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Film / Pale Rider

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"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him."
Revelation 6:7–8 (KJV)

A gunslinging drifter befriends a determined frontier family and is especially idolized by their child. Their livelihood is threatened by a bigger, more powerful company that seeks to drive them off their land by either force and intimidation, or simply buying them out. The Drifter fights for the family and defeats the Corrupt Corporate Executive and his mooks, but ultimately leaves his friends behind and continues a life of drifting.

No, this is not Shane. This is Pale Rider, a 1985 Western directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood is cast as a Preacher With No Name who crosses paths with a band of hapless gold miners hoping to strike it rich. The miners are often harassed by thugs hired by LaHood (Richard Dysart), the Corrupt Corporate Executive of a local mining company, who hopes to drive them off the land.

Most of the miners are about to give in—except for spunky protagonist Megan, her mother, and their friend Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty)—when the Preacher shows up. The Preacher intervenes on Hull's behalf, saving him from LaHood's mooks. With some convincing from Hull and Megan, the rest of the miners unite behind the Preacher against LaHood. Unfortunately, LaHood also recognizes the threat posed by the Preacher and in retaliation he hires Stockburn (John Russell), a corrupt marshal with a deadly posse. It seems as though Stockburn and the Preacher have a history.

The film is notable for being one of the very few Eastwood films to have strong religious and supernatural overtones. Many of its elements are derived from or similar to earlier Eastwood Westerns, namely The Dollars Trilogy and High Plains Drifter.

