Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pale Rider (USA, 1985)

(Trailer.) Two years after directing the unexplainably popular Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact (1983/trailer), the only Dirty Harry film Clint Eastwood directed and the most inexcusably repulsive of them all—and almost the most retarded of all the films the good man ever directed (second only to The Eiger Sanction (1975/trailer), which was less repulsive than simply bad)—Eastwood obviously found it time to do another Man with No Name film and made this flick, his version of Shane (1953/trailer). And, like virtually every western to grace the silver screen that features Squinty Clint, Pale Rider is one fucking cool movie. And not just because he looks damn hot and sexy (for an at the time 55-year-old) as he squints and strides about in his nifty outfit and spurs, but because the film is a well directed and well acted ride that manages to transcend its derivative roots and become a solid chapter narrating a brief interlude that could easily have occurred in the twilight years of the famed character that graced the three classics of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy.
Not that Eastwood ever sold the film as such, but when an unnamed gunman (played by Eastwood) rides in from nowhere, saves the day and then rides away to only god knows where, the said gunman can only be seen as such. OK, in Pale Rider the character played by Eastwood is often called Preacher, but it is the name given to him by others (as was the case in Leone’s films) and, furthermore, it remains doubtful throughout the film whether or not he truly is a preacher or merely dresses as one. Other trademarks of the Man with No Name that are missing include his classic cigarillo and poncho, but much likes the guns that "Preacher" retrieves from a safe deposit box late into the movie, those accouterments might have been given up over the course of the years. No and, ifs or buts about it, even if the Pale Rider isn't supposed to be an older version of the nameless Spaghetti cowboy, he is nonetheless truly a man with no name. (A man with no name that, in another couple of years and under a new name, could easily be “Unforgiven”.)
But is the hero even a man? As alive as Preacher is in Pale Rider, it almost seems as if he has been sent by powers above to help those in need, for his first appearance comes not long after the young Megan Wheeler (Sydney Penny) reads from her Bible: "And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." That he is possibly a supernatural entity returning from the dead to finish a job of vengeance is further supported by a brief scene of him washing himself reveals the scars of a load of bullets that should well have killed the man. But this slight supernatural angle is never played in full, for as able and unstoppable as Preacher may seemingly be he also comes close to being killed twice, and in both cases is only saved through the unexpected intervention of someone else—first by Club (Richard "Jaws" Kiel), who obviously changes sides midway into the film when repulsed by the attempted gang rape of Megan, and later by Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty), who just happens to show up at the right second.
Shot amidst the impressive beauty of Sawtooth Range of the Rocky Mountains (in Idaho), the movie has an oddly pro-ecologist feel to it: strip mining is used as an obvious symbol of the evilness and inner moral rot of Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart), the man out to control the region. A moral rot that is shared by his son Josh (a pre-bloat Chris Penn) and everyone else of his entourage—including Marshal Stockburn (John Russell) and his deputies, all of whom wear the badge of the law but are obviously only obeisant to the almighty dollar.
As a whole Pale Rider is hardly the most innovative of Westerns, but it is a solid and enjoyable retelling of the classic western plotline of the beleaguered honest man being downtrodden by the stronger and dishonest man in power, only to achieve new hope and strength by the sudden arrival of a mysterious hero who helps save the day. In this case, those beleaguered are a camp of impoverished prospectors mining their claim outside of the town of LaHood, California. They are the thorn in the eye of Coy LaHood, the man who runs the town, who tries to rid himself of his unwanted neighbors through threat, physical violence and bribery. Hull Barret, who lives with Sarah Wheeler (Carrie Snodgress), the deserted mother of Megan, is the moral core and strength of the prospectors, but he is fighting a losing battle. While in town to pick up supplies Hull is beaten by LaHood’s men and is about to be set aflame when his life is saved by the sudden intervention of a mysterious man who, after taking up Hull’s invitation to stay with him, reveals himself to wear a cleric’s collar. But for a cleric, he is both low in Bible quotations and more than physically able to protect himself (and, likewise, not averse to taking advantage of the hospitality of others in more ways than one). The appearance of Preacher leads to new hope among the prospectors, which first causes the disagreements between the two camps to increase and, after the arrival of corrupt marshal and his men, the body count as well. Then, as suddenly as he came, the Preacher is gone—only to return a short time later fully armed...

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