|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood|
|Written by||Michael Butler|
|Music by||Lennie Niehaus|
|Edited by||Joel Cox|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$41.4 million|
Pale Rider is a 1985 American Western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in the lead role. The title is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as the rider of a pale horse is Death. The film, which took in nearly $41 million at the box office, became the highest grossing Western of the 1980s.
Outside the snowy mountain town of LaHood, California, armed men working for mining baron Coy LaHood destroy the camp of a group of independent prospectors and their families. They shoot a dog belonging to 14-year-old Megan Wheeler, who prays for a miracle as she buries its body in the woods. Thunder rolls and a stranger atop a spotted white horse rides down the slopes.
Megan's mother, Sarah, is being courted by Hull Barret, who stepped in when Megan's father abandoned them. When Hull heads to town to pick up supplies, four Lahood thugs begin to beat him with axe handles before the stranger fights them off. Hull then invites his rescuer to dinner and, while the stranger is washing, notices what look like six bullet wounds in his back. When the stranger appears at the dinner table, he is wearing a clerical collar and is thereafter called "Preacher".
Coy LaHood's son, Joshua, attempts to scare off the Preacher with a show of strength from a workman named Club, who breaks a large rock in half with a single hammer blow and then tries to attack him. The Preacher simply strikes Club in the face and groin, before gently helping him onto his horse and sending the two men away. Afterwards, the miners work together to smash the rest of the boulder and mine its contents.
Meanwhile, Coy returns from Sacramento and is furious to learn about the Preacher’s arrival, realizing that his presence will only strengthen the resolve of the prospectors to hold onto their claims. Failing to bribe and threaten the Preacher, LaHood is persuaded to offer the miners $1000 per claim provided they evacuate within 24 hours. LaHood says he plans to hire the services of a corrupt marshal named Stockburn to clear them out if they refuse. The miners initially consider the offer but, when Hull reminds them of their purpose and sacrifices, they decide to stay and fight.
Next morning, the Preacher leaves without notice, retrieves his two revolvers from a bank box, and replaces them with his collar. Meanwhile, the miners find that LaHood's men have dammed the creek running through their camp. They agree to stay for two more days and continue panning the drying creek bed. Megan rides into the LaHood mining camp, where Joshua tries to rape her while the other workers cheer him on. The Preacher arrives on horseback and rescues Megan, disarming Joshua and shooting him through the hand when he pulls his gun.
Stockburn and his six deputies arrive in LaHood. Coy gives him a rough description of the Preacher, which startles Stockburn. When Coy presses him, he says the Preacher reminds him of a man he once knew, but that they can't possibly be the same person since the man he knew is dead.
Spider Conway, one of the miners and Coy's old partner from back when he first started prospecting, recovers a large gold nugget and rides into town, where he yells drunken abuse at LaHood from the street. Stockburn and his deputies gun him down, and Stockburn tells Spider's sons to take their father's body back to the camp and tell the Preacher to meet him in town the next morning. Sarah goes to the barn where the Preacher is sleeping, asking him not to go. He refuses, and she kisses him saying that she intends to marry Hull despite her feelings for the Preacher. It is implied they then have sex.
The following day, the Preacher and Hull blow up LaHood's site with dynamite. To stop Hull from following him, the Preacher scares off Hull's horse and rides into town alone. In the gunfight that follows, he kills all but the two of LaHood's men who run away, and then, one by one, all six of Stockburn's deputies as they spread themselves throughout the town searching for him. When he goes face-to-face with Stockburn, the latter recognizes him in disbelief and goes for his gun. The Preacher draws first, sending six bullets through his torso before shooting him in the head. LaHood, watching from his office, aims a rifle at the Preacher but is surprised and shot dead by Hull.
The Preacher nods at Hull and remarks, "Long walk", before leading his horse from the stable and galloping toward the snow-capped mountains. Megan, who had previously been rejected by the Preacher when she admitted her desire to marry him, drives into town too late and shouts her love and thanks to the Preacher. Her words echo through the canyon as he rides off.
