Hang 'em High

1968

Hang 'em High

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

92%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 13

73%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 32,883
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Movie Info

Ex-lawman turned rancher Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is moving a small herd of cattle when a group of nine men on horseback, led by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley Sr.), ride up and accuse him of having stolen the cattle and killed their owner. Refusing to believe his account, they string him up by the neck and leave him for dead, but they don't do the job right. Cooper is dangling there, barely alive, a few minutes later when Deputy U.S. Marshal Bliss (Ben Johnson) spots him and cuts him down. He survives the next few days in Bliss' tumbleweed wagon with the other prisoners, and is later cleared of any wrongdoing and released by Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), just in time to witness the hanging of the man who really murdered the owner of the cattle and took Cooper's money. Cooper still wants revenge on the nine men who tried to hang him, but Fenton insists that he leave the bringing of them to justice to his deputy marshals. As it happens, Fenton is in desperate need of deputy marshals for the territory that he oversees, and he also knows that Cooper was a good lawman. Cooper, in turn, is now broke and in need of a job, and does want to see justice done. They strike an uneasy bargain, Cooper agreeing to wear a badge and bring in the men he's looking for -- alive -- for trial. The latter proves easier said than done, however, when the first of them that he spots tries to draw on him when he makes the arrest. One of the hanging party, Jenkins (Bob Steele), soon turns himself in and provides the names of the others. Cooper takes Stone (Alan Hale Jr.) alive, but the hapless blacksmith is later shot by the local sheriff (Charles McGraw) while trying to escape. The other men, led by Wilson, have no intention of dying, or even being brought to trial, without a fight. Two of them go on the run out of the territory, while Wilson and two of the others decide to take the law into their own hands once again. Meanwhile, Cooper becomes a hero when he single-handedly brings back a trio of rustlers who are also guilty of murder. This leads to Cooper's first confrontation with Judge Fenton, who, in a gripping scene, explains why it is essential that he be as seemingly quick to hang a man as he is. Unless the people are convinced that the law will do its job -- including hanging men who deserve it -- they will keep taking the law into their own hands and there will be more lynch mobs like the one that tried to kill Cooper. In the course of his quest for justice, Cooper also makes the acquaintance of Rachel (Inger Stevens), a young woman with her own search for justice, haunted by her own ghosts, and the two of them are drawn together, no more so than when Wilson and two of the others try to gun Cooper down in cold blood. The final confrontation between Cooper and Wilson escalates in violence to its savage, irony-laced conclusion. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Hang 'em High

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (1)

