High Plains Drifter
Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter -- only the second movie he ever directed -- makes its second appearance on DVD in an edition altered only slightly from its first, mostly in the form of its design, which was restructured to bring it into line with the 2003 "Universal Western Collection," of which it is now a part, alongside classics such as Winchester '73 and studio-generated filler such as The Redhead From Wyoming. (As few Eastwood fans need be told, High Plains Drifter is much closer in quality to the former than the latter.) The film-to-video transfer is a significant improvement over the old laserdisc edition, which was one of the earlier Universal letterboxed releases. It is sort of essential to see it in this format, as AMC -- where it turns up most frequently -- usually shows the movie full-frame; but even when they show the letterboxed version, they never air the R-rated cut with the uncensored language and violence. The 2.35:1 transfer offers good contrast and brings out such details as a wonderful shot eight and a half-minutes into the movie in which Eastwood's nameless stranger runs across to a trio of thugs at a saloon; his end of the shot is framed by his wide-brimmed hat, which, as he raises his head, reveals the presence of a further set of onlookers, including his soon-to-be-ally Mordecai (Billy Curtis). The detail of the transfer is exquisite, right down to the fabric of the wool blankets that Eastwood's stranger loads into the arms of a downtrodden Native American at the general store. One wishes there was an accompanying narration by Eastwood, but in its place there is a decent production history in the supplements, over a series of easy-to-access onscreen frames. One reason the movie has always looked as strange as it does is that Eastwood specifically chose to shoot it at the other end of California from Hollywood -- at Lake Mono in the California Sierras. He had the entire town, including interiors for all of the buildings, constructed to order from scratch, and shot everything there, adjacent to the lake, which had the helpful quality of changing its appearance and hue with virtually each new shot, adding to the unearthly feel of the action. The movie would probably have been better received by critics if it had not appeared in the wake of Dirty Harry, which had left most middle-of-the-road and liberal journalists and writers aghast, and also despising Eastwood. High Plains Drifter was a success despite mixed reviews, and has since come to be regarded as one of the most influential Westerns of the '70s. The other major supplement on the disc is the original trailer, which emphasizes the movie's violence more than its gallows humor and which has been modified into a mixture of full-screen and letterboxed shots. The menu must be accessed manually -- the disc goes automatically to the movie and startup mode -- and is easy to manipulate, going to a third layer in language selection (French, Spanish), with Spanish subtitles and English captions available. The 16 chapters fit the movie perfectly, covering every major scene.