Hang 'em High Reviews
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
Clint stars as Jed Cooper- an ex-lawman turned rancher who is wrongfully accused of theft and murder by a corrupt posse. They beat him, and lynch him from a tree, but they don't do a good enough job, and he miraculously survives.
After a period of recovery, he is recruited to be a deputy marshal by the local judge who pardons him of his supposed crimes. He is urged to not seek vengeance against those who wronged him, but that proves easier said than done...
In a lot of ways, this is basically just a typical exploitation revenge kind of plot, with a toned down spaghetti western feel to it. The film kinda takes a look at the consequences of vengeance, but not as much as later Eastwood films. It adds a touch of depth to the proceedings, but in the end, this is basically just a straight up western drama.
I dug it. I mean, Ted Post is no Leone, but he's a decent enough director, and gets the job done here fairly reasonably. The film has a pretty good look about it, dry, dusty, and gritty, and it's pretty fitting given the subject matter. Clint does his thing, and delivers a typically solid performance, and gets in a few more words than his most famous character ever did. Pat Hingle is pretty good as the Judge who pardons then deputizes Jed, and it's fun seeing those two go head to head with one another concerning legal matters.
All in all, this is a decent film, and it's done well, despite the fact that it's nothing new, innovative, or revolutionary. If all you want is a solid violence driven action western, then sure, give this a look.
Hang 'Em High is about an innocent rancher and ex-lawman named Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) who is moving a small herd of cattle, but a group of nine men ride up to him and accuse him of killing the original owner of the cattle and stealing them. Jed tries to defend himself from the accusations, but the men refuse to believe him, and attempt to lynch him. Jed survives the lynching, and a marshal finds him, giving him the opportunity to serve the law and to attempt to bring the men who lynched him to justice. The plot focuses not only on Jed's revenge on the men, but also on the importance of law and order. Clint Eastwood is as cool as ever, and instead of playing a vigilante, he's a sort of anti-vigilante. He's still tough, but his role is more sensitive than his previous western roles, considering he takes the more lawful approach at ending crime. The rest of the cast is fine as well, although some of the acting is bad. A few scenes that come to mind are when people are getting beaten up, but the fights seem very awkward and fake, which was common in lots of movies around this time. The scenery is nice, and the main theme song by Dominic Frontiere is terrific. However, everything besides that is pretty dull and mediocre, and the way the story is told is too sloppy to care about what's really going on.
It's definitely a different western than lots of the westerns being released at the time, focusing a lot on the law and justice, but the pacing is bad and the significance of characters is questionable. The ending is bad, with a very anticlimactic confrontation and an abrupt conclusion to the story. It really left more to be desired, and it feels like they were planning on a sequel of some sort. Although the opening scene sets up the situation nicely and got me interested, it unfortunately goes downhill from there until it ultimately becomes a boring, bland attempt at a distinctive western. I do appreciate that this isn't just any revenge story, and at least tries to be distinctive. In terms of entertainment, you probably won't find it here, and it feels unnecessarily long. There's also this unnecessary romance between Jed Cooper and a woman named Rachel (Inger Stevens) that doesn't add much value to the film, and ends up taking lots of time that should've been spent on something else. It feels like it was there only to fit some sort of requirement regarding romance that lots of Hollywood movies have.
Everything about this movie sort of feels more like a TV movie than an actual movie, which is a shame. That being said, Hang 'Em High is not a bad movie, but it's no masterpiece by any means. Hang 'Em High is a bit of a disappointment, and everything besides Clint Eastwood is uninteresting and ultimately bland. It does bring some great questions and ideas up about what's right and what's wrong regarding the law, and it does have its moments of good. Just don't expect high entertainment and fun, because the sloppy storytelling gets in the way of it, although Clint Eastwood's presence makes it watchable alone. In my opinion, it's probably his worst western that I've seen so far (although I've yet to see Two Mules for Sister Sara). It falls pretty short of a solid western, and although Hang 'Em High didn't hurt Clint Eastwood's career by any means, the cons that overshadow the pros keep it from being one of his classics.