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"Pale rider" is truly a spectacular film and unquestionably the very
greatest western of the 80's. The fact that western was slowly dying as a
genre already in the 70's is a sad but regrettable truth. Clint Eastwood
still appeared in three of 'em: he played the amusing leading role of "Joe
Kidd" (1972) - great, peculiar and funny little film - and he directed two
magnificent masterpieces "High plains drifter" (1972) and "The Outlaw Josey
Wales" (1976). What else did the 70's had to offer? Not too much. "Little
big man" (1970), "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973) and "The Shootist"
(1976). At the dawn of the 80's western was pretty much dead. "Silverado"
and exceptional "Pale rider" (both released in 1985) are quite likely the
only notable westerns of the decade in question.
And "Pale rider" is the better one - Clint Eastwood's last traditional western. Of course he climbed back to saddle in terrific and highly awarded "Unforgiven" (1992) but it was no longer a traditional western - more like an unusual anti-western. In "Pale rider" Eastwood is was once again (and for the very last time) the quiet, calm, cool and mysterious cowboy, (called "the preacher") classic and almost a supernatural character that rides into small, dusty town. Late John Russell with his terrific Lee Van Cleef-like looks is outstanding as the ruthless villain Stockburn. Movie is simply marvelous: amusing, well-written and exciting and it has a superb acting. This is a fantastic, gripping film that future generations will remember as one of the last real westerns. "Pale rider" is just one of the many reasons why I adore Eastwood. 10 out of 10.
"Pale Rider" is Producer/Director/Star Clint Eastwood's unofficial
remake of George Stevens' "Shane" (1953). I've never heard that he's
acknowledged it as such but the two stories are more than a little
similar. The film also presents Eastwood in another variation of his
"man with no name" character, similar to the one he portrayed in "High
Plains Drifter" (1973).
The story begins with a raid on a small mining community by rival miners trying to drive the residents off of their claims and take them over. Among the miners are Hull Barret (Michael Moriarity), his intended Sarah Wheller (Carrie Snodgrass) and her budding teenage daughter Megan (Sydney Penny). When Megan's dog is killed during the raid, she prays for someone to help her against the oppressors.
Out of the mist comes a mysterious stranger (Eastwood), whom the scriptural passage Megan is reading describes him as "death riding a pale horse". The stranger saves Barret from a beating at the hands of the town bullies and comes home with him wherein he reveals himself to be a preacher. We learn that mining magnate Coy La Hood (Richard Dysart) and his son Josh (Christopher Penn) are behind all of the troubles.
When LaHood's men including McGill (Charles Hallahan and the gigantic Club (Richard Kiel) are unable to handle this preacher, he sends for gunslinging Marshal Stockburn (John Russell) and his six deputies. Meanwhile, one of the miners, Spider Conway (Doug McGrath) goes into town alone after striking it rich and is goaded into a gunfight with Stockburn & Co. Conway is brutally gunned down in front of his two young sons after which Stockburn tells the boys to tell the preacher to meet him on the street the following morning.
The preacher then goes to retrieve a strong box containing his hardware and into which he tosses his preacher's collar. He and Barret then start for town where............
Eastwood's character as in "High Plains Drifter" appears to embody elements of the supernatural. We see the scars of several bullet holes in his back and at one point is recognized by Stockburn as someone he had killed years before. The teen-aged Megan throws herself at the preacher (she's only 14 in the story) but he wisely (for the sake of the censors) let's her down easy while having an eye for her mother.
The comparison between this film and "Shane" is inevitable. In "Shane we have the squatters versus the cattlemen; here its between the powerful miner and the "tin panners". There's the solitary gunfighter who helps out the underdogs, the vicious hired gun, the loner who gets gunned down in the street, the bad guy who turns good and the hero who rides off into the sunset all common to both films.
Though not Eastwood's best western it is nevertheless good enough to wish that he had made more of them.
Shot on location in Sun Valley, Idaho, and to some esteem to "Shane,"
"Pale Rider" succeeded with sweeping landscapes and magnificent
cinematography, to be an interesting Western that helps to bring back
something from Eastwood's mystique
In 1850 California, a small group squatters and their families find themselves terrorized by Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart), who are standing win the way of his progress Desperate, LaHood begins using violence in an unsuccessful attempt to run the peaceful yet determined homesteaders from their land Leading the homesteaders is a decent man Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty), who dreams of a better life for himself, his girlfriend Sarah Wheeler (Carrie Snodgress) and her lovely daughter from a previous marriage, 14-year-old Meagan (Sydney Penny).
