Pale Rider (1985) Directed by Clint Eastwood
Capitalist greed is probably at the heart of most evils we come across or face. Clint the Republican once again makes a movie about the little people and that struggle. At this stage in Clint's career, his only response to that greed is violence. Yes, more contradictions.
Pale Rider is the least talked about of Clint's post-Leone Westerns. This is the middle film that forms a loose trilogy along with High Plains Drifter and Unforgiven. As in the earlier High Plains Drifter, Clint plays a man with no name out for revenge. This time he's seemingly a man of God, which the prospector villagers he comes to represent refer to as Preacher. Preacher is one of the coldest characters Clint has played, displaying little emotion, just a cool head. He single-handedly takes the fight to the mining company trying to destroy the prospectors.
An obvious score from Lennie Neihaus feels intrusive. Some poor performances from some of the villagers. Otherwise you can admire Bruce Surtees natural light and autumnal cinematography (how radical this must have seemed in the mid 80's), and the way Clint focuses on essential parts of his iconography. The close-ups of his face, bony fingers loading the guns, the coat. Clint always looks the coolest cowboy in town. Pale Rider also references Clint's own Western career, from the Leone Man With No Name, to The Outlaw Josey Wales, even Joe Kidd. But the nods to Ford and especially Stevens Shane at the end are obvious.
Although the spooky intensity of High Plains Drifter is not so much here, the mystery is cranked as high. As is the Gothic, religious imagery, especially when the Preacher has to face down the 7 Marshals. Apocalypse is a theme. Clint the lean biblical harbinger of death. After this violence it was left to William "Bill" Munny and Unforgiven's about face and the futility of the gun, a theme Clint has explored ever since. Pale Rider prints the legend, it's interesting, stands up, and is worth a look.
This is how you make compromises in relationships: you ask to watch a Woody Allen, and therefore you agree to go for a Western the next night. The funny thing is that I'm beginning to feel like a winner on both nights.
Seeing Pale Rider is much more pleasurable than watching Clint Eastwood in his more contemporary revenge scenarios (I know that Pale Rider is from the mid-1980s but it belongs to the original Clint genre). The aesthetic completeness of this film confirms that the Western is the genre Clint excels at; it is where he comes from and what creates the iconography. Here the revenge and the unavoidable rape threat towards a beautiful young woman/girl (themes which continue to haunt all Clint films) are somewhat justified for the development of the plot.
I think that Clint Eastwood is seen through the Western imagery, as this same nameless character in all other kinds of films he has made and that is why he appears so all-powerful to the devoted viewers. When he fails in Grand Torino for example, or in Bronco Billy, it is against his unkillable character of the Westerns that people see it is as great and daring positioning of himself. To admit to weakness is the ultimate turn-on, right?
Only the special ones ride on polka-dot horses: Clint and Pippi Longstocking. And both of them fight for justice and have incredible powers.