Hang ‘Em High (1968): Ted Post’s Western, Starring Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Pat Hingle, Ben Johnson

Hang ‘Em High, directed by Ted Post, and written by Leonard Freeman and Mel Goldberg, is the first feature made by Malpaso, Eastwood’s production company.

Grade: B (***1/2* out of *****)

Hang ‘Em High
Hang Em High.jpg

Poster by Sandy Kossin

A revisionist Western, Hang ‘Em High was sort of a cross between the TV series “Rawhide” and the Westerns Eastwood had made for Sergio Leone, which were dubbed by him into English.

Eastwood is well cast as Jed Cooper, an innocent man who survives a lynching; Ed Begley is the leader of the gang that lynched Cooper.

Pat Hingle portrays a fictional figure, based on Judge Isaac Parker, labeled the “Hanging Judge,” due to the many men he sentenced for execution; besides, several federal marshals were killed while serving under him.

The fictional Fort Grant, in Oklahoma circa 1889, is inspired by the factual Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Judge Parker operated.

In the first scene, Cooper is driving a small herd of cattle when a posse, composed of Capt. Wilson, Reno, Miller, Jenkins, Matt Stone, Charlie Blackfoot, Maddow, Tommy, and Loomis accuse him (wrongly) of rustling. Reno takes Cooper’s saddle and wallet, and the men hang him, leaving him for dead.

Federal Marshal Dave Bliss cuts him down while he is still alive, and the territorial judge, Adam Fenton, determines his innocence and sets him free, warning him not to become a vigilante. Fenton then offers Cooper, a former lawman, the badge of a Deputy U.S. Marshal, and he accepts the post.

Cooper finds Reno inside and tries to arrest him, but Reno goes for his gun, forcing Cooper to shoot him dead.  Jenkins turns himself in and provides the names of the rest of the hanging posse. Most of the men Cooper seeks are respected members of the community, but Calhoun honors Cooper’s warrants for their arrest.

Cooper and Calhoun encounter a posse pursuing the perpetrators of another rustling and murder.  Judge Fenton sentences all three rustlers to be hanged, despite Cooper’s defense of the teenagers.

Sheriff Calhoun tries to bribe Cooper into ignoring the rest of the men who lynched him. Cooper accepts the money but makes it clear that while “we are even, money-wise”, he will bring the murderers to justice. Wilson realizes, “All right, now that makes three mistakes we’ve made. The money; we hung an innocent man; and we didn’t finish the job. We can’t undo the first two… but we can still finish the job.”

Cooper survives another shooting and is slowly nursed back to health by Rachel Warren, a shopkeeper with whom he begins an affair. After recovering, he learns that Captain Wilson, Loomis, and Tommy are at Wilson’s ranch, and goes after them.

Cooper slaps his badge down on Judge Fenton’s desk and threatens to quit unless Fenton releases Jenkins, who is seriously ill. Fenton insists that he and his marshals are the only source of justice in the territory, and Cooper agrees to continue as Marshal. Judge Fenton then hands him warrants for Blackfoot and Maddow.

In the last scene, Cooper leaves with the two warrants and his marshal’s badge in hand.

The movie was popular at the box-office, earning close to $7 million against a budget of 1.6 million.

Eastwood benefited from the contract he had signed, which guaranteed him a salary of $400,000 per picture and 25% of the net earnings.


Directed by Ted Post
Produced by Leonard Freeman
Written by Freeman, Mel Goldberg
Music by Dominic Frontiere
Cinematography Richard H. Kline, Leonard J. South
Edited by Gene Fowler, Jr.

Production company: Malpaso Company

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: July 31, 1968

Running time: 114 minutes
Budget $1.6 million
Box office $6.8 million

Clint Eastwood as Marshal Jed Cooper
Inger Stevens as Rachel Warren
Ed Begley as Captain Wilson
Pat Hingle as Judge Adam Fenton
Ben Johnson as Marshal Dave Bliss
Charles McGraw as Sheriff Ray Calhoun
Ruth White as Madame “Peaches” Sophie
Bruce Dern as Miller
Alan Hale, Jr. as Matt Stone
Arlene Golonka as Jennifer
James Westerfield as Prisoner
Dennis Hopper as The Prophet
L. Q. Jones as Loomis
Michael O’Sullivan as Francis Elroy Duffy
Joseph Sirola as Reno
James MacArthur as The Preacher
Bob Steele as Jenkins
Bert Freed as Schmidt