Into the lives of these strong-willed people rides a mysterious mantall and lean with something strange in his eyes known only as "The Preacher" (Clint Eastwood). He says little, divulges nothing of his past, but for a man wearing a clerical collar he seems an expert at handling weapons He pulls the miners together and gives them the confidence to defy LaHood even in the face of mounting violence...
Although both Sarah and her daughter become enamored of the pale preacher, he gently rejects their advances and makes them see that Hull is a less capable but far better man There is a good scene when Spider Conwaywent into town alone and running out of steaminvited LaHood to come out and have a drink with him But instead Stockburn and his deputies came out asking him to dance
Richard Dysart creates an all-too-believable villain, and Western veteran John Russell is well-cast as a middle-aged mercenary and his hired guns to face a legendary hero It's an old score and it's time settle it
In the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns of the 60s, Clint Eastwood rose to
fame playing the man with no name. In 'Pale Rider', Eastwood creates his
own variation of this character. Eastwood plays a mysterious gunfighter who
is given the name 'preacher' because of the preacher's collar he wears. When
the 'preacher' arrives at a gold mining community, he helps them stand up
against a callous landowner.
Eastwood cuts deep into the film's characters in what is a rather standard script. Particularly, in the scenes involving the preacher and a gold-mining family. Eastwood also succeeds in giving his film a dark atmosphere which only adds to its intensity.
'Pale Rider' may not be as good as the director's best westerns, 'Unforgiven' and 'The Outlaw Josey Wales', but it can be regarded as a strong effort in what has been an illustrious career for Eastwood.
The Westerns is what gained Eastwood mainstream recognition, and he returns
to prosperous grounds with this movie. Much like his character, he returns
the Western from the dead and avenges their loss of appeal at the box
office. A few years later, he was to strike gold with Unforgiven' and
although this story is not as gripping as Unforgiven', it is well crafted
with minor flaws.
The similarities between this movie and his well-known Spaghetti Westerns are vast, but the difference lies with the superior quality. Once again he is the Man With No Name' defending the weak and settling an old score. Where this one differs from his earlier work is that the characters and dialogue are realistic surpassing the one dimension norm for the genre. The characters are credible in the sense that each has believable motivations for their actions. The Hood are motivated by their greed and the gold miners are motivated by their dreams. The credibility is thus intact with regards to the characters drives meaning that we now do not have to rely on suspension of disbelief as we witness the action unfold. The dialogue is in sync with each character. The Hood speaks with an educated tongue, but his desperation is apparent as the Preacher stands his ground. The miners speak with little sophistication thus reflecting their social status of the times. The Preacher speaks as we would expect The Man With No Name' to speak. He is cool and rational and what little is said carries a lot of weight. The dialogue thus enhances the rich diversity of characters.
Of special note is the casting. All the actors are well suited to their roles. Stockburn and his deputies are particularly memorable. The deputies look like they are all recruits from Hollywood B type action movies. This by no means understates their significance. Instead of playing their usual outlandish bad guys, they relied on their natural ability to exude devilish intent. They look cold, dark and menacing. There was no dialogue which accentuated their malevolence - talk did not interest them. They were there to do a job and small talk was meaningless. Their movements were slow and methodical thus adding to their character's coldness and creating tension as the harbinger's of death prepared to deal out their own brand of justice the kind of justice that only dollars can buy. Although the screen time dedicated to these characters was limited, their impact was far greater.
The casting of Stockburn as a Lee van Cleef look alike was also very good. This could be construed as a lack of originality, but it was ideal for the story. He looks like a weathered, tough baddie, much in line with the impression we have of those times as provided by Hollywood, who had dealt with many situations such as these with a cool, ruthless hand. His dialogue, with assistance from a menacing voice, mirrors his appearance hard and to the point.
Eastwood is the archetypal Man With No Name'. His natural coolness forms the basis for the character. He has the ability to limit his dialogue and communicate to the audience with the assistance of minimal body language the emotions of his character. The sharpening of a glare was all he needed to show that he was a man with a past who could be dangerous. This was vital to the character since it helped create the enigmatic figure that the Preacher was supposed to be.
