Off in the distance, a figure riding a pale horse appears out of the heat haze. Dee Martin's unusual score creates a sense of unease as the man rides into the lakeside mining town of Lago. Although referred to by the diminutive Mordecai as "Captain," the 'High Plains Drifter' never gives his name and is referred to in the credits as The Stranger (Clint Eastwood).
The residents of Lago are an odd sort and don't take kindly to strangers. When he steps into the bar for a beer, a bottle of whiskey, and some peace, three men immediately harass him. The Stranger claims he is just passing through and wants no trouble, but trouble finds him. The trio makes the mistake of continuing to bother him at the barbershop (the proprietor of which I am surprised anyone would trust considering how terrible his comb-over is) and the viewer gets to see how smart and fast on the draw the Stranger is.
Shortly thereafter, Callie Travers (Mariana Hill) accosts the Stranger by intentionally running into him and yelling at him. When he can't stand any more of her abuse, he drags her into the stable and rapes her. It's quite shocking behavior for the hero, and even more troubling is the film indicating she wanted it. She instigated their meeting and escalated her antics until he was driven to it. She screams for him to stop while dragging her into the stable, but gives up her protests rather quickly when she realizes he is going to have sex with her.
The film's other female character doesn’t fare much better. Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) is wife of hotelier Lewis Belding (Ted Hartley). She is cautious around the Stranger. When the two are alone, she arms herself to keep from getting what Callie got, but the Stranger tells her he is too tired to give her what she wants. She is insulted and goes after him, only to fall into his arms and eventually spend the night, which her husband never interrupts. For both of these sequences to occur, Eastwood and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman reveal a very poor, shallow view of women, and it mars the film.
Sheriff Sam Shaw (Walter Barnes) informs the Stranger the three men he encountered were hired guns employed to protect the town from the outlaws Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis) and the Carlin brothers, who are about to get out of jail. They ask him to work in their place. He has no interest until being given free run of the town, which he takes full advantage of. He wants the men in town to help out and gives them training. As the film progresses, the secrets of the town are revealed, as is the reason the Stranger ended up there.
'High Plains Drifter' is the second time Clint Eastwood directed a film, following 'Play Misty for Me'. The film has achieved a classic status within the western genre in part because of the story's unique take on frontier justice, even though there are a few moments that don't seem plausible, like the bad guys standing around and getting picked off one by one. Universal's packaging incorrectly states, "Clint Eastwood returns to… his internationally acclaimed role of 'The Man with No Name'," which is obviously not the case. Apparently nobody in the marketing department has seen the film because there is certainly no question by the end of the movie what the Stranger's name is.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'High Plains Drifter' comes on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard case with a "Best of the Decade" slipcase that points out what was notable during the '70s in regards to movies, TV, music, headlines, and pop culture, The disc boots up directly to the standard Universal menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1 "digitally remastered and fully restored from high resolution 35mm original film elements," according to the packaging.
As the film opens, a light amount of film grain appears. The red colors of the credits pop over the solid brown and green earth tones of the landscape. The wood used on the building show a wide range of browns and the lighter the shade the more texture can be seen in them. When the buildings are later painted red, the color is bright though not as vibrant as the credits. Blacks are solid and shadow delineation is very good.
The image looks consistently clean throughout, and usually reveals great depth and sharp focus. However, the scene in Drake's office at Chapter 9 when three townsmen are having an argument finds the focus turn soft and some exterior light looking blown out as it comes in from a window. Since it's just the one scene, the issue appears to be a source problem. I didn't notice any artifact issues.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and French DTS Digital Surround 2.0. I wish the original mono had been included because the track suffers a bit from the enhancement. The option to listen to it would have increased my score.
Dee Martin's score fills the surrounds and bass from the orchestra demonstrates a great bottom end, but the track delivers little else in the rears. Other than the hotel explosion, which can be heard booming through the fronts, the 5.1 track is front-center heavy. As the Stranger rides through town, the horse hooves stay in the center speaker rather than rather than moving across. The effects aren't always well rendered and the balance is off in the mix. The crack of a whip comes off flat. The spurs are too loud and overused. The music overwhelms the dialogue in the barbershop. The dynamic range is just adequate. Still, the track is clean, free from age or wear.
While the uneven audio and lack of extras keep me from highly recommending it and lead to a middling score, I still recommend the disc based on the strength of the film and the Blu-ray's video. Hopefully when the 50th anniversary rolls around, Universal will properly celebrate it and learn who the main character is.