MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

MOVIES

After 12 grisly killings, where do kiddies go for their kicks?

Jeannine Locke December 1 1968
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

MOVIES

After 12 grisly killings, where do kiddies go for their kicks?

Jeannine Locke December 1 1968

MOVIES

MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

After 12 grisly killings, where do kiddies go for their kicks?

Jeannine Locke

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for the de Sades among us is the movie Hang ’Em High, a big - screen western in color, starring Clint Eastwood. It does not kid around. In the opening scene our hero, mistaken for a rustler by seven cowhands and their boss, is punched and kicked until one side of his face is raw and oozing blood, then he's hanged from a tree and left for dead. His livid face fills the big screen. Then, while the credits roll, the cameras focus on his jerking boots. Not a second is wasted in the opening 13 minutes of Hang ’Em High.

Our hero, of course, survives; he’s saved for 104 more minutes of explicit brutality. A marshal arrives in time to cut him down and toss him into a horse-drawn paddy wagon that’s bound for the nearest gallows. Presiding over the gallows is a sick judge; he’s opposed to lynching parties, it’s made plain, because they reduce the number of public hangings, for which he has the franchise in the new territory of Oklahoma. That produces a conflict of interest between him and our hero. Jed, who wants to revenge his scarred neck by shooting up those eight men. They compromise. Jed is made a marshal on condition that, he bring back his prey to the judge’s gallows. Their collaboration results in a mass hanging — six males, including a pair of teenagers. go to the gallows — and on the side there are shootings, a stabbing, a suicide and an attempted garrotte. Hang ’Em High, in short, offers something for everyone.

For the hero himself there is a kinky blonde — Inger Stevens, who maintains a decently stunned manner throughout. She's been raped by her husband’s murderers and now it is her pleasure, which the judge indulges, to check every fresh batch of prisoners. She’s really looking for ghosts, Jed tells her. In her case, love cures all, though it doesn’t distract our hero. At The End. he’s still riding off with arrest warrants. Two of those eight men have eluded him. As for the judge. Jed wonders: “How many more

men will you have to hang to heal

your scars?”

Twelve men. sweating and writhing, have died on camera. In true documentary style, the movie hasn't missed a grisly detail. When the black masks go on at the public hanging, a father in the crowd lifts his child to his shoulders for an unobstructed view — an expedient which of course is unnecessary in the comfort of a modern, wide-screen movie theatre. One of the teenage victims murmurs, “ ’Bye.” to his brother at the next noose; then we see his shoes flopping off.

Hang ’Em High is an obscene movie, the only purpose of which is to excite the most sickly emotions in the viewer. But because it’s preoccupied with brutality. not sex, it’s available at your friendly neighborhood theatre as family entertainment.

The Odeon theatre in Don Mills, Ont., offered Hang ’Em High as its children’s matinee on Saturday, October 19. It was shown over the protests of a dozen local parents, who picketed the theatre. Their organizer, John Twomey, had seen an excerpt from Hang 'Em High the previous week, when he took a party of six-toeight-year-olds, including his own son, to see Tom Thumb. The trailer for Hang ’Em High showed the opening scene, which horrified Twomey. As a former CBC producer of children’s programs, he understood the power of film over young children. He protested the matter to the theatre manager but got nowhere. The manager blithely insisted he had no control over what was shown.

The general manager of the Odeon chain, Frank H. Fisher, would take no responsibility either. He pointed out to me that the theatre was within the law to show Hang ’Em High at a Saturday matinee. Ontario’s film censors had labeled it “adult” but not “Restricted” (to people 18 years or older). “With the censor’s rating for guidance, it’s up to the parents to do the rating for their own children," according to Fisher.

The following Saturday, when I saw Hang 'Em High at the Don Mills Odeon, it started at 5.30, right after the children’s matinee, which that day was Thunderbirds Are Go, an innocuous-enough space-age adventure. Not surprisingly, a lot of kids stuck around after 5.30. The two boys in the seats next to mine weren’t a day over nine. Most of the audience was early teenaged. The kids giggled at the

old judge — he was a strange one — and they guffawed during the preliminaries to the public hanging. But on the whole it was as respectful an audience as you’ll find outside one of those film-society groups, which tend to be downright reverent.

Television must have seemed pretty tame to those kids that night. After Hang ’Em High, where does a kid go for kicks?