Hang 'Em High

Hang 'Em High is a 1968 American DeLuxe Color revisionist Western film directed by Ted Post and written by Leonard Freeman and Mel Goldberg. 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 Cooper; and Pat Hingle as the judge who hires him as a U.S. Marshal.

Hang 'Em High
Film poster by Sandy Kossin
Directed byTed Post
Produced byLeonard Freeman
Written byLeonard Freeman
Mel Goldberg
StarringClint Eastwood
Inger Stevens
Ed Begley
Pat Hingle
Music byDominic Frontiere
CinematographyRichard H. Kline
Leonard J. South
Edited byGene Fowler, Jr.
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 3, 1968 (1968-08-03)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.6 million[1][2]
Box office$6.8 million[3][4]

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

Hingle portrays a fictional judge who mirrors Judge Isaac Parker, labeled the "Hanging Judge" due to the large number of men he sentenced to be executed during his service as District Judge of the Western District of Arkansas.

The film also depicts the dangers of serving as a U.S. marshal during that period, as many federal 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.


In Oklahoma Territory in 1889, Jed Cooper drives a small herd of cattle across a stream. A posse of nine men - Captain Wilson, Reno, Miller, Jenkins, Stone, Maddow, Tommy, Loomis and Charlie Blackfoot - surround him and he shows them a receipt for the cattle. After learning that the man he bought them from was a rustler who killed the herd's owner, 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.

Shortly afterward, Federal Marshal Dave Bliss sees Cooper, cuts him down before he dies, then takes him to Fort Grant, where the territorial judge, Adam Fenton, determines that Cooper is innocent, sets him free, and warns hims not to become a vigilante. As an alternative, Fenton offers Cooper a job as a marshal. Cooper accepts, and Fenton warns him not to kill the men who lynched him, but to bring them in for trial.

While picking up a prisoner, 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 draws his gun, forcing Cooper to kill him. Jenkins, learning of Reno's death at the hands of a marshal with a hanging scar, turns himself in and provides the names of the rest of the posse. Cooper finds Stone in another town, arrests him, and has the local sheriff, Ray Calhoun, 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 arresting the men, Cooper and Calhoun encounter the survivors of a new rustling/murder. Cooper pursues these rustlers with a posse, and discovers that the rustlers are Miller and two teenage brothers, Ben and Billy Joe. He refuses to let the posse lynch the three rustlers, then takes them to Fort Grant single-handedly. On the way, Ben and Billy Joe insist that Miller was the murderer. Miller attacks Cooper, but Cooper 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, Calhoun arrives at Fort Grant and pays Cooper for his cattle with money given by Captain Wilson and the others in Cooper's lynching party. Cooper makes it clear that while they are alive he still intends to arrest them. With the bribe rejected, Blackfoot and Maddow flee, while Tommy and Loomis remain loyal to Wilson, who has decided to kill Cooper.

During the six-man hanging, Wilson, Loomis, and Tommy ambush Cooper in a saloon in Fort Grant, seriously wounding him. Cooper survives and is slowly nursed back to health by Rachel Warren. The two of them fall in love and begin an affair. Cooper tries to quit, but Judge Fenton goads him into continuing, telling him that Wilson and his remaining posse members are holed up at his ranch.

At Wilson's ranch, Marshal Cooper kills Tommy and Loomis, and Wilson hangs himself before Cooper can reach him. After returning to Fort Grant, Cooper demands that Fenton release old man Jenkins, who is both contrite and seriously ill, once again threatening to quit. In his second debate with Cooper about justice, Fenton insists that he is doing as well as he can, cursing the fact his is the only court in the territory and he the only judge; and that the best way for Cooper to promote justice is to help Oklahoma become a state by serving as a marshal. Cooper agrees to continue in exchange for Jenkins's release, which Fenton agrees to. Judge Fenton then gives Cooper fresh warrants for Blackfoot and Maddow, telling him, "The law still wants 'em."



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 believable if set in a saloon. They eventually agreed to introduce a scene with Cooper taking a prostitute upstairs during the hanging, and having the attack take 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 Eastwood's long-desired new production company, The Malpaso Company, named after Malpaso Creek, which flows through property Eastwood formerly owned in Monterey County, California.[7][8] Leonard became the company's president and arranged for Hang 'Em High to be a joint production with United Artists.[8] 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, whom Eastwood had urged away.[9] 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.[9]


Co-producer Leonard Freeman arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on May 25, 1967, to scout locations. That same day, Freeman located the tree to be used for the hanging in the opening scene, about 12 miles north of Las Cruces.[10] Filming began June 27, 1967, in the Las Cruces area, with additional scenes shot at White Sands.[9][10] The interiors were shot at MGM studios.[1][11] The opening lynching scene was filmed June 29, 1967, next to the Rio Grande.[1][10] The tree used for the hanging is no longer standing and the riverbed is now overgrown with thick brush.[10] Eastwood had considerable leeway in the production, especially in the script, which was altered in parts such as the dialogue and setting of the barroom scene to his liking.[12] 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.[13] Unfortunately, no such shot appears in the film.


The film became a major success after release in August 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.[14] It debuted at number five on Variety's weekly survey of top films and had recouped production expenses within two weeks of screening.[14] 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."[12] 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."[15]

As of February 2016, Hang 'Em High has a 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[16]

See also


  1. Hughes, p.18
  2. Munn, p. 69
  3. "Hang 'em High (1968) Theatrical Performance". the-numbers.com. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  4. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  5. McGillagan (1999), p.159
  6. McGillagan (1999), p.160-1
  7. "Rancho Cañada Village" (PDF). Carmel Pine Cone. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  8. McGillagan (1999), p.162
  9. McGillagan (1999), p.163
  10. Thomas, David G. (2015). Screen With A Voice - A History of Moving Pictures in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Doc45 Publications. pp. 126–127. ASIN B018CYWZ4O.
  11. Toole, Michael T. "Hang 'Em High". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  12. McGillagan (1999), p.164
  13. Dern, Bruce (2007). Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have: An Unrepentant Memoir. New York: Wiley. p. 74. ISBN 0470106379. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  14. McGillagan (1999), p.165
  15. Hughes, p.19
  16. "Hang 'Em High (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 20, 2017.


  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-902-7.
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Perseus Books Group. ISBN 978-0-7867-0843-7.
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-86051-790-X.
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