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High Plains Drifter is a 1973 American Western film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, written by Ernest Tidyman, and produced by Robert Daley for Malpaso Company and Universal Pictures. Eastwood plays a mysterious, prepotent stranger, meting out justice in a corrupt frontier mining town.[3] The film was influenced by the work of Eastwood's two major collaborators, film directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.[4]

High Plains Drifter
High Plains Drifter poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Produced byRobert Daley
Written byErnest Tidyman
StarringClint Eastwood
Verna Bloom
Marianna Hill
Music byDee Barton
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byFerris Webster
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 22, 1973 (1973-08-22)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.5 million[1]
Box office$15,700,000[2]

The film was shot on location on the shores of Mono Lake, California. Dee Barton wrote the film score. The film was critically acclaimed at the time of its initial release and remains popular today, holding a score of 96% at the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.



A mysterious stranger rides out of the desert into the isolated mining town of Lago, on the shore of a large lake in an unnamed western territory. Three men follow him into the saloon, taunting him, then follow him to the barbershop. When they challenge him, he kills all three with little effort. Attractive townswoman Callie Travers deliberately bumps into him in the street, knocks his cigar from his mouth, and loudly insults him. He drags her into the livery stable and rapes her.

That night, in his hotel room, the Stranger dreams of a man being brutally whipped. Then, in a flashback, Jim Duncan, a federal marshal, is whipped to death in front of the hotel by outlaws Stacey Bridges and brothers Dan and Cole Carlin as the citizens look on.

Sheriff Sam Shaw approaches the Stranger and offers him the job previously held by the men he killed: defending the town from Bridges and the Carlins, who are about to be released after serving twelve months in territorial jail. He declines. Shaw, in desperation, offers him anything he wants in return. The Stranger learns that the townspeople were complicit in Duncan's murder; they hired the outlaws to kill him after he discovered that the town's only source of income, the mine, was on government land. They then double-crossed the murderers and turned them in.

Upon learning this, the Stranger accepts the job, and takes full advantage of the deal. He appoints barbershop employee Mordecai as sheriff and mayor, and provides an Indian and his children with supplies at the shopkeeper's expense. He orders the hotel owner and his guests to vacate the premises, leaving him its sole occupant. When Belding’s wife Sarah objects, he drags her, kicking and screaming, into her bedroom. The next morning, Sarah tells the Stranger that Duncan cannot rest in peace, because he is buried in an unmarked grave outside of town.

The Stranger instructs the townspeople in defensive tactics, but they clearly lack the skills or courage for the job. He also orders that every building in town be painted blood red. Then, without explanation, he mounts his horse and rides out of town, pausing to replace "Lago" on the town sign with "Hell".

Meanwhile, Bridges and his gang are on their way to Lago. The Stranger harasses them with dynamite and long-range rifle fire, leaving them to ponder the identity of their attacker. Returning to Lago, the Stranger inspects the preparations—town painted red, townsmen with rifles stationed on rooftops, picnic tables laden with food and drink, and a big "WELCOME HOME BOYS" banner overhead—then he remounts and departs again.

The Bridges gang arrives and easily overcomes the inept resistance of the townspeople. Bridges shoots several of the civic leaders who double-crossed them. By nightfall the town is in flames, and the terrified citizens are huddled in the saloon. A mysterious sound is heard in the street; when Cole Carlin walks outside to investigate, everyone listens in horror as he is whipped to death. Dan Carlin is found dead too, hanging from another whip. At last the Stranger reveals himself, beats Bridges to the draw, and kills him. Mordecai shoots and kills Belding before he can shoot the Stranger in the back immediately after.

On his way out of town the following morning, the Stranger pauses at the cemetery as Mordecai is finishing a new grave marker. "I never did know your name", Mordecai says. "Yes, you do", the Stranger replies. As he rides past a bewildered Mordecai into the desert, the writing on the new headstone is revealed: Marshal Jim Duncan—Rest in Peace.



Mono Lake

Eastwood reportedly liked the offbeat quality of the film's original nine-page proposal, and approached Universal with the idea of directing it. Under a joint production between Malpaso and Universal, the original screenplay was written by Ernest Tidyman, who had won a Best Screenplay Oscar for The French Connection.[5] Tidyman's screenplay was inspired by the real-life murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens in 1964, which eyewitnesses reportedly stood by and watched. Holes in the plot were filled in with black humor and allegory, influenced by Sergio Leone.[5] An uncredited rewrite of the script was provided by Dean Riesner, screenwriter of other Eastwood projects.

