When Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with Play Misty for Me (1971), he caught everyone off guard. The film’s critical and box office success also added a new facet to his career in addition to being an A-List movie star. For his follow-up in the director’s chair (following a starring turn as Joe Kidd for director John Sturges), he returned to the Western genre – where he achieved his breakthrough as an actor – with High Plains Drifter. Released on DVD and Blu-ray by Universal, Kino – who had licensed the film for a 2020 Blu-ray release – has given the movie its UHD Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4.5/5
Out of the desert haze rides a mysterious stranger dressed in black (Clint Eastwood) into the isolated lakeside mining town of Lago. After promptly gunning down the three “town security” gunslingers, the town officials offer the Stranger anything he wants in exchange for protecting the town from outlaws Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis) and the Carlin Brothers (Anthony James & Dan Vadis); they’re the trio also responsible for brutally bullwhipping Marshal Jim Duncan to death while the townspeople watched in silence. However, the town’s officials – as it’s gradually revealed – were complicit in Duncan’s death due to the illicit gold mine on government land and for betraying Bridges and the Carlins. Now, The Stranger has the citizens of Lago prepare a hellish “welcome home party” for the outlaws; by the end of the fateful day, those still alive will never forget the day the Stranger rode into town…
As a return to his Western roots, High Plains Drifter proved that Clint Eastwood’s initial success as a director was not a flash in the pan. Following the lead of his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood imbues Ernest Tidyman’s story with a great sense of action, visual atmosphere and even a dose of black humor mixed for good measure; as a further – and wry – nod to his mentors, two of the tombstones in the Lago cemetery bear the names of Leone and Siegel in the final scene of the movie. The film also takes advantage of the location shooting in the Mono Lake area of California; this is where the contributions of cinematographer Bruce Surtees – a longtime collaborator of Eastwood’s – and production designer Henry Bumstead (another frequent Eastwood collaborator right up to his death in 2006) really come into play here in contributing to the eerie atmosphere. To top it all off, Eastwood the director maintains a steady and assured pace while getting solid contributions from his supporting players. Overall, High Plains Drifter combines elements from the American and Spaghetti Western while also imbuing it with a dose of the supernatural and black humor to create a uniquely singular movie in the wake of the genre’s revitalization; the movie also cemented Eastwood’s status as both an actor and filmmaker of the highest order and set the tone for later films.
Clint Eastwood brings a darker and sardonic side to the “Man with No Name” persona that made him famous, but it’s his co-stars who also get a chance to shine here. Having already appeared in the western genre with Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand (1971), Verna Bloom acquits herself well as the innkeeper’s wife who is one of the few people in Lago who have a moral compass; better known today for appearing in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), she would reunite with Eastwood on Honkytonk Man (1982). Better known today as Deanna Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974), Marianna Hill has one of her best roles here as the troublemaking Callie, who tries – and fails often – to have the Stranger killed; Billy Curtis has likely the best role of his career here as Mordecai, who becomes Lago’s sheriff and mayor as part of the Stranger’s conditions of helping the people of the town. In the first of what would seven collaborations with Eastwood, Geoffrey Lewis memorably casts an impression as the villainous Stacey Bridges while Ted Hartley also has a memorable part as the town’s innkeeper who’s also part of the conspiracy in the death of Marshal Jim Duncan. Rounding out the cast here are Anthony James and Dan Vadis as the Carlin Brothers, Stefan Gierasch as the town’s mayor and general store owner, Mitchell Ryan as the mining executive Drake, Jack Ging as Morgan Allen, Walter Barnes as Lago’s easy going sheriff, John Hillerman as a bootmaker, Robert Donner as the preacher, John Quade (later better known as Cholla, the leader of the Black Widows gang in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can) as the freight wagon operator, William O’Connell as the town barber and Buddy Van Horn – the longtime Eastwood stunt double who would become a director in his own right – as the ill-fated Marshal Duncan.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master created from a 4K scan of the original camera negative; this release also includes a Blu-ray disc which presents the film in SDR as well. Film grain, color palette – including the deep blacks in the night scenes that cinematographer Bruce Surtees was known for (hence his nickname, the “Prince of Darkness”) – and fine details appear to be faithfully presented with minimal cases of scratches, tears and dirt present. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video.
There are two options on this release on both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs: a lossless 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a surround 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue, sound mix and Dee Barton’s eerie music score are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion, fluttering, popping, crackling, clicking and hissing present on both tracks; the only caveat here is that the original mono sound mix is not present on this release and the 2.0 track is a down mix of the OG mono. Despite that caveat, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and surpasses all previous releases.
Special Features: 5/5
On both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray Discs
Commentary by film historians Steve Mitchell & Nathaniel Thompson – Newly recorded for this release, Mitchell and Thompson go into detail on some notes on the film’s production and its cast and crew in their usual informative and jovial manner.
Commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox – Carried over from Kino’s 2020 Blu-ray release, Cox talks about some of the influences that Spaghetti Westerns (both Eastwood’s and others) had on this movie.
Blu-ray disc only
Lady Vengeance (14:12) – Marianna Hill – who portrayed Callie – recalls her career and memories of working with Clint Eastwood in this archival interview from 2020.
Hell to Pay (8:14) – Mitchell Ryan recalls his memories of the movie and his career in this archival interview from 2020.
The Barber of Lago (16:12) – William O’Connell, who plays the town barber, talks about how he got started in acting, his time working on the movie and memories of working with Clint Eastwood in this 2020 interview.
A Man Named Eastwood (7:08) – Vintage promotional featurette from 1973.
Trailers from Hell with Edgar Wright (2:32) & Josh Olson (2:33)
Poster & Image Gallery (4:02) – Images of poster art and production stills are presented with a selection from Dee Barton’s score.
Theatrical Trailer #1 (2:31)
Theatrical Trailer #2 (1:25)
TV Spot (1:01)
Radio Spot (0:54)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Two Mules for Sister Sara & Joe Kidd
Successful with both critics and audiences upon first release, High Plains Drifter remains a signature film in the career of Clint Eastwood as both actor and director. Kino has likely delivered the definitive home video release of the movie, with a superb HD transfer and carrying over all the legacy special features from the previous Kino Blu-ray release while adding a brand new commentary track here. Very highly recommended.
Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.
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