A hard but mediocre cop is assigned to escort a prostitute into custody from Las Vegas to Phoenix, so that she can testify in a mob trial. But a lot of people are literally betting that they won't make it into town alive.
Nun Sara is on the run in Mexico and is saved from cowboys by Hogan, who is preparing for a future mission to capture a French fort. The pair become good friends, but Sara never does tell him the true reason behind her being outlawed.
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>
When Stockburn arrives in town, Coy La Hood describes the Preacher to him. Stockburn appears unnerved and says quietly, "That man is dead," perhaps hinting that he had killed him or watched him die before. Clint Eastwood revealed in interviews that his character is in fact a ghost. See more »
The windows throughout the film are obviously pane glass. In small California mining towns in the mid-1800s, the windows would either be wave type glass or simply covered by wooden shutters. See more »
"Pale Rider" is a Western with such an aura, such an attitude and such a stance over the Western myth that it's almost a miracle it could flirt with self-consciousness while never sinning by it. Clint Eastwood might be the only director still capable of such miracles.
The actor has always been a man of a few words, of stares that could speak more ominous statements than a Samuel L. Jackson's monologue. His ways of standing, looking, existing could exude more magnetism than the Magnificent Seven put together. But more than his natural blessings that made him a man women liked and men wanted to be like, Eastwood had an all-American attitude toward the frontier spirit. He who was made a star through Western (before Leone, there was 'Rawhide') he returned back the favor after the disastrous failure of "Heaven's Gate" seemed to have sealed the genre's fate.
It's like Eastwood and Westerns form a natural cycle, they both define one another, as if there was a true predestination in his name being an anagram of Old West Action.
Though "Pale Rider" isn't much about the Old West as it is about action, the film retells the story of George Stevens' "Shane" with miners replacing homesteaders and standing in the way of a powerful and influential industrialist named Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) who believes he and progress make one. His attempt to buy 'tin pans' out and to threaten them through acts of intimidations almost destroy their spirit until a mysterious rider comes into the picture and proves that before being about action, Westerns are about 'states of mind'.
I mentioned Eastwood's natural aura because it's integral to the story's believability. Alan Ladd was good at Shane but he wasn't exactly threatening, he had to prove his worth at gun, at fist-fight and through a few one-liners such as "I like it to be my idea". Eastwood doesn't even need 'himself', only a silhouette appearing and then vanishing before you notice it, a weak lighting that can only reveal his piercing eyes or just being mentioned in a conversation. When young Megan (Perry Sidney) buries her dog, killed by LaHood's men, she has a prayer where she begs the Lord for help, her "please" has that childish resonance that indicates how hopeless they are. Eastwood intercut it with his arrival, it's not played for subtlety but to establish his mystical charisma.
The man, like Eastwood's seminal antihero, has no name, he is called the Preacher. He doesn't quote the Bible much but he saves the day in more than one occasion, without leaving mortal casualties... not yet anyway. He accepts to help the miners, but they didn't ask for help, just for him to stay as if his presence was healing their spirit already. But Eastwood counterbalances the sanctification with the idea of a pending doom. His entrance coincides with a 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' recitation and he obviously fits the description of "Death". But as he said it himself: "God works in a mysterious way", you can't explain providence, but you just can tell that there's something providential about the man, even if he means Death.
And in the same vein of intelligence, it also means that there's something 'evil' about LaHood even if he means Progress. He knows "blood is a big expense" and tries to get the Preacher out through bargains and only resorts to violence in extreme cases, but for all his malevolence, he's got a business to run, and his interactions with this son (a youngish and thin Chris Penn) and his men aren't those of an evil mastermind briefing his troops. There even comes a point where the Preacher starts to negotiate with LaHood, and submit his offer to the miners. Intelligently enough, the Western is able to deconstruct a few tropes for the sake of three-dimensional characterization.
On a similar level, it also depicts Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) not as a Beta Male but as a decent human being, brave enough to defy LaHood's thugs, to support his family and to take care of Sarah, Megan's mother (Carrie Snodgress), even waiting that she makes up her mind to get married but as the Preacher said "it might be along wait". It might take longer as both daughter and mother are infatuated with the Preacher (can we blame them?) but while it's a sort of teen crush for Megan, for Sarah, it's like a nasty teasing from fate. She's been abandoned by a man she truly loved -as she tells Megan she's a child of love- and her feelings toward the Preacher are worryingly the same.
Maybe there's the idea that some things or some people are too grand to stay, their appeal is eternal but they're not meant for the common people though there is nobility in being a simple, decent and a hard-working human being. The Preacher incarnates an idea of the Old West: a few words, but action, spirit, courage and determination... and a few resurgences of the past here and there.
The past is a lone rider throughout the story, it's the dog's death that trigger's Penny's desire for revenge, it's Sarah's past with men that forged her suspicion and made Hull her whipping boy, and there's something about the Preacher's past hinted through some wounds and lines of dialogues that take their full meaning when his nemesis is brought up in town: Marshal Stockburn played by an equally intimidating John Russell.
The hints about the past mystify the film and let it venture in the realms of fantasy but without getting too far from the Western narrative. Eastwood's directing is confident enough and allows him to get away with contrivances... what can't be explained isn't forced fantasy, but meaningful mystery.
(Still, the greatest mystery of all is that it seems to have escaped everyone's attention that the film is a remake of "Shane", as there's no mention of "Shane" in Ebert's review, not even on Wikipedia!)
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