The movie "High Plains Drifter" with Clint Eastwood starts with Sheriff Duncan (who resembles Eastwood) getting whipped by three guys while the townspeople watch and do nothing. Then, a few minutes into the movie, Clint rides into town, does not give his name and kills a bunch of people. My question: How is the gunfighter whom Eastwood plays related to Sheriff Duncan? As I said, he looks a little like him, but probably isn't him or the town would have recognized him. Plus they said he was dead and buried. So, was Clint his brother or a ghost or a reincarnated Sheriff Duncan? -- Vernon Baugh, of Belleville
If you don't mind me mixing movies, I'm sure your astute, thought-provoking questions would make Clint's day.
While many Eastwood flicks are simply action romps in which you go along for the ride, this 1973 Western earns high marks from critics and has prompted long, scholarly essays into the very questions you raise. It's exactly what Eastwood wanted.
Before I continue, though, I must give the obligatory warning that this answer may contain spoilers, so if you want to see the movie first, you might want to rent it and read this later. Now, onto your questions:
First, it's no coincidence that The Stranger (Eastwood) and Marshal Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) look so much alike. Although Eastwood has always tried to do as many of his own stunts as possible, he frequently has used Van Horn, now 83, as his body double to do the most difficult scenes.
Just a few years ago, Eastwood used him again in "Million Dollar Baby," which won the Oscar for best picture. Over the years, the two grew so close that Eastwood asked him to direct such films as "Any Which Way You Can," "The Dead Pool" and "Pink Cadillac." For his efforts, Van Horn was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Taurus World Stunt Awards Foundation in 2002.
"It's a dream job," Van Horn told the Independent in London in 2010. "I wake up and I can't wait to get to work when I'm working with (Eastwood). He's Mr. Easy. He says, 'Oh, don't worry, Buddy, just go ahead and do it. If we have to do it again, don't worry, we'll just do it.' He takes all the pressure off you ... "
So what was going through the minds of writers Ernest Tidyman and Dean Riesner and director Eastwood when they cast look-alikes in these two roles? That's what movie fans have been debating for 40 years.
At first, the answer was clear-cut. During an appearance on "Inside the Actors Studio," Eastwood said that early versions of the script stated that The Stranger was Marshal Duncan's brother. In fact, he said some foreign language versions of the movie retain this connection, perhaps to make the film less ambiguous for some audiences.
But Eastwood said he wanted a less explicit and more supernatural interpretation so he took the reference out of the version American audiences see. As a result, The Stranger has become what seems to be an avenging spirit, the ghostly embodiment of the late lawman Duncan seeking justice -- or however else you might want to describe it in other-worldly terms.
Numerous scenes in the movie lead to this spectral explanation. Remember when Dan Carlin is bullwhipped around the neck, looks up and sees nothing? Then, there's all the fire and ghostly music as Stacey Bridges is killed. And, of course, there's the final scene when The Stranger encounters Mordecai finishing a grave marker.
"I never did know your name," Mordecai says.
"Yes, you do," The Stranger replies as the camera quickly focuses in to show Jim Duncan's name on the gravestone just before Eastwood rides off and disappears like a ghost on Halloween.
We went to see "Lincoln" recently, and it was good. But I'd like to know why President Lincoln called his wife "Mary" sometimes and "Molly" at other times. -- S.O., of Hamel
I don't know if you're married, but if you are your husband probably has a pet name for you that is unrelated to your real one. Well, in addition to being one of our most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln apparently was as much a romantic as anyone.
"In the courting days and in the earlier years of marriage, his nickname for her was 'Molly,'" revered poet and writer Carl Sandburg wrote in his biography "Mary Lincoln." " After the children came he called her 'Mother.'"
Like many pet names, I can find no logical reason behind it.
Why is something that may start a trend called a "bellwether" event?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: In 1897, Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store at 53 Spring St. in New York. Eight years later, the store began selling tomato pies baked in a coal oven -- pizza -- in paper tied with a string. Today, Lombardi's, at 32 Spring St., is recognized as the country's first pizzeria by The Pizza Hall of Fame. Find more at www.firstpizza.com.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org