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A gold mining camp in the California foothills is besieged by a neighboring landowner intent on stealing their claims. A preacher rides into camp and uses all of his powers of persuasion to convince the landowner to give up his attacks on the miners. Written by
David J. Kiseleski <email@example.com>
During the early 80s, the Western genre was beginning to lose its position in Hollywood, and losing its impact on the audience. And the financial disaster of the Western "Heaven's Gate" did not really make very many producers any more enthusiastic about putting their money in to make Western films. But one of the producers, more famous as an actor and director, who was willing to make another Western, was Clint Eastwood. Maybe because Westerns like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" had started his career in the 60s, he felt he owed it to at least himself to try and revive the genre before Hollywood officially threw it in the scrap pile.
"Pale Rider" was, and still is, a phenomenal success of a film. After its release, the Western genre was saved and brought back to life for several more years. It has fallen down nonetheless, but has not disappeared from cinema screens. And we really owe it all to Clint Eastwood for this film. "Pale Rider" is one of his best Westerns. It is well-acted, well characterized, has plenty of action, and is overall a great achievement.
As one might expect, Clint Eastwood plays a mysterious stranger in this film. Very much like in the Dollars Trilogy and "High Plains Drifter", his character is never given an actual name. The character Eastwood plays in this film, however, is different than the squinting gunslingers he played in the past. This character is more anti-violent than the previous ones and doesn't even put his hand on a six-gun until the film is more than half-over. He mingles with the bad guys plenty of times, but rarely ever with a shooting iron. He's still a man of few words, but isn't as cold and self-concerned.
Along with Eastwood, we have a cast made up of fine actors such as Michael Moriarty, the late Chris Penn, Richard A. Dysart, and one of the most popular of Western villains John Russell as a corrupt marshal by the name of Stockburn. Russell's character is one of the coldest cinema villains I've seen in a long time and his limited screen time aids in his impact and appearance. Russell's cold, almost lifeless voice added with Lennie Niehaus's eerie background music score brings a spine-chilling atmosphere to the film when the character speaks some of his first dialogue in the film. Like Eastwood's character, Stockburn is a character that says little, yet still delivers an enormous impact.
Scenery in "Pale Rider" was absolutely beautiful, especially when combined with the effective lighting and cinematography. Many times in the film, we see a mountain directly smack center in the background. The cinematography is most of the time, dark and eerie. Dark scenes are even darker than usual, making this vision of the Old West even dirtier and savage than in most Westerns. And yet it isn't shown as being entirely savage, for it wasn't. True, the West was a tough place to live in the 19th century, especially during feuds over gold, but it wasn't a day of just regular killing.
Some people have accused "Pale Rider" was being a rip off of the classic 1953 film "Shane". I will not deny the fact that they are very similar in a lot of regards and share similar scenes. A stranger coming to a settlement in the Old West during a feud between a successful land tycoon and homesteaders on land he wants was used in "Shane". But "Pale Rider" is in no way, shape, or form a rip-off. Any similarities to "Shane" is a homage, a tribute of respect. After all, Eastwood was attempting to save the Western genre, and perhaps this was his way of reminding the audiences of the great films of the past. Yet, he could do it without copying it. He just re-visioned it.
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