US, 1985, 116 minutes, Colour.
Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Sidney Penny, Christopher Penn, Richard Dysart, Richard Kiel.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Pale Rider brought a renewed interest in the western in the mid '80s. It had been almost absent from the screen since the mid '70s with such films as Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales and Andrew V. McLaglen's The Last Hard Men. After Pale Rider came Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado.
By the time of Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood had become a recognised actor and director. He presented Pale Rider at the Cannes Film Festival. It is in the vein of his early Italian westerns, A Fistful of Dollars etc.; but it is very much in the vein of his two westerns, High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
While the western settings are recognisable, the central characters in these films seem to be endowed with more than human powers, in some ways Christ-figures (but with their search for vengeance, Satan-figures). There is explicit religious reference in all these films. The pale rider is riding the pale horse of the Book of the Apocalypse ? and his name is Death. He even comes as the answer to a prayer and ascends to the mountains after completing his mission.
The film re-creates the atmosphere of the mines of the 19th. century in California, the enclosed communities, the strugglers and the exploiters. The film is very similar in structure to Shane and westerns where the stranger comes into the town, is attached to the family, receives the loyalty of the youngster, achieves the vengeance and leaves.
The film is beautifully photographed, has an exciting opening sequence of riders, but, because of the familiarity of High Plains Drifter and Josey Wales, does not have quite the dramatic impact of these other films. However, it is distinctively a Clint Eastwood western.
1. The status of westerns in the '80s? The lack of audience interest? Traditions, the renewal of the western, continuity of treatment and themes?
2. Clint Eastwood and his image, his films as actor and director? 20 years of portraying the individual, the avenger, the loner western hero? With biblical overtones? A critic referred to it as A Revivalist Western? appropriate?
3. The location photography, the use of Panavision, the opening, the settlement, the mines, the riders coming towards the settlement? The atmosphere of the mining communities? The spectacle of hydraulic mining? Explosions? The town? The dark interiors, with a sense of the realism and lack of lighting of the times? The choreography of the action? musical score,
4. The biblical background, a devout people? The 'Our Father' and its religious sentiments with its realistic contrasts? The saying of Grace, prayer? The reading from the Book of the Apocalypse, the pale horse and its rider whose name was Death? Eastwood as the preacher, the collar, his comments about sin and sinners? His coming as an answer to prayer, a miracle, ascending finally to the mountains? His appearance, the mortal wounds in his back, the comments that people thought he was dead? The reformed gunfighter? The man of vengeance with the right to defend? A blend of Christ- and Satan-figure?
5. The situation, California, the gold rush, the prospectors, the miners, the small people and their community and rights, life, self defence, claims, IOUs, oppressed? The riders and their destruction? The disheartenment? The need for a saviour figure?
6. The initial focus on Hull Barrett. Sarah and Megan? Their experiences? The destruction of the settlement? Hull and his defending people? His going to the town despite warnings? His being beaten? Sarah and Megan and the absent husband and father? The desperate situation, Megan's prayer, Hull saved. Sarah hospitable and loving?
7. Clint Eastwood as the preacher? His expected presence, manner of speaking, acting, style? The arrival, taking the bat, beating the attackers. his control, saving Hull? Sarah’s suspicion of him as a gunfighter? His washing and revealing his wounds? His being seen as the preacher and the change of attitude? His decision to help with the work. the breaking of the rock? Club and his attack and his defence? Josh and his brashness? The preacher uniting the people and giving them hope? Their not moving away? His visit to Lahood in the town, the refusal to make deals? Conveying the message to the miners yet supporting them? Sarah and her friendship. the bond between the two? Megan and her growing infatuation, her being hurt and feeling spurned? His decision to go to get his guns? Saving Megan from Josh and the attempted rape? Isolating Hull from the gunfight? Exploding the hydraulic mines? The confrontation with Stockburn and his company, stalking the killers, defeating them? The confrontation with Lahood? The farewell and his ascent to the mountains with his name being cried out? Interesting character? one dimensional? Type? The U.S. mythical hero? The stranger who changes the way of life of the town?
8. Hull as a good man, battered. working. saved by the preacher. splitting the rock. devoted to Sarah, to Megan? His leadership? Defending the preacher? His being left by the preacher. yet his going into town, saving the preacher by shooting Lahood? His future especially with Sarah and Megan?
9. Sarah and her life, devout, hard working, loving her daughter, devoted to Hull, suspicious of the preacher then welcoming him, in love with the preacher, realising that he would leave, prepared to settle with Hull?
10. Megan and her age, experience, the death of her dog in the initial raid, the importance of her prayer, the godly sentiments as well as her reaction to God? The preacher as answer to her prayers, her infatuation, support, love, advances, disappointment? Her going to the mine, Josh and his attack and the attempted rape? The preacher's rescuing her? Her missing the farewell, her cry to the mountains?
11. Lahood and his presumption, wealth, the visit to Sacramento, the arrival back by train, his principles. deals, his henchmen and their raids, harassment of the settlers. his pride in his son? The hydraulic mining and its ruining the countryside? Discussions with the preacher? His hiring Stockburn and his men? His watching their defeat from his window? His being killed by Hull? Josh and his arrogance. the confrontation with the preacher, his hold over the men, control of the mine, the attack on Megan and the preacher wounding his hand, moving in his father's footsteps? Club and his size. the attack on the preacher, defending him later?
12. The western henchmen, their ride, the bashing, being bashed, some being killed, others in fear, their deaths?
13. Stockburn as the western mercenary, the henchmen and their coats, stances, using their wits, failing? The triumph of the individual?
14. The members of the prospectors' community, their gold strikes, Spider and his getting the gold, his joy, going to town, his drinking, being shot? The grief of his sons?
15. The contrast with the townspeople ? the couple in the shop and their willingness to help despite their helplessness, the doctor, the teacher? Fears and the control of Lahood and his men?
16. A picture of 19th. century American society? The American heritage? The American West and its conventions, myths? Political and religious allegory for the 80s?