Monday, September 5, 2011

High Plains Drifter drifts into Cowboys & Aliens

Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter has always been something of a town without pity set in the Wild West, depicting the ghostly return of a murdered marshal in the form of a nameless drifter, who shoots the three men the town has hired to protect themselves from other violent men they had hired in the past, but could not keep tame.
Each hired gun proves as bad or worse than that previous ones, but part of the reason the town hates the first batch is because those three committed the unspeakable act of murdering the marshal – while the whole town looked on, murdered him on behalf of a town that was dependent on the local gold mine for survival.
The marshal learned that the mine was on government land and the citizens hired three gun men to kill him to keep him quiet, but the gun men took over the town after the murder, so the citizens, when the gun men got drunk, clapped them in irons and framed them for a theft they didn’t commit, sending them off to prison, the three vowing vengeance when they got out.
A few weeks before the gun men were due to get out of jail, the town hires three more killers to protect them, but before the first three arrive back, the drifter arrives, and kills these three after they provoke him. Desperate for protection, the town fathers hire the drifter with the provision that he can take anything he wants as payment – and he does, forcing the town to replace the sheriff with the dwarf they mocked prior to the drifter’s arrival, as well as many other liberties, including sex with the inn keeper’s wife. He professes to teach the locals to fight for themselves, but they are hapless, and in his preparations, he creates a welcome home party in the street complete with booze and food, and tables made from the inn keeper’s barn. He also has the town’s people paint every building red, and paints the city sign at the entrance to the town with the inscription of “Welcome to hell.”
While it is difficult to tell whether the drifter is a ghost or a devil, or merely an arch angel sent to avenge the murder of the marshal, but in Cowboys & Aliens, Jake serves a similar role – even if he is less ruthless in some ways, and manages not to paint the town red, merely helping with the aid of the aliens to set it ablaze just as the drifter did in the Clint Eastwood movie.
Jake is just as violent at the drifter, a fact we get almost immediately when group of riders comes upon him in the wilderness, and in a scene similar to the one in the Eastwood movie, he dispatches them.
While nobody knows who the drifter is in the Eastwood movie, everybody except Jake pretty much knows who he is.
The town in Cowboys gave up on mining and became dependent on a local rancher, something the rancher’s son takes full advantage of -- that is until Jake arrives, and then the aliens. But Jake – like the drifter – has come back with a purpose, which is in the preacher’s words “to set things right,” and like the avenging angel in High Plains Drifter, must move on after he has. Fortunately, Cowboys has a much more positive feeling, Jake – as violent as he is – does not take the same liberties the drifter does in the earlier movie. He is too busy with his mission and his ache to rediscover the past – his own past. Like the earlier movie, Cowboys gives us pieces of the earlier picture slowly, so that we only know what truly inspired the events just prior to the final showdown.

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