AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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High Plains Drifter
Director: Clint Eastwood (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1973
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 6 Apr 1973
Production Date:   mid-Jul--mid-Aug 1972
Duration (in mins):   105
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Cast:   Clint Eastwood (The stranger)  
    Verna Bloom (Sarah Belding)  
    Mariana Hill (Callie Travers)  
    Mitchell Ryan (Dave Drake)  
    Jack Ging (Morgan Allen)  
    Stefan Gierasch (Mayor Jason Hobart)  
    Ted Hartley (Lewis Belding)  
    Billy Curtis (Mordecai)  
    Geoffrey Lewis (Stacey Bridges)  
    Scott Walker (Bill Borders)  
    Walter Barnes (Sheriff Sam Shaw)  
    Paul Brinegar (Lutie Naylor)  
    Richard Bull (Asa Goodwin)  
    Robert Donner (Preacher)  
    John Hillerman (Bootmaker)  
    Anthony James (Cole Carlin)  
    William O'Connell (Barber)  
    John Quade (Jake Ross)  
    Jane Aull (Townswoman)  
    Dan Vadis (Dan Carlin)  
    Reid Cruickshanks (Gunsmith)  
    James Gosa (Tommy Morris)  
    Jack Kosslyn (Saddlemaker)  
    Russ McCubbin (Fred Short)  
    Belle Mitchell (Mrs. Lake)  
    John Mitchum (Warden)  
    Carl C. Pitti (Teamster)  
    Chuck Waters (Stableman)  
    Buddy Van Horn (Marshal Jim Duncan)  
    Alex Tinne    
    Pedro Regas (Old Indian)  
    Sterling Calder (Townsman)  
    Richard Farnsworth (Cowboy)  
    Chuck Hayward (Cowboy)  
    Blair Burrows (Cowboy)  
    G. Orrison    
    M. Arteaga    

