Clint Eastwood stars as Jed Cooper, a former St. Louis lawman accused a being a rustler in Oklahoma & Indian Territory 1889, not 1873 as the liner notes erroneously state. He is set upon by a posse filled with questionable characters and hanged before the opening credits. Lucky for Cooper, Federal Marshal Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) comes along soon after and cuts him down. He is then placed into a paddy wagon and taken before Judge Adam Fenton (Pat Hingle), who finds Cooper's story checks out.
Cooper wants revenge against the nine men who hung him, but Fenton tells him he can't take the law into his own hands. Instead, he offers him a job as a marshal on the condition that he brings the men in alive. Suffice it to say, Cooper hopes they give him a reason not to, but he agrees. While working as a marshal, Cooper questions Fenton's rigid administration of the law, but the judge says it's required to keep people from acting as vigilantes and to earn the territory statehood.
After a few of Cooper's assailants are apprehended, those remaining offer him a bribe. He takes the money because it's what he's owed for the cattle he lost, but things ain't square as far as he's concerned and he plans on finishing the job he started.
Hang 'Em High is a very good western that provides plenty of action while also offering food for thought about justice. There's a subplot about a young woman Rachel (Inger Stevens) who is obsessed with looking for her husband's killers. She becomes entwined with Cooper, and while the parallel is evident her character doesn't add much to the story. It's great to see a lot of familiar faces in small roles, such as Bruce Dern, Alan Hale Jr., Dennis Hopper, and L.Q. Jones.
The video is presented in a 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85.1, and looks very good for its age. The colors are well rendered, from the natural colors of the New Mexico exteriors to the vivid hues on set, most notably in the brothel where they pop with brightness. Blacks are adequate and the disc does well with shadow delineation. Natural film grain is noticeable without being distracting. There are minor specks of damage, white and black, throughout the film, signaling a need for a restoration. The scene where Jed and Rachel get caught in the rain and find shelter in an abandoned house is especially bad.
The source was a mono mix and is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, the latter being a more authentic experience for the purist. Naturally, the 5.1 is front heavy, but there is some minor ambiance, such as when a large crowd gathers to watch the hanging. The dialogue is clear and understandable. The music makes most use of the surrounds, and there's not a great deal of low end, even making the gunshots sound high pitched.
Hang 'Em High will be a welcome addition to the video library for films fans of westerns and Eastwood. The Blu-ray offers a pleasing high definition experience. It comes with a DVD, but it's highly disappointing that there are no special features included to pay worthy tribute to the film and those who worked on it.