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New Movies: Hang ‘Em High

2 minute read

“Are the seeds of violence nurtured through the screens of neighborhood theaters?” So asked President Johnson in his statement to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.

Good question. In Hang ‘Em High, the year’s grisliest movie so far, those seeds are tended until they burst into bloody bloom. Fresh from his success in a long series of Italian oaters, Clint Eastwood plays a leathery loner out to clean up a dirty territory. An unauthorized posse mistakes Eastwood for a murderer and decides that he is nooseworthy, but a kindly marshal helps him escape. Clint spends the rest of the picture ricocheting off some loquacious character actors, getting leaky with bullet holes, and running the lynch mob to earth. Along the way, the necrophilic camera lingers lovingly over the dead and dying.

Most of the movie’s minor parts are played by experts, notably Pat Hingle as a sanctimonious judge who orders multiple executions, Ed Begley as a frightened outlaw, and Michael O’Sullivan as a hysterical, doomed criminal. But neither the performances nor the gundown-at-sundown story coalesce into more than a sanguinary celebration of vigilante justice. With some evocative photography and a touch of gallows humor, Director Ted Post tries to make Hang ‘Em High stylish and spirited enough to swing. It swings all right—like a body at the end of a rope.

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