An indication of the craft of the movie is the scene where the Preacher starts to help his freind break the rock. The rock became an obstacle that they would have to overcome and they began to realise that if they pulled together, not only could they beat the rock, but the Hood as well. Scenes such as this elevated this movie beyond the Spaghetti Western. Attention had been paid to the story and gratuitous action was obviously never the intention. This is not to say that the movie lacked action, it means that action scenes were an integral part of the story and not as eye candy offerings for a hormone charged audience.
As well crafted as it is, it is not without flaws. The first is the scenes within the town. It is easy to tell that the town is a small set for the movie due to the camera angles. This became particularly evident when the Hood is trying to bribe the Preacher with an offer of a church in a rich town. This immediately draws attention to the shots within the town which thus highlights the flaw. I have not checked to see whether this is a consequence of a low budget, which would be feasible since Westerns were not as bankable at that time as they were in the past. Even with due consideration of this fact, the cinematographer could still have made more creative use of camera angles to negate this limiting factor.
A more minor flaw is the how the character of Megan is used in the movie. The book has her name in the title which is indicative of the fact that the story is told through her eyes. The telling of a story through the eyes of a young innocent can add various dimensions to the story. The adventures that unfolds before her would have a greater impact on the audience since the struggles of a child will touch the audience more than that of an adults. People always sympathise for the young. It can add complexity to the story since a child's emotions and pre conceptions will create more opportunity for conflict. There was effort made in this direction, but I feel that if Megan had been given more opportunity to tell the story from her perspective, the story would have been more emotive appeal.
Westerns will always have an audience, although their popularity may fluctuate over time. The lawlessness of the times set the stage for good storytelling and unfortunately also poor storytelling. In the past, they concentrated on a Hollywood B style movie with characters existing as an excuse to pull a trigger in the outlawed West. This formula worked for a while, but the stories lacked the substance to withstand the test of time. This has led to the present situation where the few that have now been on offer have shown an increase in quality. This is probably due to the fact that the limitation in audience appeal has meant that the story has to be of solid value in order to attract the investors. As with all genres, they have actors that are naturally adept to the role. Eastwood was such a man for the Westerns. We now wait for his successor to carry on the legacy of The Man With No Name'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clint Eastwood made this film in 1985 and at the time many people said
it was the best movie that he had ever made. Some people even went
further and said it was the best western ever made. But the raucous
shoot-em-up Silverado came out that very same year, basically foisting
Kevin Costner onto an unsuspecting world, and it ended up making a
bigger splash in 1985 than did Pale Rider. Then, after that, two more
things happened: Costner went on to make Dances With Wolves (1990), and
Eastwood went on to make The Unforgiven (1992), and with all that Pale
Rider slipped into obscurity. The Unforgiven now wears the mantle of
being Clint's masterpiece, his finest western, of being maybe the best
western ever. And other people marvel much the same way at Dances With
Wolves. Meanwhile, nobody thinks about or even remembers Pale Rider, a
sorry fate that this fine film doesn't deserve.
There are two distinctly remarkable things about Pale Rider: On the one hand we have a return to The Stranger, the character Eastwood played in High Plains Drifter (1973). But, he's no longer called "The Stranger," maybe because he has evolved in life, and he's now known as "The Preacher." But he seems to be the same guy, at a different place in his life's journey. When you think about it, The Stranger from High Plains Drifter was pretty much just an Americanized presentation of the no-name character Eastwood played in the spaghetti western dollar series for Sergio Leone. And if you're going to categorize it, that's probably where this film belongs, as a part of that Sergio Leone series: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967). Add High Plains Drifter and this, Pale Rider, into that mix and you have a complete set. And it's noteworthy that Eastwood never again returned to the character. Eastwood's The Stranger appears to be finito.
All that's on the one hand. On the other hand we unmistakably see Eastwood using Pale Rider to pay homage to what was once regarded by many as being the finest western of all time, Shane (1953). In fact, it's more than mere homage that's being paid here. Pale Rider is really a full-blown retelling of Shane, updated, done in Eastwood's style, and with Eastwood's trademarked mystery man stepping into Alan Ladd's boots for the classic Shane role. Same story. Same plot dynamics. The biggest difference from Shane being that in Pale Rider the young lad is replaced by a blossoming adolescent ingénue, the gender change altering the tensions between the characters. Whereas in Shane the boy compared his father to Shane, and found his father lacking, in Pale Rider the girl competes heads up with her mother for The Preacher's attention.
