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Pale Rider

Clint Eastwood has done his share of deconstructing the American western in films like "Unforgiven", while contributing to the classic western with films like "Hang Em High" and "A Fistful of Dollars".

Somewhere in the middle falls the entertaining 1985 hit PALE RIDER.

In a California gold mining town, the good citizens have staked their claim and are working hard to strike gold. Unfortunately, the town is pretty much owned & run by Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) and his son Josh (Chris Penn), who are actively trying to intimidate and bully the good folks out of town.

Mild mannered Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) is suffering a beating in the town when a tall stranger on an Appaloosa appears out of nowhere and lays waste to the bad guys with a piece of hickory.

The stranger is The Preacher, played with quiet strength by Eastwood.

He follows Hull back to his settlement and proceeds to quietly teach them some lessons about strength and loyalty while occasionally morphing into Dirty Harry. Like the TV series "Kung Fu" its about a quiet man that can whoop ass when needed.

The interesting part of the screenplay by Michael Butler & Dennis Shyrack (Code of Silence, The Gauntlet) is that it clearly sets up The Preacher as one of two distinct possibilities. A glimpse of bullet wounds on the Preacher's back and the story set up the fact that he is likely dead, a ghost come back to protect the innocent. You can also choose to presume that he laid low and let his wounds heal before pursuing those that have wronged him.

It's really open ended and up to you. I choose the former as it's more fun to see The Preacher as an avenging spirit, fighting for right with an eye on those that took him out, including Stockburn and his seven deputies.

The final showdown in the town is classic Eastwood, well acted by all and well directed by Eastwood himself.

The photography is beautiful, with the fall leaves and snow covered mountains that make even the most bullet ridden western town look inviting. Director of Photography Bruce Surtees was a frequent collaborator of Clint's (Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz, The Outlaw Josey Wales) and their work together here creates a great looking film.

This was the highest grossing Western of the 80's at the box office and holds up perfectly today.

There's nothing like a great piece of hickory, or Eastwood in the 70's and 80's. Pale Rider gets a B.

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