Pale Rider (1985)

Pale Rider (1985), produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.

The gang of toughs on horseback shouldn't have shot the dog. It is one thing to raid the hardscrabble mining camp, raise hell and terrify people, but shooting the dog: that's never good.

When the girl buries it she prays for a deliverer, and here he comes. Helping the helpless, chastising the wicked, that's what avengers do.

According to the wikipedia: "Clint Eastwood said that his character Preacher is an out-and-out ghost". This suggests comparison with the avenging fury/ghost of High Plains Drifter (1973). In the earlier film the entire town is punished, but here the Preacher is after one man: Marshal Stockburn, who he seems to have known before. (The town boss and his minions are just in the way). In the older movie the visitor delivers nothing but sadism and cruelty in his corrections, but here he displays tenderness to and compassion for the good people.

I've never quite understood this one, even as an assembly of mythic Western quotes and quasi-supernatural revenge story. I'm missing some pieces. Why is he a Preacher? What does that add? Why does he have to swap his collar for six-guns, when it was clear he was no pacifist before? Why does he have a closed door interlude with the mom, and why do we hear the disembodied voice of Stockburn calling him? "A voice from the past", says the Preacher. Ok...

Is Eastwood working out something with his past here, his career in Westerns? Is Stockburn supposed to be Sergio Leone? His deputies have those long dusters everyone wears in spaghetti westerns. In the final gunfight the Preacher kills Stockburn with the same impossible-to-survive six bullets to the chest, a pattern we saw before. Then one to the head, which certainly puts a period to something.

The cinematography by Bruce Surtees is particularly fine this time. I wish I knew more about film stocks and lenses, but the rich, dark color is just beautiful. Perhaps too dark in the thumbnails below, but lovely on the large screen.


Available on Blu-ray. The images are often quite fine, although the black levels are not good at night. I recall this is typical for Eastwood's Warner films on home video.