Pale Rider is a 1985 American fantasy Western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in the lead role. The title is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as the pale horse's ghost rider (Eastwood) represents Death. The film, which took in over $41 million at the box office, became the highest grossing Western of the 1980s.[3]

Pale Rider
Pale Rider.jpg
Theatrical release poster by C. Michael Dudash
Directed byClint Eastwood
Written byMichael Butler
Dennis Shryack
Produced byClint Eastwood
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byJoel Cox
Music byLennie Niehaus
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • June 26, 1985 (1985-06-26)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.9 million[1]
Box office$41.4 million[2]


Outside the snowy mountain town of LaHood, California, armed men working for mining baron Coy LaHood destroy the camp of independent prospectors and their families. One of them shoots a dog belonging to 14-year-old Megan Wheeler. After burying her dog in the woods, she prays, asking God for deliverance, "If You don't help us, we're all going to die. Please, just one miracle." Thunder rolls, and a lone horseman astride a fine, pale horse, appears, riding easily but with inexorable purpose toward Carbon Valley.

Megan's mother, Sarah, is being courted by Hull Barret, who stepped in when Megan's father abandoned them. When Hull heads to town to pick up supplies, four of Lahood's men beat him with axe handles before the stranger fights them off. Hull then invites his rescuer to dinner and, while the stranger is washing, notices what appears to be six bullet wounds in his back. When the stranger arrives at the dining table, he is wearing a clerical collar and is thereafter referred to as "Preacher".

Coy LaHood's son, Joshua, attempts to scare off the Preacher with a show of strength from a workman named Club, who breaks a large rock in half with a single hammer blow and then tries to attack him. The Preacher strikes Club in the face and groin, before gently helping him onto his horse and sending the two men away. Afterwards, the miners work together to smash the rest of the boulder and mine its contents.

Meanwhile, Coy returns from Sacramento and is furious to learn of the Preacher's arrival, realizing that his presence will only strengthen the resolve of the prospectors to hold onto their claims. Failing to bribe and threaten the Preacher, LaHood is persuaded to offer the miners $1,000 per claim provided they evacuate within 24 hours. LaHood says he plans to hire the services of a corrupt marshal named Stockburn to clear them out if they refuse. The miners initially consider the offer but, when Hull reminds them of their purpose and sacrifices, they decide to stay on and fight.

Next morning, the Preacher leaves without notice, retrieves his two revolvers from a bank box, and replaces them with his collar. Meanwhile, the miners find that LaHood's men have dammed the creek running through their camp. They agree to stay for two more days and continue panning the drying creek bed. Megan rides into the LaHood mining camp, where Joshua tries to rape her while the other workers cheer him on. The Preacher arrives on horseback and rescues Megan, disarming Joshua and shooting him through the hand when he pulls his gun.

Stockburn and his six deputies arrive in LaHood. Coy gives him a rough description of the Preacher, which startles Stockburn. When Coy presses him, he says the Preacher reminds him of a man he once knew, but that it cannot possibly be the same person since the man he knew is dead.

Spider Conway, one of the miners and Coy's old partner from back when he first started prospecting, recovers a large gold nugget and rides into town, where he yells drunken abuse at LaHood from the street. Stockburn and his deputies gun him down, and Stockburn tells Spider's sons to take their father's body back to the camp and tell the Preacher to meet him in town the next morning. Sarah goes to the barn where the Preacher is staying, asking him not to go. He refuses, and she kisses him saying that she intends to marry Hull despite her feelings for the Preacher.

The following day, the Preacher and Hull blow up LaHood's mining site with dynamite. To stop Hull from following him, the Preacher scares off Hull's horse and rides into town alone. In the gunfight that follows, he kills all but the two of LaHood's men who run away, and then, one by one, all six of Stockburn's deputies as they spread themselves throughout the town searching for him. When he goes face-to-face with Stockburn, the latter recognizes him in disbelief and goes for his gun. The Preacher draws first, sending six bullets through his torso before shooting him in the head. LaHood, watching from his office, aims a rifle at the Preacher but is surprised and shot dead by Hull.

The Preacher nods at Hull and remarks, "Long walk", before leading his horse from the stable and riding toward the snow-capped mountains. Megan, who had previously been rejected by the Preacher when she admitted her desire to marry him, drives into town too late and shouts her love and thanks to the Preacher. Her words echo through the canyon as he rides off.


Clint Eastwood as the Preacher


Pale Rider was primarily filmed in the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho, just north of Sun Valley in late 1984.[4] The opening credits scene featured the jagged Sawtooth Mountains south of Stanley. Train-station scenes were filmed in Tuolumne County, California, near Jamestown.[5]

Scenes of a more established Gold Rush town (in which Eastwood's character picks up his pistol at a Wells Fargo office) were filmed in the real Gold Rush town of Columbia, also in Tuolumne County.[6]


Religious themesEdit

In an audio interview, Clint Eastwood said that his character Preacher "is an out-and-out ghost."[7] However, whereas Eastwood's 1973 western, High Plains Drifter, resolves its storyline by means of a series of unfolding flashback narratives (although ambiguity still remains), Pale Rider does not include any such obvious clues to the nature and past of the Preacher other than six bullet wound scars on his back and his relationship with Stockburn, who claims he once knew a man like the Preacher. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions regarding the overall story line and its meaning.

