Thursday, April 29, 2010
"Hang 'Em High" and the lesson about revenge
Title: Hang 'Em High
Genre: Spaghetti Western Lite
Notable for: Clint's first starring role in U.S.
Clint's subliminal message: There's never a bad time to grab a whore
As proud Americans we are pained to say it but it is true: Clint’s triumphant return to Hollywood was weak compared to his time as an Italian sensation.
“Hang ‘Em High,” the first American film starring Eastwood, is a Western that is Spaghetti Lite. It’s not horrible, by any means. It has impressive casting with early roles by guys like Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern. But, unlike a real spaghetti Western, the only humor thrown in is by bit players whose characters are about to be hung. And we get the impression this movie tries to say something important and we don’t understand what it is.
“That’s the worst ending ever,” Andrew said. “The story is not finished."
No one with a trace of testosterone in his bloodstream ever said any Clint Eastwood movie made by Sergio Leone had a bad ending.
“Hang ‘Em High” starts when a freelance posse mistakes Clint, a former lawman, for a killer and hangs him from a tree.
Clint’s tormentors are incompetent vigilantes. He survives the hanging with just a rope-burn scar on his neck. A roving lawman cuts him down and takes him to jail to sort things out.
When cleared of wrong-doing, Clint is deputized to work for a hanging judge. He takes the job only because it allows him to enjoy revenge by legally hunting down the men who hung him.
All indications suggest the audience is supposed to ponder the nature justice. We did not want to ponder.
Clint, for the first time but definitely not the last, plays a man motivated by revenge. He meets and eventually seduces a beautiful blond woman storekeeper who craves revenge.
This is fine and dandy until, somewhere along the way, things go slightly incomprehensible.
Clint begins to resent his judge boss for handing out the death penalty like candy on Halloween.
When two teenage brothers are hung against Clint’s recommendation, he is so upset he, um, grabs a whore and gets laid while everybody else in town watches the hanging.
Screwing to cope with injustice may have seemed edgy in 1968, but it is a little creepy now.
Clint's most studly line comes after Bruce Dern says, "You'll never get me alive, boy." Clint answers, "Then I'll get you dead. Boy."
Over time, Clint comes to despise the judge. He even complains about "that hole you call a jail” and insists on a pardon for one of the guys who tried to hang him.
At the end, Clint quits his job as a lawman. Then he takes it back. Then he looks uncomfortable about tracking down the last two guys on his revenge list. Clint seems to lose his thirst for vengeance, but we are not sure why. Is it because he is screwing a storekeeper now instead of a whore? And what about the blond storekeeper? Maybe Clint gives her up to wear the badge but we don't know because it is not explained.
Is there a lesson for manhood? Maybe.
Revenge is good up to a point, Clint’s example says, but don’t get carried away.
Either that or he’s telling us a man never has a bad time to grab a whore.
Let’s go with the thing about revenge.
Next up: "Coogan's Bluff."