Wednesday, July 04, 2018
Directed and starring Clint Eastwood and written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, Pale Rider is the story of a mysterious gunslinger who arrives in a mining town to help the innocent deal with the corrupt people running the mines. The film is a western that involves a man who is quite religious as he tries to help those in need of saving in a world that is quite corrupt. Also starring Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Chris Penn, Richard Dysart, Sydney Penny, Richard Kiel, Doug McGrath, and John Russell. Pale Rider is a rich yet eerie film from Clint Eastwood.
The film revolves around a small community living nearby a creek in Northern California where they’re being harassed and attacked by thugs working for a businessman as the community get unexpected help from a mysterious drifter who is also a preacher. It’s a film that play into this struggle of a group of people trying to find gold in their own land nearby a small town that is largely owned by this mining businessman. Though this community have a legal claim to the land, the businessman hires thugs to try and get rid of them until they meet trouble in this mysterious drifter known only as the Preacher (Clint Eastwood). The film’s screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack is straightforward in its narrative while not doing much to reveal the identity of the Preacher other than he arrived as if he answered the prayer of this 14-year old girl named Megan (Sydney Penny) whose dog was killed by thugs during an attack.
When a man named Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) goes to town for supplies and to pay off some money he owes to its merchant, he is attacked by those same thugs until the Preacher comes in. It would set the story in motion as the Preacher would be a source of inspiration where he doesn’t kill anyone at first while remaining very little about who he was. Even Megan’s mother Sarah Wheeler (Carrie Snodgress) has her suspicions but eventually warms up to him once he shows his worth and willingness to stand up to the thugs who work for the businessman Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart). Adding to this growing conflict between LaHood and the small community of settlers is the fact that LaHood is trying to take control as well as embark on a new venture that does more harm to the land than good through strip mining.
Clint Eastwood’s direction is mesmerizing for not just its setting but also for the haunting tone of the film as it relates to the Preacher’s mysterious presence. Shot on various locations in Idaho such as the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area as well a few scenes shot at Tuolumne County in California. Eastwood sets the film at a time in the mid to late 19th Century during the final days of the California Gold Rush as Eastwood would shoot on locations around creeks and canyons to play into the life of settlers as well as what they do when they go to this small town with some caution due to the fact that LaHood’s men are lurking wanting to cause trouble and get the settlers out for good. Eastwood’s usage of the wide shots play into the vast look of the locations including the land that LaHood’s worker led by his son Josh (Chris Penn) is watching over as it showcases this piece of land being stripped by these hydraulic water pipes that play into this idea of modernism as there’s a scene of the Preacher looking at this with immense disgust. Eastwood would also use medium shots and close-ups to help characters interact with one another including a tense scene where the Preacher meets LaHood for the first time in LaHood’s office as the former is given an offer by the latter.
The direction also have these elements of mysticism as it relates to the Preacher where is seen in a shot at a certain position in the frame and then when it goes in the same shot on that location, he’s not there. It also play into Megan’s need for salvation although she is unsure if the Preacher would really do good as there’s still a lot of anger towards LaHood and his thugs. The film’s third act relates to the arrival of a corrupt marshal in Stockburn (John Russell) who is hired to take care of business as he is aware of the Preacher but isn’t sure if he remembers him. The film’s climax with Eastwood’s careful approach compositions and suspense help play into the excitement of the film as well as this sense of justice where it is about one man versus an order of greed and corruption. Overall, Eastwood creates an evocative yet exhilarating film about a drifter helping out settlers fight off a gang of thugs.
Cinematographer Bruce Surtees does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting for some of the exteriors in the daytime and some of its sunny look to the usage of grey skies for the scenes during the winter as well as low-key lighting for scenes set at night and in the interior settings. Editor Joel Cox does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythm cuts for some of the action scenes. Production designer Edward C. Carfagno and set decorator Ernie Bishop do amazing work with the look of the sets from the design of the town to the strip mining camp that Josh LaHood runs.
Costume designer Deborah Hopper does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the look of the times with the exception of LaHood who is often wearing a suit. Sound mixer C. Darin Knight does superb work with the sound as it is straightforward with some textures into the way some of the locations sound such as the strip mining camp and in the film’s climax. The film’s music by Lennie Niehaus is wonderful for its orchestral score that play into the air of bombast and eerie string arrangements as well as some cadence drum sounds for the film’s climax.
The casting by Phyllis Huffman is terrific as it feature some notable small roles from Billy Drago as one of Stockburn’s deputies, Doug McGrath as a settler named Spider Conway, Jeffrey Weisman and Chuck Lafont as Conway’s teenage sons, Charles Hallahan and Marvin J. McIntyre as a couple of LaHood’s goons, Fran Ryan and Richard Hamilton as local merchants who help the settlers as they don’t like LaHood but are afraid of him, and Richard Kiel as a gigantic hood of LaHood in Club who doesn’t say much yet his presence alone is intimidating. Chris Penn is fantastic as LaHood’s son Josh as a young cowboy who help take charge of the thugs and the mining where he tries to intimidate the Preacher only to get his comeuppance. Sydney Penny is excellent as Megan Wheeler as a 14-year old girl who prays for help and is fascinated by the Preacher to the point of infatuation. John Russell is superb as Marshal Stockburn as a notoriously corrupt marshal that is known for taking care of business as well as being extremely skilled in killing people where he is bewildered by the mention of the Preacher.
Richard Dysart is terrific as Coy LaHood as a mining businessman that wants to have control of all lands nearby just to make money by any means necessary as he also wants to intimidate the settlers any way he can. Michael Moriarty is brilliant as Hull Barrett as a settler who is trying to mine for gold to have a decent life as he also pines for Sarah Wheeler and befriends the Preacher whom he sees as a source of inspiration. Carrie Snodgress is amazing as Sarah Wheeler as a woman who is suspicious about the Preacher and his motives as she is also wondering if he is really a man or something else. Finally, there’s Clint Eastwood in an incredible performance as the Preacher as a mysterious man who wears a preacher’s cloth as he helps out Barrett and Wheeler with their troubles while also not being intimidated by everyone by playing it cool and knowing when to strike as it is Eastwood at his best.
Pale Rider is a phenomenal film from Clint Eastwood. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an eerie music soundtrack, and a compelling story. It’s a film that play into the many tropes expected in a western while showcasing a darker side into the world of corruption, greed, and the fallacy of modernism. In the end, Pale Rider is a sensational film from Clint Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood Films: (Play Misty for Me) – High Plains Drifter - (Breezy) - (The Eiger Sanction) - (The Outlaw Josey Wales) - (The Gauntlet) - (Bronco Billy) - (Firefox) - (Honkytonk Man) – Sudden Impact - (Heartbreak Ridge) - (Bird) - (White Hunter Black Heart) - (The Rookie) – Unforgiven - (A Perfect World) - (The Bridges of Madison County) - (Absolute Power) - (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) - (True Crime) - (Space Cowboys) - (Blood Work) - (Mystic River) – Million Dollar Baby - Flags of Our Fathers - Letters from Iwo Jima - Changeling - Gran Torino) – (Invictus) – (Hereafter) – (J. Edgar) – (Jersey Boys) – American Sniper - (Sully) – (The 15:17 to Paris) – (The Mule (2019 film))
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