The movie's title is taken from the Book of Revelation, chapter 6, verse 8: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." The reading of the biblical passage describing this character is neatly choreographed to correspond with the sudden appearance of the Preacher, who arrived as a result of a prayer from Megan, in which she quoted Psalm 23. Preacher's comment after beating one of the villains is, "Well, the Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways." After Coy offers to let him establish a lucrative ministry in his town, the Preacher replies, "You can't serve God and Mammon both, Mammon being money."[8] According to Robert Jewett, the film's dialogue parallels Paul the Apostle's teaching on divine retribution (Romans 12:19–21).[8]


Box officeEdit

Pale Rider was released in the United States in June 1985, and became one of the highest-grossing Westerns of the 1980s.[9] It was the first mainstream Hollywood Western to be produced after the massive financial failure of Heaven's Gate (1980).

The movie was a success at the North American box office, grossing $41,410,568[10] against a $6,900,000 budget.[11][12]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 93% based on reviews from 27 critics.[13] On Metacritic the film has a score of 61% based on reviews from 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[14]

The review in The New York Times praised Clint Eastwood's performance: "This veteran movie icon handles both jobs [lead actor and director] with such intelligence and facility I'm just now beginning to realize that, though Mr. Eastwood may have been improving over the years, it's also taken all these years for most of us to recognize his very consistent grace and wit as a film maker," concluding that "it's so evocative of a fabled time and place that it never allows the movie to self-destruct in parody. Pale Rider is the first decent western in a very long time."[15]

The reviewer in The Washington Post dissented, finding that "pretty soon we recollect why westerns lost their appeal. . .[the] movie is real pretty, full of little gold aspens and snow-capped mountains, but it is slow, dark and badly timed."[16] On the other hand, the Chicago Tribune commented that though Westerns were out of fashion "fresh and challenging westerns with Clint Eastwood always will be in vogue"[17]

Roger Ebert also praised the film, giving it four out of four stars. Further, he stated, "Pale Rider is, overall, a considerable achievement, a classic Western of style and excitement."[18]

The film was entered into the 1985 Cannes Film Festival[9][19] and included in the Western nominations for the American Film Institute's 10 Top 10 lists.[20]

Trailer musicEdit

The music used in the film's trailer was a stock piece by British composer Alan Hawkshaw known to British viewers for its use as the title theme for Channel 4 News. Unusually, Channel 4 News did not secure permanent exclusivity rights to Hawkshaw's theme, titled "Best Endeavours", resulting in it also being used for the trailer for Pale Rider.[21]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Pale Rider. Archived December 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Box Office Information for Pale Rider. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Barnes, Mike (September 15, 2016). "Dennis Shryack, Screenwriter on Clint Eastwood's 'The Gauntlet' and 'Pale Rider,' Dies at 80". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  4. ^ "Eastwood film gives boost". Spokane Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. November 30, 1984. p. 12.
  5. ^ Jensen, Larry (2018). Hollywood's Railroads: Sierra Railroad. Vol. Two. Sequim, Washington: Cochetopa Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780692064726.
  6. ^ Hughes 2009, p. 36.
  7. ^ "Clint Filmography / Pale Rider". Retrieved February 12, 2008. Refer to the audio link next to section which states: "Listen as Clint Eastwood talks candidly about his thoughts on this film including why he decided to make the movie and its comparisons to Shane."
  8. ^ a b Clive Marsh, Gaye Ortiz, Explorations in theology and film: movies and meaning, Blackwell Publishers 1997 (reprint 2001), p. 68
  9. ^ a b Hughes 2009, p. 38.
  10. ^ "Pale Rider (1985)". Box Office Mojo., Inc. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  11. ^ "Pale Rider movie info". Mooviees!. 2002. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  12. ^ "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. September 4, 1985. Archived from the original on October 14, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  13. ^ "Pale Rider (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  14. ^ "Pale Rider". Metacritic.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 28, 1985). "FILM: CLINT EASTWOOD IN 'PALE RIDER'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 30, 2021. As the Book of Revelations puts it, Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.
  16. ^ Kempley, Rita (June 28, 1985). "'Pale Rider,' Stale Trail". Washington Post.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 28, 1985). "Pale Rider". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  19. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Pale Rider". 1985. Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  20. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). AFI's 10 Top 10. American Film Institute. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  21. ^ "Surprising facts about BBC theme tunes you've heard hundreds of times – BBC Music". June 29, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2020.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit