In order to fully appreciation what follows, please read Bill's Pale Rider review at his Movie Emporium.
Last Sunday afternoon I read your Pale Rider review. Throughout the week I read a second time, and then a third time. Today, in preparation for this rebuttal article, I read it for a fourth and fifth time. What you published last week reminded me of some of the work which appears here at Between the Seats, in that you dug deep into the thematic structure of the movie under review, focussing almost entirely on its ideas and possible meaning, leaving less space than usual for everything else. It was a different read, and I mean that as a compliment. Honest is the best policy, and therefore an admission of perplexity upon my initial reading is in order. Truthfully, I had no idea what you were talking about. The review kept returning again and again to its focal point: Pale Rider’s position as part of a dying genre of film. Nothing of the sort had crossed my mind while experiencing Clint’s picture. I doubt it was even a twinkle in my mind’s eye. Now, before you start raising your expectations, thinking that the above introduction is hinting at some sort of revelation in which I declare how accurate your assessment is after reading it multiple times, get over yourself. That won’t happen. I still disagree with almost everything you wrote, but, not as staunchly as last week. I believe there is some sense in what you spoke of. I’m just not ready to buy it yet.
In regards to overarching theme espoused in your article, I do not believe that Pale Rider speaks about a dying genre. On the contrary, I had an opposite reaction. Pale Rider felt to me like it tried to embrace the genre. Clint plays a loner bad ass who strolls (trots?) into a region bereft with corruption and evil doers and promptly cleans the place up, all the while displaying what kind of a bad ass he is. Pale Rider is another entry in the genre without making any grand statements about the endangered status of said type of film. Just because they didn’t make as many westerns in the 80s means that is was a dying breed. After all, there were fewer westerns in the 70s than in the 60s. Why not say that about a western from the 70s? Did we really witness a significant increase in the amount of westerns in the 90s and 00s? More? Yes. Significantly so? I don’t think so. I think something can only remain ‘dying, for so long. After a while, it merely becomes ‘less mainstream’ or ‘dead.’
Of all the points you made, the one I have the most difficulty shooting down is that which analyses the face-off between the preacher and Marshall Stockburn. It is true that as colonization (and, thus, civilization in a sense) gained more corners of the United States, business was done less and less in the manner preferred by Coy LaHood. For that reason, I can see how the Preacher’s victory over both LaHood and Stockburn might represent a changing of philosophy. Note that I wrote philosophy. I think you can still make a western without villains who operate exactly as LaHood and Stockburn do, but I get what statement you were attempting to make.
Where things get sticky is when you begin discussing the relationship between The Preacher and the two leading female characters in the film, Sarah and Megan. What undoes your argument more than anything else, is that the protagonist is played by Clint Eastwood. Clint. He’s the man with no name but dressed up as a man of God. The man with no name never got the girl in that trilogy and I didn’t see why he’d get the girl here. The guys from The Wild Bunch didn’t get any girls in the end. The two potential lovers in The Quick and the Dead don’t end up together. There are not serious female characters at all in The Good, the Bad, the Weird. I just didn’t see what your argument was trying to get at in regards to the changing of a guard when it comes to westerns. There is also the matter of him trying to impersonate a preacher. I mean, the guy has to keep up appearances after all...Actually, you know what? I just had of my moments where a thought comes to me literally as I type away. There is a scene in the movie which strongly hints that the Preacher and Sarah might had made love (it is the scene in which Sarah confesses her feelings to the Preacher just before he rides off to eliminate the antagonists). Granted, the movie does show us them making love, but the posture of the two characters, the tone of the scene and, lastly, the way the movie cuts to the next scene all hint that something might have happened between the two. And besides, there are plenty of westerns where two people are happily married like ordinary folk, with the woman by the side of a faithful man, so I am a bit perplexed by your assessment.
As for the question of faith, here again I am wondering how that is supporting your argument. You write that the arrival of the Preacher and his subsequent interaction with the people in Carbon Canyon has them totally embrace faith. Maybe it is your better understanding of American history that fed this argument. Faith as an empty ‘trinket’ from out East? I’m not sure what that means. I thought the mention of a more observant mediation of faith entering the lives of people was strange. That sounds like a nice, decent thing to me. Isn’t that whole middle portion of the United States where all the staunchly, not-necessarily-in-the-kind-and-gentle-way religious people live? Shit, is that what the Preacher helped bring?...I use a stereotype to make a point, but stereotypes exist for a reason after all. Back to the film however, I thought it strange how the Preacher handles everything and I’m not entirely in agreement about your conclusion that his efforts bring total faith to the people of Carbon Canyon. He seems to want to bring faith in one another more than anything. More specifically, a belief that they can overcome the odds (there is even a scene around a camp fire where he basically says just that)...and then embarks on a solo mission to slaughter the bad guys. I thought that was a bit weird. Your argument about being a law abiding citizen doesn’t fit well in my books either, unless he wanted them to remain good people while he did the dirty work, otherwise he is setting a pretty terrible example on how to be a model citizen.
Pale Rider is not a great movie. It has some great elements, such as Clint’s presence and the character’s of Stockburn and Megan, but overall the film is a bit tame and predictable.