Cattleman Clint Eastwood is wrongly accused of murder and gets strung up by a bloodthirsty lynch mob. After the posse ride away, Eastwood’s neck is literally saved by Good Samaritan Ben Johnson. When he’s brought into town, the hanging judge (Pat Hingle) exonerates Clint (who now wears a scarf to hide the huge scar on his neck) and deputizes him to bring in the men who tried to hang him. While initially Clint just uses his badge to get revenge, he eventually decides to let the law handle things. Clint quickly changes his mind though when the posse shoots him in the back. After Clint gets nursed back to health by a pretty prostitute (he’s pretty much indestructible in this flick), he goes back out for vengeance.
Although the opening scene greatly resembles the look and feel of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, things settle down after awhile and Hang ‘Em High ends up becoming more or less your basic routine oater. Ted (Magnum Force) Post directs the flick in his usual workmanlike style and has a tendency to let the tension lapse every other reel. (The flick runs a good twenty minutes longer than it probably should have.) However, since the core of the story is revenge, and I’m a sucker for a good revenge movie (as well as a good Clint picture) I easily forgave the flick for its various shortcomings and was able to concentrate on the good stuff.
What really keeps you watching is the cast of familiar faces. Clint gives another top notch performance here and I particularly liked the fact that his throat injury gave him a good excuse to use his gravelly voice. Hingle was also first-rate and Johnson makes a memorable impression with his brief but crucial role. The supporting cast is rife with cool villains like Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, L.Q. Jones and Alan (SKIPPER!) Hale, who all stand out nicely.
Eastwood gets the best line of the flick when he says, “When you hang a man you better look at him!”