What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there are grown-up elements in this Western, including some more-or-less innocent teenage boys facing execution as accessories to rustling. In addition to the expected shoot-em-ups of a cowboy picture, raw elements include prostitution (in which the hero partakes), euphemistic talk of a rape-murder, drinking, smoking, suicide, and a theme of capital punishment taken to extremes, so that seeing men hung becomes a sort of vulgar spectator sport. Religion on this frontier seems an ineffectual element, with a briefly-glimpsed Bible fanatic who must be gunned down. Though this was released before the MPAA rating existed, Hang 'Em High got a retroactive PG-13 badge for home video.
- Families can talk about the choices made by the characters. Is Jed motivated by justice or revenge?
- Discuss the theme of capital punishment, in and out of this movie. Is the judge's character correct, about why he has to be stern and merciless? Is Judge Fenton the real villain of the piece?
- You can associate Hang 'Em High with The Ox-Bow Incident, the classic novel (and movie) and frequent school-reading assignment about the crime of lynching.
- Older kids with a taste for more realistic Westerns -- ones that showed just how harsh and brutal life could be on the American frontier, no campfire sing-alongs -- can be steered to the cult sagebrushers Shane, Bad Company (1972), and Dead Man.