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Vault: 'Pale Rider' (1985) Dir. Clint Eastwood

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Richard Dysart, Chris Penn, Sydney Penny, John Russell and Richard Kiel


Actor and director Clint Eastwood returns once more to the Western genre for another picturesque trip through the wild frontier...

Outside of the rich mining town of Lahood, California in the midst of the 1880s, a small band of struggling miners are terrorised and threatened by hired thugs of Coy LaHood (Dysart) who wants to rid the area of all miners.

Miner Sarah (Snodgress) and her daughter Megan (Penny) say a silent prayer for help. The next day, a man known only as Preacher (Eastwood), arrives and feels obliged to help the miners in their time of need.

LaHood calls in the services of corrupt Marshall Stockburn (Russell) and his murderous deputies to dispense of Preacher and the miners. It’s up to Preacher to take the fight to LaHood’s mining operation and stop them...

Eastwood returns to the genre that defined him in what could be seen as an homage to his ‘Dollar’ character, the man with no name. It would be nearly 7 years after that Eastwood returned to the Western with ‘Unforgiven’. This remains my favourite of his Western films as it looks to be the one Eastwood had most fun with. It’s not a story line that feels recycled or boring, even though the idea may have been done dozens of times before.

However it’s the characters that fill the screen that make this an enjoyable romp in the Old West. From the likable miners led by an even more likable Michael Moriarty, you instantly feel for their plight and are on side with who is good and who is bad.

The good guys are easy to like and the bad guys are easy to hate as they bully and blast through the story motivated by greed.

Christopher Penn and Richard Kiel are a great pair of thugs who enforce the rules of Lahood by way of pillaging and bullying, but Kiel gives great comedic moments and a powerful turning point when Penn’s character goes too far in sending Hull a message by way of his young step-daughter to be, Megan, played tenderly and powerfully by the beautiful Sydney Penny.

Eastwood lets the characters develop and shine as they escalate from simple shows of force to all out murder when the evil Stockburn arrives, played with great casual menace by John Russell. It’s Stockburn and his deputies who are an iconic tool for this film, doing nothing but delivering great violence and intimidation from their arrival and appear as a classic set of Western villains. 

The landscapes look wonderful from under the harsh baking sun to the cool crisp snow, and Eastwood uses all locations to their greatest advantage to portray a real working environment, full of operations mines and dig sites which give this a feel of how the people of the 1800s worked for a living in America, rather than just shacked up in saloons and barbershops (both of which do appear here of course, but not for long).

Clint’s character, the mysterious Preacher, is one of his best. He’s smart, quick witted and deeply sincere and good natured. We have a few hidden demons of course to give the character some depth as we discover what makes him tick, but he’s not torn between the morals of good and evil; he simply is on the side of good and knows what evil looks like and does what he has to in order to repel it and protect the innocent.

Eastwood is a more than capable director who gives us a real slow-burning thriller, and a final brutal battle that has everything all good Westerns should.

'Pale Rider' is a Malpaso Productions film

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