High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray)

October 24, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

By the time High Plains Drifter arrived in theaters in 1973, Clint Eastwood was more than an established actor, but also no stranger to westerns. He had done a fair share of them, many followed the familiar trend of “The man with no name”. In High Plains Drifter he is known only as “The Stranger”, we never learn his real name in the film. The story is very basic, but it works in its favor. A stranger (Clint Eastwood) arrives in the small town of Lago. He appears to simply be passing through, but after he takes out three of the town’s crooks who are taunting him, he is hired by the town to protect them. Not everyone is happy to have him around, he sets his own rules and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. The film doesn’t try to make us like the stranger. Within the first 15 minutes we see him rape a local town woman in a stable. Sure, she insults him and badgers him, but his actions are more than a little extreme. Action loving fans will find plenty of that here. There are bloody shootouts, explosions and several chases throughout the film. The film tells a simple story and moves by at a brisk pace. Not only does Eastwood star in the film, but he takes over directing duties here. The tone here is darker than most westerns, but also has a comical side. There is a town dwarf who the stranger appoints as the new sheriff when he becomes head of the town. The stranger doesn’t talk much in this film, but when he does it makes a lasting impact, some of his lines are witty too. He tells a local woman to come back in 15 minutes and he’ll be “Ready” then. Eastwood plays this scene perfectly, offering just enough of a smirk to make the joke work.

While maybe not as popular as some of his other westerns, High Plains Drifter still offers a good time. When you hear people say “They don’t make them like they use to”, the western genre is one fine example. For a film over 40 years old, it holds up surprisingly well. Taking place in the old west also keeps the film from aging. It is very much a product of its time. The film doesn’t break any new ground, but it fits in nicely with Eastwood’s other westerns. We all know he did his fair share of them before his Dirty Harry films. I also enjoyed the simplicity of not only the story, but the film’s setting. The small town of Lago has fine details in background shots and the local bar and saloon. I always enjoy noticing little details in these films and comparing them to the modern world. This was a time when things were man-made and made to last. You can see the lamp oil in some of the light fixtures as well as old mason jars sitting on the shelf. There is a lot of attention to detail here. This is one of my favorite westerns and it’s nice to see it finally arrive in HD. Do yourself a favor and pick this disc up, you won’t be disappointed. For those who have already seen it, what are you waiting for?

Video: How’s it look?

Universal has done a fine job with this new transfer. We have an AVC encoded 2.35:1 transfer and it looks remarkably detailed and nice. The print used here is from original 35 MM film elements. I was surprised (and pleased) to not notice any traces of grain here. This is certainly a film made for the wide-screen format. Detail is consistent throughout and facial details are also strong. Many of the characters have stubble and grit on their faces and that shows up nicely here. There are some deep reds shown on some of the town buildings and roofs. There are several night scenes here as well as day scenes and they’re repeated here very nicely. Black levels are deep and solid. The print used is free of specks and debris, this is a great transfer from universal, especially for a film this old.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS 5.1 HD track also fares nicely. It shows a great deal of depth and range as all channels get a lot of usage here. Clarity is strong and vocals come out nicely. The front channels do get a bit more usage, but there’s also plenty of gunfire here as well. Background noise comes across strong in several of the scenes with the townsfolk. You can hear bottles being shattered, bullets blazing, the climax especially makes good use of the rear channels. I don’t have any complaints with this track. This is a worthy effort. Since I don’t have the original DVD, I can’t compare it to that, but the specs here are very pleasing.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sadly there’s nothing here other than the films trailer. It is fine to see that, especially in its raw form, but that’s not enough. I can’t believe Universal couldn’t dig up something for the film’s 40thanniversary. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to shed some light on the project. We do get a UV digital copy insert though.

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