Summary: One day, The Stranger, a black-clad cowboy wearing a flat-crowned black hat and grizzled beard rides from out of the wasteland and into the town of Lago, passing an unmarked grave on his way. As he strides into the saloon, the ringing of his spurs pierces the silence that has descended upon the town with his arrival. Once inside, the stranger is challenged by gunslingers Bill Borders, Tommy Morris and Fred Short. After staring them down with a steely glare, the stranger grabs a bottle of liquor and proceeds to the barber shop for a bath and a shave. The gunslingers follow him there, and when they begin to insult him, the stranger shoots and kills them. Impressed by the stranger’s audacity, Mordecai, a dwarf who is ridiculed by the townsfolk, runs into the barber shop, lights the stranger’s cigar and asks his name. Not bothering to answer him, the stranger walks out into the street, where he collides with Callie Travers, who has had serial affairs with several men in the town. When she upbraids him for walking into her, he pulls her into the barn and rapes her. Proceeding to the hotel owned by Lewis Belding, the stranger refuses to register, then goes upstairs to his room. Upon falling asleep, the stranger dreams of being lashed to death with a bullwhip as the people of Lago watch. The following morning, at the Lago Mining Office, Dave Drake and Morgan Allen, the owners of the mining company, convene a meeting with Mayor Jason Hobart, Sheriff Sam Shaw and other prominent members of the community to discuss the impending release from prison of Stacey Bridges, and brothers Dan and Cole Carlin, who had sworn to return to town and burn it to the ground. Borders, Morris and Short had been hired by the Lago Company to protect the town from Bridges and the Carlin brothers, but Dave and Morgan now propose hiring the stranger to protect them. Just then, Callie runs in screaming, demanding that Morgan, her lover, charge the stranger with rape. When Morgan refuses, Callie spits in his face, and later, Shaw approaches the stranger about becoming the town protector. After the stranger refuses, declaring that he is not a gunfighter and has nothing against the Carlins or Bridges, Shaw states that the three men stole gold from the mining company office and hid it under the floorboards of their shack. When the stranger still refuses, observing that the theft story sounds like a set-up to him, Shaw explains that he was unwillingly appointed sheriff after Marshal Jim Duncan was whipped to death in the street. Stopping in his tracks, the stranger asks why anyone would do that, then finally accepts the job after the sheriff agrees to give him anything he wants. Starting off by presenting some Indians with a pile of blankets from the dry goods shop, the stranger next goes to the leather shop, where he appropriates three pairs of new boots, a gun belt and saddle. He then pulls the sheriff’s badge from Shaw’s vest and pins it onto Mordecai’s shirt, making Mordecai swell with his new title and power. The stranger then informs the townsmen that they will serve in his newly formed militia. As the stranger drills the townsmen in target practice and positions them on the rooftops to act as snipers, the Carlins and Bridges are released from prison. Striking out for Lago on foot, they come across three men camping, then shoot them down and steal their horses. Meanwhile, the disgruntled townsfolk begin to turn on one another as they question the decision to give the stranger carte blanche. Annoyed by Mordecai’s pomposity over his newly appointed position, Lewis pushes him down, and he tumbles under a porch where he recalls the night that Duncan was whipped to death: As Mordecai watches in horror and Sarah Belding, Lewis’ wife, tries to stop the whipping, the town preacher, Callie and the rest of the town watch passively as the Carlins and Bridges lash the marshal to death. Later, the stranger goes to Callie’s room where he invites her to join him for dinner. After first rebuffing him, she relents, offering to meet him in half an hour. Following dinner, Callie and the stranger retire to his room to have sex, and once he falls asleep, Callie slips out while Morgan leads several thugs up the hotel stairs to kill the stranger. Bursting into his room, the thugs slam blocks of wood onto the bed, thinking that the stranger is asleep. Having anticipated the attack, the stranger had gotten out of bed and had been waiting outside to throw a stick of dynamite into the room, blowing up the hotel. As his assailants flee, the stranger shoots them all down, wounding Morgan, who mounts his horse and flees, leaving Callie behind. The stranger orders the townsfolk to bury the dead, then requisitions the Beldings’ room, the only undamaged room in the hotel. Grabbing Sarah, the stranger pulls her into the room with him, and when she tries to defend herself with a pair of scissors, he climbs into bed and goes to sleep. Insulted, Sarah jumps on him, and when he kisses her, she surrenders. The next morning, Sarah asks if he has ever heard of Jim Duncan, the town marshal who lies in an unmarked grave, adding that the dead do not rest without a marker. Once the townsfolk finish burying the corpses from the night before, the stranger paints “Hell” over the Lago town sign, then orders that the town be painted red. Later, Lewis tells Sarah to come to a meeting about the stranger, but she refuses, stating that the town was responsible for Duncan’s murder. Lewis tries to justify the murder by reminding her that Duncan had discovered that the mine was on government property and was determined to turn them in, an act that would have shut down the mine and thus the town. Unmoved, Sarah announces that she is leaving him and the town. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Lago, the wounded Morgan crosses paths with Bridges and the Carlins. Morgan asks for help, but when Bridges demands the combination of the office safe in return for saving his life, Morgan refuses. Angered, Bridges plunges a stick into Morgan’s neck, killing him. The stranger, who had been trailing Morgan, witnesses the incident from the hills above and starts shooting at them. Once they take cover in the hills, the stranger ignites a stick of dynamite on top of a pile of rocks, sending a shower of rocks falling down on them, making Bridges realize that their assailant is just toying with them. After throwing several more sticks of dynamite, the stranger returns to Lago, which is now painted red, announces that the outlaws are coming and instructs the townsfolk to string up a banner reading “welcome home boys.” The men then take their positions on the rooftops, and as the bell rings, sounding the arrival of the outlaws, the stranger mounts up and rides out of town, leaving the baffled townsfolk behind. Charging into town, their guns blazing, the outlaws lasso the sheriff, shoot down the snipers and kill Dave as he tries to abscond with the gold from the mining company. After Lewis surrenders, the outlaws set the town on fire, then sequester the remaining townsfolk in the saloon. When Callie professes her undying love for Bridges, he sneers at her, then sends Cole to get their horses. Just as Dan demands to know who ambushed them, a bullwhip snakes around his neck and tugs him out the saloon door and onto the street, where the stranger, silhouetted against the red flames, whips him to death, then tosses down the whip. As the sound of flames crackle in the background, Bridges orders everyone out of the saloon, and once the crowd assembles in the street, the stranger throws a stick of dynamite, scattering them. Cole is running for his life when a whip lashes out and encircles his neck, hauling him off the ground. After Bridges watches in horror as Cole is strangled to death by the whip, the stranger guns down Bridges, who gasps, “who are you” as he falls. Lewis is about to shoot the stranger when Mordecai, wearing a big grin, guns him down. The next day, as the stranger rides through the burnt-out town, Sarah smiles, then climbs into her wagon and leaves. Passing through the graveyard, the stranger sees that Mordecai is making a grave marker reading “Marshal Jim Duncan, rest in peace.” When Mordecai remarks that he does not know the stranger’s name, the stranger replies, “yes you do,” and rides off into the distance. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures (MCA, Inc.)
  The Malpaso Company  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures (MCA, Inc.)
Director: Clint Eastwood (Dir)
  Jim Fargo (Asst dir)
Producer: Jennings Lang (Exec prod)
  Robert Daley (Prod)
Writer: Ernest Tidyman (Wrt)
  Dean Riesner (Scr)
Photography: Bruce Surtees (Dir of photog)
  Chuck Short (Cam op)
  Ozzie Smith (Cam asst)
  Al Baalas (Cam asst)
  Don Christie (Stills)
  Chuck Holmes (Gaffer)
  Bill Tenny (Best boy)
  Bill Simpson (Key grip)
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ferris Webster (Film ed)
Set Decoration: George Milo (Set dec)
  Chet Duncan (Props)
Costumes: Glen Wright (Ward)
  Jim Gilmore (Ward)
  Joanne Haas (Ward)
Music: Dee Barton (Mus)
Sound: James R. Alexander (Sd)
  Ed Somers (Boom op)
  Bill Griffith (Rec)
Special Effects: Universal Title (Titles & optical eff)
Make Up: Cinematique (Cosmetics by)
  Gary Morris (Makeup)
  Joe McKinney (Makeup)
  Marina Pedraza (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Ernest B. Wehmeyer (Prod mgr)
  Buzz Newhouse (Prod coord)
  Guttman & Pam Ltd. (Unit pub)
  Bill Steinmetz (Unit pub)
  Tom Moore (Scr supv)
  Bill Batliner (Casting dir)
  Robert LaSanka (Casting dir)
  Ed Duarte (Wrangler)
  Paul Spahn (Wrangler)
  John Buckins (Wrangler)
  Jack Lloyd (Transportation)
Stand In: Buddy Van Horn (Stunt coord)
  Bob Terhune (Stunts)
  George Wilbur (Stunts)
  John Hudkins (Stunts)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures 29/3/1973 dd/mm/yyyy LP43621
The Malpaso Company 29/3/1973 dd/mm/yyyy LP43621

Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: Technicolor
  Lenses/Prints: Panavision

 
Genre: Western
 
Subjects (Major): Dwarfs
  Moral corruption
  Murder
  Outlaws
  Revenge
  Strangers
  Whips and whippings
 
Subjects (Minor): Dreams
  Dynamite
  Fires
  Graves
  Hired killers
  Hotels
  Infidelity
  Marshals
  Mine owners
  Rape
  Saloons
  Sheriffs

Note: Closing onscreen credits feature the following written acknowledgment: "Locations through the cooperation of the Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management and The Forest Service USDA Inyo National Forest." Although Ernest Tidyman received sole writing credit in the onscreen credits, according to a Jul 1972 Box news item, Dean Riesner wrote the final script for High Plains Drifter based on an original idea by Tidyman. Reisner was listed as co-writer on HR charts, but a modern biography on Clint Eastwood elucidated that although Reisner wrote the final script, he was denied screen credit by a WGA Arbitration committee. An Aug 1972 HR news item noted that Tidyman wrote a novel based on his screenplay, which was to be published by Bantam in conjunction with the release of the film.
       A Box news item reported that location shooting was to take place in Nevada, but HR production charts and other sources confirm location shooting took place in and around Mono Lake, CA. Eastwood’s biography noted that although the film was shot at Mono Lake, the opening scene in which "The Stranger” rides out of the desert was shot outside Reno, NV. The biography added that in the original screenplay, The Stranger was identified as the murdered marshal’s brother. As noted in the NYT review, The Stranger “is a high parody of the soft-featured, brutal Man With No Name [Eastwood] played in those bitter Sergio Leone Westerns.” The MPH reviewer wrote of High Plains Drifter , the second film directed by Eastwood: “this highly stylized and competently acted drama has few equals.” Although some reviews were less than positive about the film when it was released, over the years, its reputation among critics has grown. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   3 Jul 1972.   
Box Office   23 Apr 1973   p. 4584.
Daily Variety   20 Jul 1972.   
Daily Variety   26 Mar 1973.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jul 1972   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Aug 1972   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 1973   p. 4, 14.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   6 Apr 1973.   
Los Angeles Times   6 Apr 1973.   
Motion Picture Herald   24 Mar 1973.   
New York Times   19 Apr 1973   p. 21.
Time   23 Apr 1973.   
Variety   28 Mar 1973   p. 24.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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