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Hang 'Em High

Hang 'Em High
Film poster by Sandy Kossin
Directed by Ted Post
Produced by Leonard Freeman
Written by Leonard Freeman
Mel Goldberg
Starring Clint Eastwood
Inger Stevens
Ed Begley
Pat Hingle
Music by Dominic Frontiere
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Leonard J. South
Edited by Gene Fowler, Jr.
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • August 3, 1968 (1968-08-03)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.6 million[1][2]
Box office $6,800,000[3][4]

Hang 'Em High is a 1968 American Revisionist Western film directed by Ted Post and produced and co-written by Leonard Freeman. It stars Clint Eastwood as Jed Cooper, an innocent man who survives a lynching; Inger Stevens as a widow who helps him; Ed Begley as the leader of the gang that lynched him; and Pat Hingle as the judge who hires Jed as a U.S. Marshal.

Hang 'Em High was the first production of the Malpaso Company, Eastwood's production company.

Hingle portrays a fictional judge who mirrors the true-life Judge Isaac Parker, who was labeled the "Hanging Judge"...due to the large number of men he had executed during his service as District Judge.

The film also depicts the dangers of serving as a U.S. Marshal or deputy during that period, as many marshals were killed while serving under Parker. The fictional Fort Grant, base for operations for that District Judge seat, is also a mirror of the factual Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Judge Parker's court was located.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Filming 3.1
  • Reception 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


The story is set in Oklahoma Territory in 1889. It opens with Jed Cooper driving a small herd of cattle across a stream. When the men in a posse ( Capt. Wilson (Ed Begley), Reno (Joseph Sirola), Miller (Bruce Dern), Jenkins (Bob Steele), Matt Stone (Alan Hale, Jr.), Charlie Blackfoot (Ned Romero), Maddow (Russell Thorson), Tommy (Jonathan Lippe) and Loomis (L. Q. Jones)) surround him and accuse him of rustling the herd, he shows them a receipt for the cattle, but the man he bought them from was a rustler who killed the herd's owners. Cooper explains that he knew nothing about the murder, but only Jenkins expresses doubts about his guilt. After Reno takes Cooper's saddle and Miller takes his wallet, the men hang him from a tree and ride away, leaving him for dead.

Federal Marshal Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) sees Cooper and cuts him down while he is still alive. Bliss puts him in irons and takes him to Fort Grant, where the territorial judge, Adam Fenton (Pat Hingle), determines that Cooper is innocent, sets him free and warns him not to become a vigilante. He then shows Cooper the man who is responsible for the crime he was accused of. The man, McCloud, is hanged for murder and rustling as Judge Fenton and Cooper watch. As an alternative to vigilantism, Fenton offers Cooper, a former lawman, the badge of a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Cooper accepts the post, and Fenton warns him not to kill the men who lynched him.

During his first assignment as a marshal, Cooper sees his saddle on a horse in front of a small-town saloon. He finds Reno inside and tries to arrest him, but Reno goes for his gun, forcing Cooper to shoot him dead. When word of this becomes public, Jenkins turns himself in and provides the names of the rest of the hanging posse. Cooper finds Stone, a blacksmith, in the town of Red Creek, arrests him, and has the local sheriff, Ray Calhoun (Charles McGraw), put him in jail. Most of the men Cooper seeks are respected members of the community, but Calhoun honors Cooper's warrants for their arrest.

On their way to Wilson's ranch to make the arrests, Cooper and Calhoun encounter an impromptu posse pursuing the perpetrators of another rustling and murder. Cooper and this posse catch the rustlers, who turn out to be Miller and two teenage brothers, Ben (Richard Gates) and Billy Joe (Bruce Scott). Cooper takes them to Fort Grant single-handedly after refusing to let the posse lynch them. On the way, Ben and Billy Joe insist that Miller was the murderer. Miller catches Cooper off guard and attacks him, but Cooper overpowers and subdues him while the brothers watch.

Fenton sentences all three rustlers to be hanged, despite Cooper's defense of the teenagers. Fenton insists that the public will resort to lynching if they see rustlers going unpunished, threatening Oklahoma's bid for statehood. Some time later, Sheriff Calhoun arrives at Fort Grant and pays Cooper for his cattle. He is trying 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 attempted murderers to justice. Wilson realizes that "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." Blackfoot and Maddow flee, but Loomis and Tommy remain loyal to Wilson, who has decided to kill Cooper.

At Fort Grant, Wilson, Loomis and Tommy ambush Cooper while most of the town has gathered to watch the hanging of Miller, Ben, Billy Joe and three other men. Cooper survives the shooting and is slowly nursed back to health by Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens), a shopkeeper with whom he begins a relationship. On a picnic together, Cooper and Rachel unexpectedly become lovers. When Marshal Cooper is healthy enough to return to duty, he learns Captain Wilson, Loomis and Tommy are holed up at Wilson's ranch, and goes after them.

