Hang 'em High Reviews
The story starts simple enough and for a while that seems to be the whole company line but luckily Clint have some "side missions" as well and they shape the story much and more and the whole is a nicely multi-layerd, very well written western.
"Hang 'Em High" is a 1968 American Revisionist Western film and the first film produced by Clint Eastwood's Malpaso Company. The Revisionist Western, Modern Western or Anti-Western traces to the mid 1960s and early 1970s as a subgenre of the Western movie. Some post-WWII Western films began to question the ideals and style of the traditional Western. Elements include a darker, more cynical tone, with focus on the lawlessness of the time period, favouring realism over romanticism. Anti-heroes are still common, but with stronger roles for women and more-sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans and Mexicans. Regarding power and authority, these depictions favour critical views of big business, the American government, masculine figures (including the military and their policies), and a turn to greater historical authenticity. The film became a major success after release in July 1968, and with an opening day revenue of $5,241 in Baltimore alone, it became the biggest United Artists opening in history, exceeding all of the James Bond films at that time. It debuted at number five on Variety?' s weekly survey of top films and had made its money back within two weeks of screening. It eventually grossed $6.8 million in the U.S. It was widely praised by critics, including Arthur Winsten of the New York Post, who described "Hang 'Em High" as "a Western of quality, courage, danger and excitement". Variety gave the film a negative review, calling it "a poor American-made imitation of a poor Italian-made imitation of an American-made western". "Hang 'Em High" is yet another revenge themed western amongst Clint Eastwood´s film catalogue, and in one way nothing new except maybe the cynical look on the law and justice. In general it´s an ok western with interesting point of views on justice and vigilantism, but yet there´s nothing that really stands out or that truly engage you. Not one of Clint Eastwood´s best in my opinion.
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