Another difference from Shane is that here the dirty deed is accomplished. Yes, Mama beds the manly stranger. In Shane's life and times the cowboy way was to resist that temptation --to rise above it-- and walk away. But here The Preacher takes off his boots and drops trousers. I suppose in Eastwood's view the world changed between 1953 and 1985. Of course one aspect of the story was "fixed" to make this "acceptable." While in Shane Mama was ostensibly an otherwise happily married hausfrau, here she was a widow, unremarried, thereby rendering the tryst at least technically non-adulterous, although Mama was in a semi-committed relationship with her intended.
But don't misunderstand. Pale Rider is a fine film. I like it a lot. I like it as much as Shane. I like it almost as much as The Unforgiven. It ought to be remembered. It deserves to be remembered. It is a well-told western from the 1980s, and there weren't many of those made. If you like good westerns, I strongly recommend it.
The opening to Pale Rider is just excellent, at first all is calm and
serene, but then the peace is shattered by the thundering of hooves. A
group of men employed by Coy LaHood, tear thru a small mining
community, shooting guns and trampling over all in their way. During
this callous act of bullying, one of the men shoots and kills young
Megan's dog. When Megan buries her beloved pet, she calls to god to
send someone to help them against the greedy LaHood, because LaHood is
intent on stripping the locals of their claims, and he literally will
stop at nothing to get them. Later on Megan is reading from the bible,
she reads aloud to her mother about "beholding a pale horse and that
the man who sat on it was death", we then see a lone horseman riding
towards this under fire place...
Behold the pale horse because the man that sat on him was Clint Eastwood! And that's all you really want to know as regards what drives the film on. It had been quite some time since the movie watching world had witnessed a damn good Western, so it is obvious that Eastwood, knowing the genre inside out, felt it time to remind all and sundry about this engrossing genre and all its little peccadilloes. Riffing on his own High Plains Drifter from 1973 and homaging Shane in the process, Eastwood again uses supernatural leanings to play out this intriguing tale. Pale Rider works well because Eastwood cares for the genre so much, no frame is wasted and the acting on show delivers the necessary amount of quality to enhance the picture's impact. From the thundering opening to the gorgeous final shot, Pale Rider is an expertly crafted Western that still holds up today as a great entry on Eastwoods CV. Pale Rider. 8/10
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.
I'll give you one good reason why shouldn't miss this movie: Clint
Eastwood. If you are a fan of Westerns or even when you only like to
watch one occasionally, than you should know more than enough. In my
opinion Clint Eastwood is the one and only true Hollywood cowboy.
When a mysterious preacher - no-one knows where he comes from, what his past is, they don't even know his real name - comes to a gold mining camp near a small town in the mountains, the local miners are in great danger. A ruthless landowner has decided to take their land, he doesn't mind using violence and he has the support of the sheriff. No one seems to be able to stop them. But than the preacher proves to be more than a man of God. He's a good shooter, the sheriff is afraid of him and he's the only one brave enough to rise against the landowner...
If you are looking for an original movie, than you'll have to look somewhere else. This movie uses all the possible clichés that can be found in this kind of Westerns. But on the other hand I must also say that all is done in a very proper way. Eastwood is a fine director and he did what he was best in at the time: he made a Western. The story, the direction, the acting, the scenes,... it all looks professional and more than OK and especially thanks to Eastwood's acting performance in it, this movie is still a 'must-see'. I'm not a big fan of Westerns, but every time that I'm able to see one with Eastwood in it, I'll not let it pass. My advice: if you can see past the fact that it isn't very original, you will almost certainly enjoy it. I certainly did and that's why I give this movie a 7.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was a solid western, one of many through the years from Clint
Eastwood, who knows how to make an entertaining film.
"Pale Rider" is almost like a modern-day "Shane," in which the quiet stranger enters to help the picked-on landowners and then winds up with a showdown with the evil men in town. In this film, Eastwood plays a "preacher," (that's all he's called in this movie, but he's really a gunfighter) who saves the day for the town miners, led by Michael Moriarty who is always good in low-key roles. Eastwood's "Preacher" handles the immature love-struck teen (Sidney Penny) well, but blows his moral reputation by having sex with Moriarity's fiancé (Carrie Snodgrass) near the end, although no one knows that except the viewer. So - as usual - there are a lot of mixed moral messages in this film.
A couple of things that are not mixed are 1 - the interesting characters; 2 - the convincing bad guys; 3 - the beautiful scenery and photography; 4 - the involving story that makes you care what happens. All of these make this an entertaining film you would watch a number of times.
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