Sneaking up on the ranch house, Cooper is attacked by a German Shepherd guard dog that is accidentally killed by Tommy. He kills Loomis, who had come out after him with a knife, and then Tommy. Captain Wilson attempts to shoot Cooper as he crosses open ground to the house, but on hearing Cooper break in, Wilson hangs himself. On his return to Fort Grant, Cooper threatens to quit unless Fenton releases Jenkins, who is both contrite and seriously ill. Fenton insists that justice must be served, but agrees to pardon Jenkins. After listening to a memorable outburst from the judge in which Fenton curses the fact that he and his marshals are the only source of judgment and justice in the Territory –

"You think I judged him too harshly? Used him for kindling my fire of justice? Well, maybe that's inevitable when there's only one man, one court, with the power of final justice over a territory that's five times the size of most states. Mistakes? Oh, I've made 'em, Cooper. Don't you doubt about that. Don't you doubt, either, there are times sitting up there in that judgement seat when I have wished, I have prayed, that there was someone standing between me and God Almighty - someone with the power to say, "You're wrong, Fenton. You've made an error in law – this man deserves another trial; this man here a reprieve; and this man is innocent!" But until this territory becomes a state, with a governor, and a state court of appeals, I am the law here - ALL the law. If you don't like that, you can cuss me till hell freezes over ... or you can join me, Cooper; even fight me. Help me turn this godforsaken territory into a state where no one man calls himself the law!"

– Cooper agrees to continue as a marshal. Judge Fenton then hands him fresh warrants for Blackfoot and Maddow, telling him, "The law still wants them."



Eastwood spent much of late 1966 and 1967 dubbing for the English language version of the Dollars Trilogy and being interviewed, something which left him feeling angry and frustrated.[5] Stardom brought more roles in the "tough guy" mold and Irving Leonard, his business manager, gave him a script to a new film, the American revisionist western Hang 'Em High, a cross between Rawhide and Leone's westerns, written by Mel Goldberg and produced by Leonard Freeman.[5] However, the William Morris Agency had wanted him to star in a bigger picture, Mackenna's Gold, with a cast of notable actors such as Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif and Telly Savalas. Eastwood, however, did not approve and preferred the script for Hang 'Em High, but had one complaint which he voiced to the producers: the scene before the six-man hanging, where the hero is attacked by the enemies. Eastwood believed that the scene would not be suitable in a saloon and they eventually agreed to introduce a prostitute scene in which the attack takes place afterwards as Eastwood enters the bordello's bar.[6] Eastwood signed for the film with a salary of $400,000 and 25% of the net earnings to the film, playing the character of Jed Cooper, a man accused by vigilantes of a rancher's murder, lynched and left for dead, who later seeks revenge.[1][2][6]

With the wealth generated by the Dollars Trilogy, Leonard helped set up a new production company for Eastwood, Malpaso Productions, something he had long yearned for and was named after a river on Eastwood's property in Monterey County.[7] Leonard became the company's president and arranged for Hang 'Em High to be a joint production with United Artists.[7] Directors Robert Aldrich and John Sturges were considered for the director's helm, but on the request of Eastwood, old friend Ted Post was brought in to direct, against the wishes of producer Leonard Freeman, who Eastwood had urged away.[8] Post was important in casting for the film and arranged for Inger Stevens of The Farmer's Daughter fame to play the role of Rachel Warren. She had not heard of Eastwood or Sergio Leone at the time but instantly took a liking to Clint and accepted.[8]


Filming began in June 1967 in the Las Cruces area of New Mexico[8] with additional scenes shot at White Sands. The interiors were shot at MGM studios.[1][9] The opening lynching scene was filmed next to the Rio Grande.[1] Eastwood had considerable leeway in the production, especially in the script which was altered in parts such as the dialogue and setting of the bar room scene to his liking.[10] Actor Bruce Dern has credited co-star Ben Johnson with accomplishing "the greatest single stunt ever performed in the history of movies", by riding full-tilt toward the hanging Eastwood while pulling out his knife, cutting the noose, dismounting and catching Eastwood as he fell, all in a single take with no cut.[11] Unfortunately, no such shot appears in the film.


The film became a major success after release in July 1968, and with an opening day revenue of $5,241 in Baltimore alone, it became the biggest United Artists opening in history, exceeding all of the James Bond films at that time.[12] It debuted at number five on Variety‍ '​s weekly survey of top films and had made its money back within two weeks of screening.[12] It eventually grossed $6.8 million in the U.S..[3] It was widely praised by critics, including Arthur Winsten of the New York Post, who described Hang 'Em High as "a Western of quality, courage, danger and excitement."[10] Variety gave the film a negative review, calling it "a poor American-made imitation of a poor Italian-made imitation of an American-made western."[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Hughes, p.18
  2. ^ a b Munn, p. 69
  3. ^ a b "Hang 'Em High, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 23, 2012. 
  4. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  5. ^ a b McGillagan (1999), p.159
  6. ^ a b McGillagan (1999), p.160-1
  7. ^ a b McGillagan (1999), p.162
  8. ^ a b c McGillagan (1999), p.163
  9. ^ Turner Classic Movies
  10. ^ a b McGillagan (1999), p.164
  11. ^ Dern, Bruce (2007). Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have: An Unrepentant Memoir. New York: Wiley. p. 74.  
  12. ^ a b McGillagan (1999), p.165
  13. ^ Hughes, p.19


  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London:  
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Perseus Books Group.  
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books.  

External links

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