Pale Rider

Pale Rider

Pale Rider is a 1985 Western film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. This movie has plot similarities to the classic Western Shane (1953), including a final scene that is very similar to the famous final scene of the earlier movie. There are also similarities to Eastwood's previous Man with No Name character, and his 1973 western High Plains Drifter. The title is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as the rider of a pale horse is Death.

Pale Rider was primarily filmed in the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho, just north of Sun Valley in late 1984. The opening scenes featuring the jagged Sawtooth Mountains were shot outside of Stanley. The film also features Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Christopher Penn, Richard Dysart, Sydney Penny, Richard Kiel, Doug McGrath and John Russell.

Pale Rider is the only Eastwood film to have clear religious overtones throughout - though several of his other films such as High Plains Drifter also make heavy use of religious ideas and imagery.

The film is unique within the western genre because it focuses on the California Gold Rush. And although the film is not specifically dated, it may take place before the American Civil War.


The plot centers on the conflict between a group of simple, poor, panning miners and the most powerful man in the nearby town, Coy LaHood, the boss of a successful hydraulic mining outfit, that wants to take over their land. The film opens with the ruffians of LaHood riding into the panner's camp, shooting things up and pulling down tents and cabins. Soon after, one of the panners heads into town for supplies, and is set upon by the same ruffians. A drifter (Clint Eastwood) rides in and defends the miner with unexpected skill wielding a hickory axe handle. Upon returning to the placers camp, the drifter compounds this surprise by revealing a minister's collar when invited to dinner, thus acquiring the name "Preacher". A classic western story line develops, leading to a final showdown in town between LaHood and Preacher.


Religious overtones

In an audio interview, Clint Eastwood revealed that his character Preacher "is an out and out ghost". The idea that the Preacher is a supernatural, immortal being is suggested early in the film when he is shown with six bullet wounds on his back—wounds that no mortal could survive. Stockburn is shot in a near-identical pattern during the final stand-off. Furthermore, the Preacher character arrives riding a pale horse at the same moment that a teenage girl—who had earlier asked help from God—reads from the Bible in Revelation of the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse, Death riding on a pale horse.

When LaHood describes Preacher to Marshall Stockburn, the Marshall says the man sounds familiar, except that the man he's thinking of is already dead. Stockburn does indeed appear to recognize the Preacher in the film's climax immediately before his death.

There are several counterpoints to the idea that the Preacher is supernatural including: that the Preacher stores his sixguns in a safe-deposit box; that he possibly has sex with Sarah on the night before the big gunfight; and that his life is shown "saved" twice, once by Hull and again by LaHood thug Club.

Comparison to the movie Shane

The movie is nearly a step-by-step Shane homage. A stranger (Shane/The Preacher) arrives in a town and is hosted by a local (Joe Starrett/Hull Barret), his wife (Marian/Sarah) and their child (Bob/Megan). The stranger and the local bond when they take on an "impossible task" together (undermining a root/cracking a boulder). But the local's land and his friends' is in peril by a greedy businessman (Fletcher/LaHood). The stranger fends off an initial advance and gains one of the businessman's henchmen (Chris/Club). The local's child falls for the stranger, but is rejected at first. The stranger is made to relive his past when the businessman calls for an assassin (Stark Wilson/Stockburn) and one of the local's friends is killed. The stranger handles the assassin on his own in a final duel where both assassin and businessman are killed. He then leaves, and the child runs after him and cries out tearfully "I love you".


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