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Film: High Plains Drifter

1973 Supernatural Deconstructionist Western starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.

In the Old West, a mysterious drifter referred to only as 'the Stranger' rides into a dismal little mining town called Lago, which is facing a crisis: three ruthless outlaws are making their way to the town to settle scores for an old wrong the townspeople did to them. After the Stranger kills the gunmen the cowardly townspeople had hired to protect them, the elders of the town decide to hire the Stranger to act as their protector, a role the Stranger only agrees to take after his bizarre demands — among them, that the town be painted red and renamed 'Hell' — are met.

As the Stranger begins to train the townsfolk to take arms and the outlaws draw ever closer, the hidden secrets and corruptions of the town begin to unravel, and the truth behind their feud with the outlaws and their culpability in the death of a federal marshal — with whom the Stranger has a connection — begin to be revealed...

High Plains Drifter provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Hmmm...Clint Eastwood drifting to town, accepting money to protect the villagers? Where have I heard this before?
  • Apathetic Citizens
  • Bad Ass: The Stranger, so very, very much. Then again, it is Clint Eastwood.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: Although it's not so much a battle as a massacre.
  • Cast as a Mask: To support the ambiguity about The Stranger's identity, when the marshal's murder is shown, he's played by Buddy van Horn, a stunt double for Eastwood.
  • Clint Squint
  • Crapsack World
  • Directed by Cast Member
  • Dirty Coward: Most of the townspeople.
  • The Drifter: Although it's played with; the Drifter in this case isn't so much interested in helping the townspeople as much as punishing them, along with the killers of the marshal, for their inactivity and culpability in the marshal's death.
  • Especially Zoidberg: "Even the church?" "I mean especially the church!"
  • Fake in the Hole: With a stick of dynamite instead of a grenade. Everyone scatters, the fuse goes down, but nothing happens.
  • Flash Back
  • Foreshadowing: When the Stranger rides into town, a couple of drivers are about to haul away a wagon of lumber. One driver uses his whip to start the horses, and the Stranger looks up quickly at the sound of the whip's crack. Given what we learn later, that he was whipped to death, his reaction is understandable.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Callie appears to willingly sleep with the Stranger a second time, but it turns out it was a ploy by Morgan to get his guard down so that he and his gang could kill the Stranger in his bed. It doesn't work, naturally.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: And while it might not ever reach black, the grey gets very dark on both sides.
  • The Gunslinger: Of course. The Stranger is a combination of Type A and Type D, although it could just be everyone else's incompetence making him look better.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Louis' excuse for letting the Marshal die.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Particularly bad is the scene where Callie ambushes the Stranger while he's taking a bath, unarmed, and fires several shots at him. She was standing less than 8 feet away from him, he simply ducks under the water and comes out completely unscathed.
    • Not so much a case of bad accuracy, but of bullets not being able to hurt him due to him being a ghost.
      • None of the shots are shown hitting him at all, leading back to the ambiguity argument.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: How Morgan dies.
  • Karmic Death The three gunmen all get what they deserve, particularly the first one to die— whipped to death the same way the marshal was.
  • Kick the Dog or Kick the Bitch, depending on how you feel about Callie.
  • No Name Given: He's even called The Stranger in the credits.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Essentially the Stranger's M.O.
  • Pet the Dog: The Stranger shows his heart of gold towards the discriminated part of the town at a couple different points; when the townspeople agree to give him anything he wants for free in exchange for his help, he gives free jars of candy to two Native American children and a pile of blankets to their father, who'd just been called 'savages' and told to get out of the store for not having money. He also appoints the town midget and Butt Monkey Mordecai as mayor and sheriff. Being the ghost of the murdered marshal, in the Stranger's eyes Mordecai (and Sarah) were the only ones of the whole lot who were innocent.
    • Also, while setting the ambush for the three outlaws, he tells a group of mexicans to prepare some long tables for a "picnic". When they ask if they can come to the "fiesta", he says no. While seemingly an act of meanness, particularly in the way he said it, in truth he wants them to stay out of harm's way.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge
  • Satan: Another possible interpretation of the Stranger's identity. This could make his kindness to the Native American family and Mordecai full of Unfortunate Implications. However the fact that he's only interested in punishing the wicked alleviates this and it's also worth noting not all depictions of Satan claim that he's pure evil.
    • The Stranger is more of an avenging angel than a personification of Satan, given that he does what he does in the name of vengeance and he's very careful not to harm anyone who isn't guilty, hence his treatment of Mordecai, Sarah Belding, the Indians and the Mexicans.
  • The Scourge of God
  • Sinister Minister: One who talks of piety but is just as corrupt as the rest of the town leaders.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Stranger and Sarah have Slap Slap Passionate Sex.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The first thing The Stranger does when he rides into town is shoot a group of people and then rape a woman. But he's the protagonist.
  • Shout-Out: The Hotel Manager attempting to shoot the Stranger in the back after he's killed all the gunmen is remarkably similar to the remaining Rojo brother trying to shoot The Man With No Name in the back after he's killed everybody else in Fistful. In both cases the friend of Eastwood's character shoots the gunman before he can fire.
    • There are two headstones in the graveyard reading Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. This was Eastwood's tribute to the two (then living) directors who shaped his career.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The Stranger always inexplicably has a stick of dynamite on hand.
  • Taking Over the Town
  • Town with a Dark Secret
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Except here, the villagers aren't so much 'peaceful' as 'Dirty Cowards'.
  • Weird West: Though it's kept mostly to a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane level.
  • What Could Have Been: Eastwood was interested in collaborating on a movie with John Wayne before making High Plains Drifter. Unfortunately, Wayne so disliked this film that he wrote Eastwood a letter decrying his portrayal of the American West and the people who settled it, and as a result, the two men never worked together.
  • What The Hell, Townspeople?: The townspeople did this to the marshal in the backstory of the movie. Which makes it a case of turnabout-equalling-fair-play when the Stranger inverts the trope by doing it to the townspeople.
  • Whip It Good: The marshal's fate. Later the fate of one of the three gunmen.
  • White Man's Burden: The Native American family that shows up for a very brief scene exists just to look helpless while The Stranger stands up for them.
  • Yes-Man: Mordecai to the Stranger. And to the other townspeople before the Stranger shows up.

GodspellFilms of the 1970sThe Holy Mountain
High NoonIndex of Film WesternsHot Lead And Cold Feet

alternative title(s): High Plains Drifter
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