: “They’re selling postcards of the hanging–
They’re painting the passports brown–
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad, they’re restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row.”
Trent: I think Blurbarella is still vibing on the Grateful Dead documentary. Her copper picked up on the acid.
5 out of 6 Cherries