‘High Plains Drifter’ brings a dark protagonist to the spaghetti western genre

Clint Eastwood‘s High Plains Drifter feel like Blumhouse made a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, adding elements of horror to the classic western genre.
Similar to the “Man with No Name” role in Sergio Leone’s Dollar Trilogy, Eastwood rides into remote mining town as cigar chewing gunslinger. The Stranger is quickly confronted by the town’s rogue protectors, who attack during a shave, and are quickly dispatched.
After a flirtation from a the town’s promiscuous “lady,” he rapes a woman in a barn. Later  he agrees to replace the three men he killed, who served as the town’s guardians across three murderers, due to return after a year in jail. Despite an attack from the rape victim, the townspeople dismiss the Stranger’s crime for their protection.
Flashbacks reveal that those three men murdered a U.S. Marshal and townspeople looked on in fear, doing nothing. The mysterious, charismatic sharpshooter takes advantage of the town as they prepare and train to fend off the baddies, painting the buildings red and setting out a buffet.
While High Plains Drifter is derivative in many ways, it is much darker, void of any lighthearted music or colors, to embrace a dose of horror elements becoming a bit of a psychological thriller.
The Stranger’s hidden agenda cements the film’s unique tone for the time. Eastwood wants the audience to question every possibility, even that this Stranger is the deceased Marshals ghost or angel of revenge.
The Stranger is not the honorable protagonist of Leone films, with a hidden moral compass, but instead, a monster in his own right.
Humiliating and abusing the townspeople feels comical at first, but ends in a realization that Stranger is motivated and pleased by the violence and NOT murder or justice.
While High Plains Drifter is NOT a pleasurable experience in the end, it deserves credit for having such a realistic examination of the figures of the Old West…no matter how hard that is to accept.
It certainly foreshadows Eastwood’s greatness with Unforgiven, which arrives many years later.

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