After a sinister gang of nine men accuse former Marshal Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) of killing a rancher that owned the cattle he was transporting, they leave Cooper hanging from a tree and close to death. Upon being rescued and brought to Fort Smith, his innocence is eventually proven and Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle) invites Cooper to once again become a lawman and implement stricter rules and regulations in the area – a task Cooper is happy to take with the nine men that tried to take his life firmly in his sights. A really enjoyable and effective tale of revenge that is currently available on Netflix.
Director: Ted Post
Writers: Leonard Freeman, Mel Goldberg
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Pat Hingle, Inger Stevens
Admittedly, I am no expert when it comes to reviewing western movies but I found Hang ‘Em High to be one of the best I’ve watched. The storyline and plot itself was relatively straight forward and the filmmakers wasted no time in getting into the action after Jed Cooper was hanged, rescued and given his Marshall status back all within the opening stages of the flick. From then on, Cooper found himself more or less tasked with the job of finding all nine of the men that attempted to kill him, before taking them back to the Sheriff to face justice – meaning the central dilemma within the flick was whether he was to act within the confines of the law or act on his own personal style of justice by executing each of the nine men.
Another interesting and insightful facet that the filmmakers decided to highlight was the sheer brutality of the public hangings throughout the film. These were focused on greatly and made the viewer question the ethics of such killings. The hangings had more of a party atmosphere around them with men, women and children of all ages wandering around and witnessing the trauma. Fathers were even seen holding their children high above the crowds for a better view of the action, while alcohol and snacks were also distributed by vendors who were hoping to profit from the event.
Of course, with any Western from this era, there’s always the costume design and setting design to look out for and both were beautiful in this movie. Interestingly, there was even a sub-plot where Jed Cooper romantically fell for Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens) but as mentioned, that did take a back seat and seemed very much like a sub-plot in this tale of revenge and with such a short runtime, their relationship wasn’t explored and focused on as much as maybe it could or should have been.
Clint Eastwood’s performance was exactly what you’d expect from the man himself, suitably convincing and perfect for the Marshall role. It’s also worth highlighting the effectiveness of the part Pat Hingle adopted as Judge Fenton – the man responsible for making the decisions in Fort Smith and responsible for many of the hangings that took place along with the justice dished out.
Overall, a really good western and as many have highlighted, probably one of the best from this generation. Definitely a worthy watch for any fan of this genre or Clint Eastwood fan in general.
“Here, if that hanging rope didn’t kill you, maybe my coffee will.”Judge Fenton – Hang ‘Em High