Release Date(s)1973 (October 27, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Achieving superstardom in the Dollars trilogy and the westerns that followed in its wake, as well as his downbeat portrayal of Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood was on the path of a career rebirth after years as a TV star, but mostly foundering on the big screen. In a position to do whatever he wanted, he starred in and directed his first film, Play Misty for Me, following it up with a western unlike many at the time, High Plains Drifter. A revenge tale that clearly wears its influences from Sergio Leone and Don Siegle on its sleeve, it’s also one of the finest westerns of its era, possibly of any. It mixes styles, including traditional western and horror with a mean-spirited and black sense of humor. The lead is a protagonist who is anything but an angelic character, but is riveting because of who is inhabiting the role. Beautifully shot on location, it remains one of Eastwood’s high points within the genre—two decades before his Academy Award winning Unforgiven.
In the middle of nowhere is the town of Lago, home to a small community of people, each with their own principles and agendas. Arriving almost as if out of a mist on horseback is an unknown stranger (Eastwood) who rides into the town and is immediately greeted with the local rabble. Proving his skill as a gunfighter, the people of the town wish to hire him to protect them from the outlaw Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis) and his two cohorts, the Carlin brothers. Recently released from prison, they’re soon on their way to Lago to seek revenge after murdering the town Marshal and being double-crossed by the citizens. The stranger reluctantly agrees, but with the proviso that they give him anything he wants. Receiving everything from cigars to new boots, he then demands that the town paint their buildings red and take up arms against the oncoming bandits. Questioning every move he makes, the townspeople quickly grow tired of him, wondering who he is, where he comes from, and what his true intentions are.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings High Plains Drifter to Blu-ray for a third time utilizing the same, but still quite good, widescreen presentation that was available on both the 2013 and 2018 Blu-ray releases of the film. It’s an excellent transfer, ripe with fine detail and stunning clarity. The 2.35:1 presentation allows for many wide vistas of the unique western location by Mono Lake in California. The color palette is strong as well, particularly when the entire town is painted red in the latter half of the film. Flesh tones and textures are organic and sharp. Blacks are solid with good contrast and grain levels are well-attenuated. It’s also a clean and stable presentation, free of any obvious leftover debris. A fresher scan would have yielded more detail in the image, but the original scan picked up more than enough of it to be satisfactory, despite its age.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks are a little too quiet, but a quick volume adjustment fixes that. Dialogue exchanges are mostly clear, though they could have used a slight volume adjustment. Neither track really allows for much in terms of dynamics or speaker to speaker activity, but everything comes through with relative coherence. The gunfire and explosions are the loudest portions of each soundtrack, with other sounds such as spurs jangling, horse hooves clamping along the ground, and footsteps along wooden floors filling out the rest. Both tracks are clean as well.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Alex Cox
- Lady Vengeance with Mariana Hill (HD – 14:12)
- Hell to Pay with Mitchell Ryan (HD – 8:14)
- The Barber of Lago with William O’Connell (HD – 16:12)
- A Man Named Eastwood (HD – 7:08)
- Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson (HD – 2:33)
- Trailers from Hell with Edgar Wright (HD – 2:32)
- Poster and Image Gallery (HD – 36 in all – 4:02)
- Radio Spot (HD – 0:54)
- TV Spot (HD – 1:01)
- Trailer #1 (HD – 2:31)
- Trailer #2 (HD – 1:25)
- A Fistful of Dollars Trailer (HD – 2:27)
- For a Few Dollars More Trailer (HD – 3:50)
- The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Trailer (HD – 3:23)
- Two Mules for Sister Sara Trailer (HD – 2:36)
- Joe Kidd Trailer (HD – 2:23)
It’s always nice to hear actor, director, and western fan Alex Cox speak, and for this audio commentary, he flies solo, commenting on the film as he watches it and occasionally providing background on the production. He tends to go quiet in between his thoughts, but the overall track is worth a listen for his valuable input. In Lady Vengeance, actress Mariana Hill discusses her background, how she got the part of Callie, working with Eastwood, and her inspiration for her character. In Hell to Pay, actor Mitchell Ryan discusses his feelings about the film, meeting Eastwood for the first time, and working with the actors and the location the film was shot on. In The Barber of Lago, actor William O’Connell talks about his upbringing, becoming a performer, joining a drama school overseas, and eventually making his way to Hollywood and working with Eastwood. A Man Named Eastwood is a vintage studio promo that examines Clint Eastwood’s superstardom and provides behind-the-scenes footage on the film. Both Trailers from Hell commentaries with Edgar Wright and Josh Olson are terrific, although they appear in the menu out of order (the reason why is frivolous, of course, but worthy of note). The Poster and Image Gallery consists of posters, lobby cards, and behind-the-scenes photos. Rounding the extras are trailers for other Clint Eastwood films produced for Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The artwork is a reversible cover with the original US one sheet on one side and the Italian one sheet with the English language title on the other. The initial printing also features a slipcover with the US art.
Kino Lorber’s re-release of High Plains Drifter is a welcome surprise. Adding a bulk of extra content to an already existing high-polished transfer, it’s definitely one long-time western fans will want to pick up and savor.
- Tim Salmons