HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)
Eastwood's first directorial effort was obviously inspired by the stylized, violent and satirical spaghetti Westerns of the great Italian Sergio Leone, the films that made a star of Eastwood. Yet this is not exactly copycat moviemaking.
A mysterious, taciturn stranger gets hired by nothing-town notables to protect them against villains who are being released from the penitentiary. He treats his employers almost as harshly as the bandits.
A quite watchable movie, in spite of its confused, pretentious script and an abundance of violent and/or arbitrary actions -- not to mention impossibilities, such as Eastwood getting shot at in a bathtub but emerging unscathed. He plays his no-name stranger like a kind of cruel deity, much as in the Leone films. Like the Italian works, this picture has a stylized, revisionist and tongue-in-cheek mood, but with stronger elements of the mystical and the supernatural that, in retrospect, point to Eastwood's later "Pale Rider."
There's something unpleasant about the whole thing, plus some kinky sex. The Stranger maintains a general air of superiority. He seems to view everyone as scum beneath contempt, except for Verna Bloom and the midget Billy Curtis. Still, an interesting curiosity.
The theme of the gunman/swordsman-for-hire is fascinating to trace, as for example in the thread of Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai" (1954) which was inspired by, then inspired, certain U.S. Westerns. Or the same director's "Yojimbo" (1961) whose source was a story by pulp fiction master Dashiell Hammett. Soon after, "Yojimbo" was transformed into Sergio Leone's first spaghetti western, "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964). The process goes on. (Edwin Jahiel)