High Plains Drifter (1973)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Outlaw (Gunfighter) Film, Revisionist Western  |   Release Date - Apr 6, 1973 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Keith Phipps

High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood's first Western behind the camera -- and only his second effort as a director, may owe a lot to his former collaborator Sergio Leone, but it also marks the point at which he begins to come into his own as an artist. The leisurely, dialogue-heavy asides may bog this film down at times, but it's an approach that would bear fruit later in Eastwood's directorial career. But Drifter works quite well even outside the context of Eastwood's other work, thanks to a harsh, wind-swept mysticism all its own. Leone and Eastwood's Man With No Name films helped usher in an era of revisionist Westerns, but with this film Eastwood doubles back, reconnecting those films' dark humor and mysterious loner character (introduced riding ominously through the entire length of a small town) to the realm of folk tale and myth. The script by Shaft author Ernest Tidyman is as unforgiving as its protagonist -- it might be argued that an early rape scene goes too far -- but there's no denying this film's unique appeal. It's a revisionist Western extreme even by the standards of the time. Like the Machiavellian hero who defends it, the film looks upon a superficially idyllic Western setting and finds virtually nothing to like.