Audience Reviews for Hang 'em High

  • Jun 18, 2014
    No, I am not going to reference the song by My Chemical Romance... or Dropkick Murphys, or Hit the Lights... or even Van Halen, or any song by the band Hang 'Em High. Jeez, this film's title has really been adopted by some hard rockers and punks, which makes sense, because how else to you musically approach a film starring someone as hard rock as Clint Eastwood? Apparently, you approach it with Booker T. & the M.G.'s, because this film's theme song was composed by that funky jazz cat, and I don't know if that's more a reflection on how old Booker T. is, or old this film is... or how old Clint Eastwood is. He was old enough at this time for the whole "man with no name" role to start getting old, and by no means is he a man with no name here, just your regular, named marshal who didn't wander into any old town... but will still kill for it! Yeah, Eastwood doesn't need to be nameless to be hard rock, which makes me question the casting if this is supposed to depict, as Wikipedia puts it, "the dangers of serving as a U.S. Marshal or deputy during that period [1880s]", because, seriously just try to kill Clint Eastwood, criminals. Like I said, he was getting up there back in '68, so if the Grim Reaper hasn't done it yet, then you sure can't, as opposed to Ted Post's career. After this he had "Beneath the Planet of the Apes", followed by hopeless obscurity, which is a shame, because he at least made this one respected film, which I for one would be more respectful of if it wasn't for so many issues. Something of an expository mess, this film opens right up with action and no immediate background development, while the shortcomings in gradual development throughout the body prove to be totally unjust in their distancing character depth on which the drama ought to thrive. Slowness ironically also thins down dramatic momentum which is shaken by the rushing, with directorial storytelling even doing a number on momentum through quiet spells that distance, maybe even bore, yet perhaps wouldn't so much if Ted Post wasn't handed limp material to draw upon with his directorial meditations. Of course, when aimless lapses in material don't slow down momentum, it's ironically an excess in material, which eventually leads to focal unevenness on the path to flesh out the telling of a story of only so much scale to begin with, despite an ambition to be harsher than the average, more colorful western. Perhaps the ambition would be more comfortably fulfilled if the storytellers didn't try too hard at times, overplaying overblown score work and some contrived writing to shake subtlety, often cheesily. The film is all too often overwrought with it dramatics, but I prefer that overambition, rather than the laziness to the efforts to edge up this western, which, upon falling into dated elements, falls hard, with cheesy filler set pieces, technical limitations and other awkward challenges to this drama's vision to be a western to take more seriously. In all honesty, there are times where the film is almost cheesy to the point of being embarrassing, and no matter how inspired the film is at times, moments such as those sort of tell you that this was never to be a truly rewarding drama, while little missteps throughout the final product secure the effort as very decidedly underwhelming. The film probably could have fallen into mediocrity, yet, as I said, there is inspiration here, and while it's not enough to reward, it endears pretty adequately. Dominic Frontiere firmly breaks the dry spells of quietness with a fusion of traditional and, to a certain extent, spaghetti western sensibilities that is unique, musically impressive and tonally effective, if a little cloyingly overblown at times. It's a shame that histrionics and some contrivance come into play and corrupt the integrity of this early revisionist western, whose narrative isn't especially meaty, but holds a potential for grit that was uncommon for westerns at the times, and is milked for all its worth in highlights within a script by Leonard Freeman and Mel Goldberg that, on top of delivering on some memorable lines and set pieces, has the guts to compliment dramatic depths with an audacious attention to brutal detail, though not necessarily in development. That said, no matter how underdeveloped, this portrait on man's brutality has its share of well-rounded aspects to characterization which draw memorable characters, at least when backed up by some memorable performances. A lot of the performers could have fallen flat with material that was over the heads of many in the '60s western film industry, but most everyone here is effective in his or her respective role, and that particularly goes for Clint Eastwood, whose performance is formulaic, but no less buzzingly charismatic than it usually is, partly thanks to some intense dramatic layers which reinforce the lead's engagement value. Eastwood's compelling anti-heroic protagonist further reflects the audacity of this gritty revisionist western, much like the gutsy script, but what can make or break the guts of the overall final product is, of course, the guts of the direction. Ted Post's direction either gets to be unsubtle with its dramatic overplays, or subtle to the point of dull coldness, but when it's realized, it's biting, with audacious plays with anything from score to the performers, in addition to gripping action and, of course, disturbing visuals that reflected a big turn for the Hollywood western, and still haunts today. The film could have gone a long way, but at the same time, it could have fallen seriously flat, thus, for every considerable missteps is a considerable strength, which endears enough to make a decent drama with commendable highlights, limited though they may be. When it's time for the snap, under the pressure of underdevelopment, slow and draggy spells, some cloying dramatics, and some cheesily dated aspects, this film which is already conceptually of limited consequence all but buckles, yet there is still enough reinforced to engagement value from solid scoring and acting, and often effectively gutsy writing and direction to make Ted Post's "Hang 'Em High" a fair and sometimes effective, if flimsy breakthrough for the revisionist western genre. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 13, 2011
    A solid western about a man (Clint Eastwood) who is wrongly hung, but he survives thanks to a passing deputy and an old rope. This is a film not just about his revenge on the nine men who tried to kill him in their way of justice but about the many injustices of the time. A solid film with great acting and memorable quotes, Recommended to western and Clint Eastwood fans.
    Chris B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 11, 2011
    A group of nine men make the mistake of hanging an innocent man without a proper trial. With the man on the rope being Mr.Clint Eastwood, they made an even BIGGER mistake of not making sure he's dead. Rescue arrives shortly and the fate of those men have been written already by then. This is more like a toned down version of the Sergio Leone spaghettis. It does pose some serious questions about the morality of Capital Punishment, but in terms of entertainment, it gets nowhere near to Leone's Dollar Trilogy.
    Sajin P Super Reviewer
  • May 03, 2010
    Good Western starring Clint Eastwood. When an innocent man barely survives a lynching, he returns as a lawman determined to bring the vigilantes to justice. This is Eastwood's first movie after his success with Sergio Leone, and I guess Hollywood was trying to cash in on their new star. Hang 'em High may be a little slow in parts and lack the artful direction that the Spaghetti Westerns had, but it's a pretty honest portrayal of the old west, with good supporting performances and some nice cinematography. Overall. worth watching just for Clint's charisma and badass attitude.
    Jonny C Super Reviewer

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