“I’ll get even with you, that’s what I’m gonna do.”—Megadeth
Integrity is doing what’s right, even when no one is looking. Integrity explains a lot about someone’s character as they exude faith, love and loyalty for all to see. Integrity can be contagious when in a group environment. Look at the military; discipline, service before self, and make decisions by using integrity. Unfortunately, the mob mentality has a group making terrible decisions in some situations as well. Today’s feature, High Plains Drifter (1973), examines what happens when a group fails to act (the bystander effect) in an responsible, honorable way and the consequences they must face for their actions.
A mysterious no name apparition-like Stranger, Clint Eastwood of Pale Rider (1985), rides out of the desert haze into the mining town of Lago. A shootout with the Stranger leaves the town’s criminal hired-gun protectors dead. With the job vacant, town leaders bribe the Stranger as their new protector from outlaws who plan on settling some old scores in Lago upon their release from prison. As time passes, the Stranger is privy to the fact the townsfolk are mum about a deep dark secret about the town’s past. The Stranger slowly takes over the town, allies himself with the town dwarf Mordecai, and leaves the town to regretting their decision to hire this mysterious quick draw. The outlaws close in on Lago, the town now painted red and renamed “HELL,” determined to rape and pillage, but discover it is now protected by a man in the shadows, the Stranger. A showdown ensues and the town’s dark secret is revealed as the Stranger seeks redemption on the town and outlaws fighting for justice against evil, cowardice, and corruption.
High Plains Drifter was directed by Clint Eastwood (his second after Play Misty for Me ), and written by Ernest Tidyman of The French Connection (1971) who was inspired by the real story of the ignorance shown by neighbors (approximately 38) toward a young lady, Kitty Genovese, in Queens back in 1964 when they witnessed her brutal murder. Influenced by the films of Sergio Leone of For a Few Dollars More (1965), Don Siegel of Dirty Harry (1971) and references A Town Called Hell (1971), Drifter is an extremely dark western that covers strong elements of revenge, justice, and the supernatural.
Though Drifter is a film about vengeance, there’s bits of dark humor (Leone and Siegel have their own tombstones in the cemetery), perfectly timed throughout the “R” rated, 105 minute running time. The story never grows boring, well-paced, full of suspenseful action, intrigue, humor, and memorable dialogue. Lago has a very desolate feel about it and it was constructed entirely for the film as the crew built actual buildings rather than matte paintings or forced perspective facades.
Most fans and critics lauded the then controversial, High Plains Drifter. The film was met with minimal skepticism, except from acting legend John Wayne, who showed great disdain towards the material and Eastwood’s portrayal of the American West, leading to the two never working together. Avoid the horrendous remake called The Stranger (1995), if you are prone to tossing your cookies; this will certainly do the trick. The High Plains Drifter was also spoofed in Mel Brooks’ classic western comedic romp, Blazing Saddles (1974).
High Plains Drifter’s message is strong in that we are all accountable for our actions. All communities share a common responsibility and collective conscience to show integrity in their decision making…or else. High Plains Drifter is a must see for Eastwood fans, western lovers, or those looking for a film that is offbeat and certainly far from center.
So, as a new week begins, make a conscious effort to do the right thing out there, even if it isn’t popular. You are the ones standing between right and wrong in your daily life. Have a good day and remember what Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”