Hang 'Em High (1968)

Hang 'Em High (1968), directed by Ted Post.

An ex-lawman, now an unlucky rancher, is mistaken for a cattle thief and murderer by a hasty posse and lynched. A marshal with a prison wagon cuts him down in time and takes him in. After he is cleared of the charges he becomes a marshal himself and tracks down members of the lynch mob, with other official duties sometimes interfering.

Clint Eastwood stars and we have many great familiar faces: Ben Johnson and Bruce Dern are particular favorites. Inger Stevens, last seen in The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) is a love interest with a secret sorrow, making her cool and reserved.

It's curiously dialogue-heavy at times, with discussion about the nature of justice and the law. Much of the photography seems purposefully undramatic, maybe in an attempt to make the story more gritty and real. A downside of so many familiar character actors is that they suggest a made-for-tv effort.

I see commentary describing this as an Americanized spaghetti western. Apart from some stolen Morricone music, I don't think that's true. The tone and content are entirely different. The Italian films don't have the same concern for law or conflicts of conscience, as when Eastwood regrets that the two young brothers are to hang. Where in Leone would you find two people who come together because of their shared pain, desire for revenge, and intuition that revenge will not heal them? Where the themes of mercy and forgiveness, as for Bob Steele's old-timer at the end? And where in this film is the spaghetti tough guy fashion posing and overblown operatic shootout?

Were there really public hanging festivals in the Old West? I'd need to research that.

Available on Blu-ray, a bare-bones disc, $6 at Walmart. The image is occasionally good, but mostly not.