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Film / Hang 'Em High

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"The hanging was the best show in town. But they made two mistakes. They hung the wrong man... and they didn't finish the job!"

Hang 'Em High is a 1968 Western film directed by Ted Post and starring Clint Eastwood.

The action starts off with Jed Cooper (Eastwood) being wrongfully accused of murder and cattle-rustling by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley) and his posse, who then proceed to lynch him — but not very well; he lives long enough for a passing U.S. Marshal to cut him down and take him to territorial Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle). Cooper's story of being a one-time lawman from St. Louis checks out, and Fenton offers him a job as a marshal to bring Wilson and the rest of the men who lynched him to justice... but with the understanding that he bring them in alive.


Hang 'Em High provides examples of:

  • And the Adventure Continues: The leader of the vigilantes is dead but there are still two vigilantes on the loose, not to mention a wide number of criminals to come with only Cooper and the judge to provide justice. The movie ends with Cooper riding off to find the vigilantes.
  • Any Last Words?: During a multiple public hanging, the condemned are allowed to give this trope to the assembled crowd, who regard the occasion as public entertainment. One man gives a lengthy speech of how his dissolute ways lead to his demise and urging others not to follow his path. Another prisoner's final words are a request that the first man shut up so they can Get It Over With.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Captain Wilson hangs himself rather than let Cooper take him alive.
  • Big Bad: Captain Wilson, who leads the vigilantes.
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  • The Big Bad Shuffle: While Captain Wilson is the obvious candidate for being unwilling to back down, Fenton seems a good candidate too because of his tendency to hang people. Wilson hangs himself when Cooper corners him causing him to decide to turn in his badge (among other reasons). Fenton convinces him to be his counter point man and naysayer in order to keep him honest.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The nine vigilantes display shades of this and the third mistake becomes their undoing.
    Captain Wilson: All right, now that makes three mistakes we've made. The money, we hung an innocent man and we didn't finish the job. We can't undo the first two... but we can still finish the job.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Because of his recent experience, Jed takes his prisoners in alive even when it would be smarter to just kill them on the spot. When he is forced to shoot one of the men who hung him, he makes sure to get written statements from witnesses so he can't be accused of murder.
  • Circuit Judge: Judge Fenton. His final speech to Jed is less "We Can Rule Together" and more "I am the only judge in this big-ass territory and I need someone to keep me from screwing up."
  • Determinator: Jed. He survives being hanged and later on being shot by the villains, and hunts them down the very second he's officially back to full health.
  • Evil Overlord List: Upon simply leaving Jed to die after hanging him, the vigilantes broke Rule 13 (relevant parts shown here): "All slain enemies will... have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff."
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: After surviving the hanging, Jed goes through the rest of the story with a large scar across his neck.
    Jed: When you hang a man, you'd better look at him.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Fenton is one of these, though he believes he is entirely justified.
  • Karmic Death: Wilson. All of the vigilantes get it in the most karmic way possible, being shot by the man they Left for Dead.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: Judge Fenton points out that he's been given a responsibility that's way to big for one man and he can't even find enough men to fill the marshal jobs he's been budgeted. He acknowledges that mistakes have been made, but there's no higher court for defendants to appeal to.
  • Kirk Summation: The reason why one of the men scheduled to be hanged en masse (unsuccessfully) uses his last request to try to get the deliverer (a God-fearing young man who was truly repentant for the crimes he got caught up in) of said summation to shut up.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The vigilantes are brought to justice by the man they tried to hang. Turns out, he used to work for law enforcement in St. Louis. Also, the man that framed him gets hanged for the crime that nearly got pinned on him, and he gets to watch the execution from the judge's office.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Jed's botched hanging is what sets off the whole plot.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: One character, realizing they'd hung an innocent man, gives himself up to the Judge and is only imprisoned. At the end of the episode Jed insists that he be released (as he's dying in prison conditions) if he's going to continue working for the Judge.
    • Two of the bushwhackers are just kids who didn't kill anyone—and they even make it a point not to help their leader at all in his attempt to escape and kill Cooper. As such, Jed repeatedly pleads with the Judge to spare them. Alas, cattle rustling is a capital offence and Fenton rejects his pleas.
  • Mistaken for Thief: Jed Cooper suffering a Vigilante Execution version of this (courtesy of the cattle rustling thief he was mistaken with also being a murderer) is what triggers the whole plot.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The redheaded girl who makes out with Jed when he's in town, implied to be a High-Class Call Girl. She offers her "help" to him when he's recovering from the exhaustion of bringing in three bushwhackers by himself.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Judge Fenton is a very thinly-veiled and surprisingly realistic Expy of Judge Isaac C. Parker, "The Hanging Judge" of Real Life whose jurisdiction encompassed Arkansas and the Indian Territory (a map of which is called attention to by Fenton himself when commissioning Cooper).
  • Oh, Crap!: Wilson, once he realizes he's alone, with Cooper very much alive and coming...
  • Only Mostly Dead: The protagonist in the opening scene.
  • Rape and Revenge: A woman who'd been raped after seeing her husband murdered examines every prisoner brought in to see if she recognises any of them. Averted when she forgoes her mission of revenge to make a new life with Jed.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted.
    • Averted at first in that the judge makes it clear to Cooper he wants the nine who hanged him alive. Problem is, some of those nine men are not going to go quietly.
    • The whole movie makes it clear that revenge isn't as clean as the characters thought it would be.
  • The Rustler: Jed, before the hanging in the opening minutes.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: During the mass hanging, in the form of a last request. It doesn't work.
  • Suicide by Cop: The nine vigilantes count among their number certain individuals who will not turn themselves in without a fight, making this a clear-cut example much to the chagrin of Cooper and Fenton.
  • Title Drop: The Big Bad leader of the vigilantes mentions at one point that they made two mistakes (wrongly accusing Jed of being a thief and then hanging him) — on various markets, the film was titled "They Made Two Mistakes".
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Comes to the forefront during the trial of the bushwhackers. Judge Fenton rests squarely on Lawful, delivering legal punishment with an iron hand. Jed comes to lean toward Good, pleading for leniency for the two young men.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer pretty much gives away some of the fates of the vigilantes—with even some convenient animation to emphasize what we're seeing.
  • Turn in Your Badge: After the Big Bad hangs himself, Jed does this on his own initiative and retires to a quiet life with his family until the judge needs his services as deputy again.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Judge considers Jed this due to their differing views on Justice. He even made a big speech that pretty much stated that he had been waiting for someone like Jed to work for him specifically to Tell him off.
    Judge Fenton: What's the matter with you, Cooper? You got Jenkins on your conscience? You think I judged him too harshly? Used him like a piece of kindling for my fire of justice? Well, maybe that's inevitable when there's only one man, one court, with the power of final justice over a territory five times the size of most states. Mistakes? Oh, I've made 'em, Cooper. Don't you doubt it. Don't you doubt, either, there are times sitting up there in that judgement seat I wished—I prayed—that there was someone standing between me and God Almighty, someone with the power to say, "You're wrong, Fenton. You've made a mistake in law—this man deserves another trial, this man here a reprieve, this man is innocent!" But until this territory becomes a state, with a governor and a state court of appeals, I am the law here. All the law. If you don't like that, you can cuss me till hell freezes over... Or you can join me, Cooper; even fight me. Help me turn this God forsaken territory into a state where no one man calls himself the law.


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