Pale Rider provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: Throughout the film (as can be expected when the hero is "The Preacher"), but especially the passage from Revelation (the page quote) that Megan and her mother read as The Preacher rides in.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Stockburn, the marshal, is a villainous take on the trope.
  • Back from the Dead: Strongly implied, if the six bullet wounds on The Preacher's back are any indication.
  • Badass Longcoat:
    • Stockburn's entire posse wears matching brown coats. When they're all standing in a line looking down at a victim, it's pretty intimidating.
    • The Preacher has a badass duster himself, though he usually wears it closed. Until he takes up his guns....
  • Badass Preacher: Comes with having Clint Eastwood play him. Even before he takes up his guns, he manages to keep the LaHoods at bay via mental intimidation.
  • Better as Friends: Sarah comes to this conclusion with the Preacher when she gets an epiphany that the Preacher is a drifter that is eventually going to leave her like her first husband.
  • The Brute: Club (played by Richard Kiel) is brought in to intimidate Preacher, but falls to a well-aimed Groin Attack.
  • Chekhov's Gun: On the day of the showdown, Hull shows the Preacher his bison rifle to let him know that he is prepared. He then uses it to kill LaHood in the finale.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Preacher is quite clever with his use of surroundings. And instead of fighting Club when they first meet, he manipulates him to help split a rock he and Hull were trying to break.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Near the end, Hull kicks in the back door and kills Coy LaHood, who is pointing his rifle out the window at the helpless Preacher.
  • Covered in Scars: Early in the film, we see Preacher's bare back, riddled with bullet wound scars. Considering how nasty they look, it's one of our biggest hints of Preacher's supernatural nature.
  • Don't Fear The Reaper: The Preacher seems to represent one of The Four Horsemen, Death specifically. It's to interpretation if he really is human, though.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Club ends up helping the Preacher in one of the last fights of the film, grabbing Josh LaHood as he's about to shoot Preacher In the Back, giving the Preacher a friendly smile.
  • The Dragon: Stockburn, when he shows up, becomes this to LaHood.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The Preacher methodically reloads his Remington Model 1858 revolver by switching out preloaded cylinders. Each time he does it, he's out in the open, in plain view of Stockburn's men, with an unconcerned expression on his face, because they can't stop him.
  • The Drifter: Preacher appears to be this. However, it's strongly hinted that he's an agent of divine retribution.
  • Duel to the Death: The finale ends up being Stockburn vs. Preacher.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Apparently Club doesn't like teenage girls being raped in his presence.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Averted; LaHood offers to build a better church in town for the Preacher, who briefly plays along before making it clear that he can't be bought. LaHood then makes a reasonable offer to buy the miners out. The miners appear ready to accept until Hull talks them out of it.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Preacher. Nobody bothers to ask for his real name throughout the whole film.
  • Groin Attack: The Preacher beats Club by hitting his groin with a sledgehammer
  • The Gunslinger: The Preacher seemingly was one, and takes up his guns again to defeat Stockburn and LaHood. Stockburn and his men also count.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Initially content to be a Mook for LaHood, Club turns around upon witnessing Megan's near-assault by Josh LaHood, and then helps The Preacher and Hull destroy the LaHood mine system.
  • Hired Guns: Hull sort of hires The Preacher with room and board. LaHood hires Stockburn and his boys.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Title Drop invokes this in its parallel with The Preacher's arrival.
  • It's All My Fault: When Preacher suddenly disappears, Megan is convinced that he'd left because of their fight earlier.
  • It's Personal: The Preacher states to Sarah that he has a score to settle with Stockburn.
  • Kick the Dog: The thugs shoot a cow and Megan's pet puppy in the opening scene. Later on, Stockburn's gang kills one of the miners just for mouthing off.
  • Love Confession: Megan and her mother both give one to The Preacher.
  • Love Triangle: Both Megan and her mother have romantic interest in the Preacher, oddly enough. But he doesn't seem to return the feelings for either of them. Of course, being that he's probably a ghost, it's possible that he can't return their feelings, physically or otherwise.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Preacher could be just a man unbelievably lucky to survive six gunshot wounds to the back, he could be a vengeful ghost, an Angel of Death, or something else entirely.
  • Mysterious Past: We never know for sure just who The Preacher is, the exact nature of his past encounters with Stockburn, or even whether he's really a preacher. It's implied his near-death experience (if that's what it was...) was what led to him hanging up his guns and taking up the cloth...but even that's speculation.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: After the Preacher rides to town to deal with Stockburn and his deputies, Megan goes after him to give him a proper farewell only to barely reach town after he just left.
  • Nice Guy: Hull's a great guy, just really bland compared to the badass Preacher.
  • No Name Given: Just "The Preacher". Not even Stockburn says his "real" name.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: When LaHood threatens to bring in Stockburn, the Preacher points out that he comes at a high price and it would be cheaper to buy the miners out. To the surprise of his men, LaHood accepts this. It's the miners themselves who turn down the offer.
  • Precocious Crush: Megan, who is 14, has one on Preacher, who is her elder by a significant margin (Eastwood was 55 at the time of filming).
  • Prospector: The film is all about them, with a contrast between the more primitive methods of Hull's struggling, sympathetic tin-panner community and the more advanced (and destructive) methods of the villainous LaHood's mining company.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Pillaging and burning appear in the beginning of the film, courtesy of the bad guy's mooks. The raping comes later, but the preacher intervenes to stop it going the course.
  • Recycled Premise: The film can come across as a loose remake of Shane. Furthermore, with the heavily implied supernatural nature of The Preacher and the haunting main theme, it's also quite similar to Eastwood's directorial debut High Plains Drifter, albeit much less dark and nihilistic.
  • Rescue Introduction: The Preacher and Hull first meet when the Preacher rescues him from a bunch of thugs.
  • Romantic Runnerup: Hull for Sarah, who is clearly more interested in Preacher after she gets to know him. However, she comes to accept Hull's proposal upon realizing it would never work out between her and The Preacher.
  • Say My Name: Stockton wages some psychological warfare the night before their confrontation by shouting "PREEEACHERRR!" into the valley.
  • Scenery Porn: Actually downplayed. There isn't too much emphasis on the surrounding environment, in this Western.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Six of LaHood's men try to shoot the Preacher in the back near the climax. Two survive since the preacher doesn't shoot people who are running away.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Justified. Sarah's previous husband ran out on her, which is why she is cautious about falling in love again. She ends up with Hull, who has supported her and her daughter for quite some time.
  • Smitten Teenage Girl: Megan wants to marry the Preacher despite the fact that Megan is only fourteen and the Preacher is old enough to be Megan's father.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: This film has a comparable setup to Eastwood's previous movie High Plains Drifter since both movies are about a nameless gunfighter with ambiguously supernatural abilities who helps defend a small town from violent thugs. However, the biggest difference is that Preacher and the gold panners are genuine heroes unlike the Stranger and the town of Lago.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Done all the time by Preacher to imply his supernatural nature.
  • Stock Quotes: See Title Drop. Notably, as Megan recites that passage, we see Preacher ride up outside the house.
  • Title Drop: "I looked and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death."
  • Took a Level in Badass Hull. In the film's climax, he accompanies Preacher to attack LaHood's mining camp with sticks of dynamite. A little later, he's the one who takes out LaHood while Preacher takes care of Stockburn and his men.
  • The Unreveal: The Preacher never reveals his true identity. Stockburn seemingly recognizes him, but he never gets a chance to spill the beans to the audience.
  • Villainous Cheekbones: John Russell put his high cheekbones to good use as the antagonistic Stockburn.
  • Villainous Rescue: Club tries to intervene on the attempted gang-rape of Megan just before the Preacher shows up.
  • Weird West: The Preacher could be interpreted as an otherworldly being. When Megan prays for a miracle, he turns up the next day, and the scars on his back show that he once survived being shot six times.
  • "You!" Exclamation: When Stockburn finally comes face to face with the Preacher, he just emits a shocked "You!" before drawing his gun.