- Clint Eastwood as the Preacher
- Michael Moriarty as Hull Barret
- Carrie Snodgress as Sarah Wheeler
- Richard Dysart as Coy LaHood
- Chris Penn as Josh LaHood
- Sydney Penny as Megan Wheeler
- John Russell as Marshal Stockburn
- Richard Kiel as Club
- Doug McGrath as Spider Conway
- Chuck Lafont as Eddie Conway
- Jeffrey Weissman as Teddy Conway
- Charles Hallahan as McGill
- Marvin J. McIntyre as Jagou
- Fran Ryan as Ma Blankenship
- Richard Hamilton as Pa Blankenship
- Terrence Evans as Jake Henderson
Pale Rider was primarily filmed in the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho, just north of Sun Valley in late 1984. The opening credits scene featured the jagged Sawtooth Mountains south of Stanley. Train-station scenes were filmed in Tuolumne County, California, near Jamestown. Scenes of a more established Gold Rush town (in which Eastwood's character picks up his pistol at a Wells Fargo office) were filmed in the real Gold Rush town of Columbia, also in Tuolumne County.
- Clint Eastwood: Producer/Director/Star
- Lennie Niehaus: Composer
- Bruce Surtees: Director of Photography
- Joel Cox: Film Editing
- Edward Carfagno: Production Design
- Chuck Gaspar: Special Effects
- Buddy Van Horn: Stunt Coordinator
- Jack N. Green: Camera Operator
- Marcia Reed: Still Photographer
- Deborah Hopper: Costume Designer/Wardrobe: Women
In an audio interview, Clint Eastwood said that his character Preacher "is an out-and-out ghost." However, whereas Eastwood's 1973 western, High Plains Drifter, resolves its storyline by means of a series of unfolding flashback narratives (although ambiguity still remains), Pale Rider does not include any such obvious clues to the nature and past of the Preacher other than six bullet wound scars on his back and his relationship with Stockburn, who claims he once knew a man like the Preacher. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions regarding the overall story line and its meaning.
The movie's title is taken from the Book of Revelation, chapter 6, verse 8: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." The reading of the biblical passage describing this character is neatly choreographed to correspond with the sudden appearance of the Preacher, who arrived as a result of a prayer from Megan, in which she quoted Psalm 23. Preacher's comment after beating one of the villains is, "Well, the Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways." After Coy offers to let him establish a lucrative ministry in his town, the Preacher replies, "You can't serve God and Mammon, Mammon being money." According to Robert Jewett, the film's dialogue parallels Paul the Apostle's teaching on divine retribution (Romans 12:19–21).
Pale Rider was released in the United States in June 1985, and became one of the highest-grossing Westerns of the 1980s. It was the first mainstream Hollywood Western to be produced after the massive financial failure of Heaven's Gate.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 93% based on reviews from 27 critics. On Metacritic the film has a score of 61% based on reviews from 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert praised the film, giving it four out of four stars. Further, he stated, "Pale Rider is, overall, a considerable achievement, a classic Western of style and excitement." Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised Clint Eastwood saying "This veteran movie icon handles both jobs with such intelligence and facility I'm just now beginning to realize that, though Mr. Eastwood may have been improving over the years, it's also taken all these years for most of us to recognize his very consistent grace and wit as a film maker."
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune noted that Westerns were out of fashion "but fresh and challenging westerns with Clint Eastwood always will be in vogue" whereas Rita Kemply of The Washington Post criticized the lack of originality: "The trail is all too familiar and pretty soon we recollect why westerns lost their appeal.".
One of the film's scores (used in a trailer) was composed by British composer Alan Hawkshaw, who wrote the original theme for BBC children's drama series Grange Hill, as well as the signature tunes for Channel 4’s Countdown and Channel 4 News.
In an odd case of doubling up in Hawkshaw's career, according to an interview in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, “The Lost Art of the Theme Tune”, Channel 4 News did not secure permanent exclusivity rights to Hawkshaw's theme, known as "Best Endeavours", resulting in it also being used for the trailer for Pale Rider.
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- Canby, Vincent (June 28, 1985). "Film: Clint Eastwood in 'Pale Rider'". The New York Times.
- Gene Siskel. "'PALE RIDER' JUST ANOTHER GALLOP FOR THE HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER". Chicago Tribune.
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