Clint Eastwood

A Second Look at Pale Rider

#33 in my ranking of Clint Eastwood’s films.

So, Pale Rider was one of those movies I randomly watched and reviewed a few years ago. I’d never seen it before, and I was underwhelmed. I was looking forward to revisiting it to see if my opinion would change on a second viewing as well as within the context of Eastwood’s overall directorial filmography.

I actually went back and re-read my original review (I’ve changed how I write them a good bit, it seems) mostly to figure out the specifics of what my problems had been.

Caught up, I turned on the movie, and I found that my reaction was largely the same. Some of the specifics of my issues were different. I don’t think Clint Eastwood’s The Preacher is as aimless. He seems more purposeful than I originally asserted. However, I cannot escape the feeling that this is two films at war with each other. The one involves The Preacher finding his vengeance against Stockburn (John Russell), a concept that doesn’t really get introduced until the final third of the film, and the conflict between La Hood (Richard Dysart) and the miners led by Hull (Michael Moriarty). The two stories feel incidentally connected by geography rather than connected through any kind of strong storytelling way. It’s not thematic, and it’s barely driven together by plot.

I also find all of the female pining over The Preacher, exemplified by Sarah (Carrie Snodgress) and her daughter Megan (Sydney Penny) to be unconvincing. The scene where Megan confesses her love to an obviously unreceptive Preacher is odd to take. I don’t really understand the point of the two main female characters being completely head over heels for him. It really makes me question the effort made to include the Preacher into the story of the miners. Is it the story of the Preacher’s self-awakening and eventual revenge, or is it the story of miners making their own way in the world in spite of the corrupt pressures upon them.

There is a thematic connection at some level, I suppose. Stockburn is a corrupt Marshal that used his position to kill the Preacher (presumably, the whole play about whether the Preacher is an avenging angel is laid on a lot thicker than in something like High Plains Drifter which plays better in my mind). However, since Stockburn isn’t seen until about the 80 minute point, he doesn’t actually serve any kind of official function within the film itself. I wonder if making Stockburn the local marshal, part of La Hood’s efforts to drive out the miners, would have been a better way to introduce him into the story.

So, I came away from my second viewing with pretty much the same opinion as the first. It has its charms, but it’s a fractured package that doesn’t gel. I did love the outdoor photography a whole lot.

11 thoughts on “A Second Look at Pale Rider”

    1. “to be unconvincing.”

      Such a deep, insightful thought I had. It must be finished!

      I guess I just kind of got lost in the sentence construction, forgetting my point. It sometimes happens.

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    1. Deconstruction, successful deconstruction, requires love of the thing being deconstructed. It’s about stripping something well-worn to its most basic of elements and refashioning it in a new light with renewed appreciation.

      I get no sense that anyone involved in the writing cared about the Western genre at all.

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  1. Yeah, this is a badly written, badly acted, badly shot movie. (Some of the outdoor shots are ok). I commented on some of my problems in the first review you posted, so I won’t re-hash that too much.

    I do want to talk about the way this movie attempts to be Shane and High Plains Drifter and is a poor copy of each. Although ‘A Stranger Comes to Town’ is one of the, four(?) basic Western plots, this one fails to execute on it well. Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgrass, Sydney Penny all turn in poor performances, the latter two do not feel like any attempt was made to play women of that time period, in behavior or in dialect. Michael Moriarty is just a charisma vaccum. Say what you will about Van Heflin in Shane, he came off as a man.

    The story beats are way too similar to Shane, the tree/stump removal is glaringly similar and inferior. Screenwriter Michael Butler seems like a boring Hollywood hack with little good to his name, unless Code of Silence is a secret masterpiece. Dennis Shryack likewise seems to be a plodder and no expert on the Western genre. Both screenwriters worked with Clint on The Gauntlet, which also had plot problems. I’m guessing they just copy and pasted from the biggest and best known (in many ways) Western and Clint fiddled with the script while directing trying to add depth that wasn’t there.

    The introduction of the Preacher is handled well. And Clint is solid throughout, no complaints about him. He plays a watered down version of the Drifter, older, calmer. This is not a spirit of vengeance, in my opinion. But….but he does exhibit some borderline supernatural power that just jars rather than intrigues. It’s too subtle, too unexplained, is he revenant this time seeking justice instead of revenge? Not enough is done with it, so it just feels like a poor copy.

    The women mooning over Clint just reinforces how weak and useless the men of the mining camp are. Women are hungry for masculine men.

    The antagonists are pretty well drawn, not as well drawn as in Shane, but better than High Plains Drifter. It feels too much like coincidence Stockburn showing up and him having a past with the Preacher. It’s not set up, it just…happens out of nowhere in an attempt to make the Preacher seem more….ghostly?

    It’s not Clint’s worst movie but I don’t like it. I like scenes from it but the movie is a painful slog to sit through and I’ve done that, like 3 times now.

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    1. I suppose the pining over the women could be about the awfulness of the men of the camp, but that reaction feels more like the reactions of bored suburban housewives rather than women struggling to scrape a living off of rocks in the wilderness. I’d buy it more if he represented some kind of escape rather than just being a manly man who is around.

      I remember being disappointed the first time I watched it, especially considering its IDMB rating (7.3/10). I really don’t get why it has such a rating so high. I just don’t engage with it at all.

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  2. Just watched this one. I thought it was okay, lacking mostly in the story department.

    But what’s with the Richard Kiel Becomes a Good Guy thing? It happened with Jaws and it happened here, and I think in a couple of other films.

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    1. I don’t know…Kiel seems like he was a good soul. He looks like he was a nice guy despite his large frame and less than classically good looks.

      Did he play an outright bad guy other than his first appearance as Jaws?

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      1. I think he played a number of villains on television, memorably on “The Wild Wild West” and the “To Serve Man” episode of “The Twilight Zone” but I’m not really that familiar with his filmography.

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