13 May 2011

May 12- "Some people call this hell, but you're still in Oklahoma Territory"

Hang 'Em High (1968)

dir. Ted Post

Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars. 1964)
Pat Hingle (Batman Forever, 1989)
Ben Johnson (Red Dawn, 1984)
Dennis Hopper (Waterworld, 1995)
Bruce Dern (All the Pretty Horses, 2000)

I got this one in one of those double feature DVD sets they sometimes sells at bookstores or in Target or something. The other movie was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which made me wonder why they hadn't chosen A Fistful of Dollars or, For a Few Dollars More to pair with it instead. I've heard of Hang 'Em High, mostly from a novel I read once about a little girl escaped from a correctional center and that was the only movie she had ever seen (seems like a macabre choice to repeatedly show delinquent kids, but whatever).

"They riddled him with bullets. They strung him up. They left him to die. But they made two fatal mistakes: they hanged the wrong man...and they didn't finish the job."

Sounds cool, right? Well, it is. Sometimes I have a hard time interpreting the endings of these old westerns, probably because the culturally salient themes aren't the same anymore. I think the point was that everybody is hunting for vengeance in one way or another. Our Hero, Jed Cooper, has a tangible scar to prove his point, but his associates, love interest Rachel, and the Judge, are also on a rampage of sorts, trying to figure out how many dead men it takes to heal a scar that no one can see.

Jed Cooper is after nine men who lynched him for a crime he didn't commit. The first one resists arrest and so Jed shoots him in self-defense. Two of them flee the territory. Another one dies in jail. Two more are killed in a shoot out after they tried to finish Jed off, and a third hangs himself before Cooper gets to him. Another is arrested and hanged for murder and cattle rustling. One turns himself in. Because that last guy is repentant, Cooper talks the judge into pardoning him and we are let with the implication that the judge is the worst murderer of the lot. Which I guess is true, in that he sentences men to die. But most of those guys of villains, and someone has to maintain law & order in Oklahoma Territory!

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