Release Date: June 28th
Box Office: $41,410,568
Clint Eastwood has always been someone operating at the edge of mainstream cinema.
That might seem like a peculiar statement given his iconic stature and his sustained run at the top at the Box Office. But if you take a look at his film choices he always seems to be going against the grain. The Wild West anti-hero. The gruff cop willing to break the rules. The bare knuckle fighter with an orang-utan for a best friend. There were never really the right or safe choice, but they always connected with an audience.
Same thing with Pale Rider. To put it bluntly by the mid-eighties the Western was deader than disco. Heaven’s Gate had been the death knell of a genre that once dominated everything. No one of any real stature had gone near a Western since that film had brought down a studio.
Not that Client doesn’t care about that, of course.
Pale Rider shares plot details with one of Eastwood’s earlier films, High Plains Drifter; a small community is under threat and help comes from a mysterious stranger riding out of the plains.
Both share supernatural elements, although whilst Drifter is more of a ghost story Plains is more religious in it’s themes. The title refers to one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Eastwood’s character wears a clerical collar and is referred to as Preacher.
It also feels much more grounded, the whole look of the film having an roughness to it that lends it a realism to counter the supernatural aspects of it. Clint is, essentially, Clint which is never a bad thing. This tends to be the case in his films with the elements surrounding him changing and reflecting different aspects of this character. Here the film is all about retribution, Clint’s dead Preacher going about his business without too much backstory. People react to him and by the end of the film, his task seemingly completed, he rides off into the wilderness unchanged. It is the rest of the world that bends around him, not the other way around.
The film was a commercial and critical success, topping lists as one of the best films of the year. It sits between the much maligned City Heat and decent Heartbreak Ridge making it one of the high spots of Eastwood’s work during the 80s. It would also be his best film until his next Western Unforgiven in 1992. Typical of Eastwood; no one else would go near the genre except for him. A whole career of never doing what was expected of him proved successful yet again.