Pale Rider (1985): Western Starring Eastwood as Enigmatic Knight

In 1985, it’s been so long since a major Western had decorated American screens that Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider” served as a useful reminder that the genre is not dead yet.

“Pale Rider” reworks one of the oldest Western mythic themes, an enigmatic knight errant rides into town, sides with the poor but decent folk against the robber barons, then rides back into the horizon, leaving the West won for the forces of good. Eastwoods preacher seems to carry the stigmata of a ghost, arriving as the answer to a maidens prayer. But the mythic-supernatural elements of the story are handled in a restrained, subtle manner that does not distract from the story, bringing another dimension to the tale.

A quite autumn day is interrupted by the sound of hooves coming down the hillside. A cadre of men employed by the powerful strip-miner Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) rides into a small mining encampment and begins shooting. One of the terrorists kills the dog of young Megan Wheelers (Sydney Penny). After burying her pet, Megan prays to the Lord to send someone to defend the community. Sitting with her widowed mother (Carrie Snodgress), she reads from the Bible: And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its riders name was death, and hell followed him. Megan’s prayers are answered and a lone horseman (Clint Eastwood), dressed as a preacher, rides into town.

As director, Eastwood has delivered a thought-provoking, well-crafted Western. From its breathtaking opening, “Pale Rider” announces the return of the epic Western, though some critics saw the film as a step down for Eastwood, the film’s producer-director-star after his previous masterpiece “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” French critics disagreed and “Pale Rider” was invited to the Cannes Film Festivalin competition.

Eastwood has a deep love and understanding for the genre, and it shows in every frame of the film, which refreshingly is not directed as a tribute to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns that had made Eastwood an international star in the 1960s. “Pale Rider” is shot in classic style, with much less of the baroque flourishes that characterized other Westerns.

Cast

Preacher (Clint Eastwood)
Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty)
Sarah Wheeler (Carrie Snodgress)
Josh LaHood (Christopher Penn)
Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart)
Megan Wheeler (Sydney Penny)
Club (Richard Kiel)
Spider Conway (Doug McGrath)
Stockburn (John Russell)
McGill (Charles Hallahan)

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