Universal wanted Eastwood to shoot the feature on its back lot, but Eastwood opted instead to film on location. After scouting locations alone in a pickup truck in Oregon, Nevada and California,[6] he settled on the "highly photogenic" Mono Lake area.[7] Over 50 technicians and construction workers built an entire town—14 houses, a church, and a two-story hotel—in 18 days, using 150,000 feet of timber.[7] Complete buildings, rather than facades, were built, so that Eastwood could shoot interior scenes on the site. Additional scenes were filmed at Reno, Nevada's Winnemucca Lake and California's Inyo National Forest.[7] The film was completed in six weeks, two days ahead of schedule, and under budget.[8]

The character of Marshal Duncan was played by Buddy Van Horn, Eastwood's long-time stunt double, to suggest that he and the Stranger could be the same person. In an interview, Eastwood said that earlier versions of the script made the Stranger the dead marshal's brother. He favored a less explicit and more supernatural interpretation, and excised the reference.[9] The Italian, Spanish, French and German dubbings restored it.[10] "It's just an allegory," he said, "a speculation on what happens when they go ahead and kill the sheriff and somebody comes back and calls the town's conscience to bear. There's always retribution for your deeds."[9] The graveyard set featured in the film's final scene included tombstones inscribed "Sergio Leone" and "Don Siegel" as a humorous tribute to the two influential directors.[4]


Universal released the R-rated High Plains Drifter in the United States in April 1973, and the film eventually grossed $15.7 million domestically,[2] ultimately making it the sixth-highest grossing Western in North America in the decade of the 1970s and the 20th highest-grossing film released in 1973. The film was well received by many critics, and rates 96% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film had its share of detractors. A number of critics thought Eastwood's directing derivative; Arthur Knight in Saturday Review remarked that Eastwood had "absorbed the approaches of Siegel and Leone and fused them with his own paranoid vision of society".[11] Jon Landau of Rolling Stone concurred, noting "thematic shallowness" and "verbal archness"; but he expressed approval of the dramatic scenery and cinematography.[11] John Wayne criticized the film's iconoclastic approach; in a letter to Eastwood, he wrote, "That isn't what the West was all about. That isn't the American people who settled this country."[12] The New York Times described the movie as "part ghost story, part revenge Western, more than a little silly, and often quite entertaining in a way that may make you wonder if you have lost your good sense".[13]

The film was recognized by American Film Institute in 2008 on AFI's 10 Top 10 in the category "Nominated Western Film".[14]

Home mediaEdit

High Plains Drifter was released on DVD on February 24, 1998.[15] High Plains Drifter made its Blu-Ray debut on October 15, 2013.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Box Office Information for High Plains Drifter. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for High Plains Drifter. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ The Representation of Justice in Eastwood's High Plains Drifter Flynn, Erin E. Presented in The Philosophy of Clint Eastwood, edited by Richard T. McClelland and Brian B. Clayton, University Press of Kentucky, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Kaminsky, Stuart. Clint Eastwood, Signet Books, 1975. ISBN 978-0-451-06159-1
  5. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 221
  6. ^ Gentry, p. 63
  7. ^ a b c Hughes, p. 28
  8. ^ Eliot (2009), p. 144
  9. ^ a b Hughes, pp. 30–31
  10. ^ Clint Eastwood. Guardian interviews, retrieved August 8, 2016.
  11. ^ a b McGilligan, p. 223
  12. ^ Peter Biskind, "Any Which Way He Can", Premiere, April 1993.
  13. ^ "High Plains Drifter (1973)".
  14. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  15. ^ Eastwood, Clint (1998-02-24), High Plains Drifter, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, retrieved 2018-05-21
  16. ^ Eastwood, Clint (2013-10-15), High Plains Drifter, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, retrieved 2018-05-21


  • Cornell, Drucilla (2009). Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 0823230147.
  • Eliot, Marc (2009). American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood. Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-307-33688-0.
  • Gentry, Ric (1999). "Director Clint Eastwood: Attention to Detail and Involvement for the Audience". In Robert E., Kapsis; Coblentz, Kathie. Clint Eastwood: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 62–75. ISBN 1-57806-070-2.
  • Girgus, Sam (2014). "An American Journey: Issues and Themes". Clint Eastwood's America. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 074565648X.
  • Green, Philip (1998). Cracks in the Pedestal Ideology and Gender in Hollywood. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1558491201.
  • Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra (2011). Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. ISBN 0786449616.
  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-902-7.
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.
  • Ruffles, Tom (2004). Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0786484217.
  • White, Mike (2013). Cinema Detours. Morrisville: ISBN 1300981172.

Further readingEdit

  • Guérif, François (1986). Clint Eastwood, p. 94. St Martins Pr. ISB

External linksEdit