Hang ’Em High (1968)

hang em high poster 1968 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting moral questions

Not as dynamic as Eastwood's spaghetti westerns

Movie Info

Movie Name: Hang ’Em High

Studio:  Leonard Freeman Production/The Malpaso Company

Genre(s):  Western/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  April 12, 1968 (Italy)/July 31, 1968 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

hang em high lynching clint eastwood

All I wanted was to start a farm

Accused of cattle rustling and lynched without a trial or investigation, Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) survives only to prove he’s innocent…and he’s out to bring the men in.  Deputized by Judge Adam Fenton (Pat Hingle), Marshall Cooper quickly finds that law and order is a gray area and that what he set-out to do for himself makes him question the system entirely.

Directed by Ted Post, Hang ’Em High is a revisionist Western adventure.  The movie was a financial success and received positive reviews.

I’m not always the biggest Westerns person, but I think they are also one of the most visually appealing and distinctive films made when they are done right.  I love Leone’s spaghetti Westerns with Eastwood and this shows a jump from Eastwood to American Westerns.  While this is an American Western, it feels more like a spaghetti Western than something John Wayne would have shot.

hang em high clint eastwood bruce dern

You’ll never bring me in (unless you do)

The story is considered revisionist because it is a harder look at the West.  Many of the classic American Westerns are cut and dry…good is good and bad is bad.  Hanging a man who is guilty is a justifiable punishment.  In this movie, these are all questioned.  Having both been a victim of Western justice and purveyor of Western justice puts Eastwood’s character in a strange limbo that has him trying to figure out what he believes.  Unfortunately, the movie kind of stumbles and slogs at points while Eastwood forges his beliefs.  Also, since the Western is more realistic, the hope for a big final showdown are kind of dashed before you even get there.

Eastwood is the driving force in the picture must like in the Man with No Name Trilogy.  He stares and judges with his eyes through most of the film.  It isn’t necessarily a stretch for him, but he does it well.  Pat Hingle’s judge is a mock-up of Judge Isaac Parker (October 15, 1838-November 17, 1896) who was known as a hanging judge in Arkansas.  Hinkle’s character is both trying to create justice in a void of justice, but also is blind justice when justice might need to be tempered.  The film has a nice supporting cast which includes Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Ben Johnson, Bruce Dern, Alan Hale Jr. Joseph Sirola, and Dennis Hopper.

hang em high mass hanging

Any more civilized than a lynching?

The movie isn’t quite as dynamic as Eastwood’s earlier Westerns.  Leone had a real style to his work and it almost feels like it is intentionally distant from it.  The land is sweeping and nice, but it feels smaller and more intimate like the Westerns in movies and TV that were on at the time of this film’s release.

Hang ’Em High shows a change in American Westerns, and a different approach to the history of the time.  It feels a little more balanced, a little more real, and little less “cowboys are great”.  The people living in the territories faced lots of challenges and moral questions that people living in states didn’t face…and it was the reason some of them moved there.  Hang ’Em High has a bunch of people caught up in this moral ambiguity and trying to manage their way through them…some are successful and some are not.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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