Pale Rider

Pale Rider

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood
Written by Michael Butler
Dennis Shryack
Music by Lennie Niehaus
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Edited by Joel Cox
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • June 26, 1985 (1985-06-26)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.9 million[1]
Box office $41,410,568[2]

Pale Rider is a 1985 American 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 rider of a pale horse is Death. The film, which took in nearly $41 million at the box office, became the highest grossing Western of the 1980s.[3]


Outside the fictional town of Lahood, California, sometime around 1880, thugs working for big-time miner Coy LaHood ride in and destroy the camp of a group of struggling gold-miners and their families who have settled in nearby Carbon Canyon. While leaving, they shoot a dog belonging to fourteen-year-old Megan Wheeler. As Megan buries her dog in the woods and prays for a miracle, a stranger passes by heading to the town on horseback.

Megan's mother, Sarah, is being courted by Hull Barret. When Hull heads to town to pick up supplies, four of the thugs begin to beat him up but he is rescued by the stranger. Hull invites him to dinner at his house, and while the stranger is washing, Hull notices what looks like six bullet wounds in his back. Shortly after, he appears wearing a clerical collar and is thereafter called the "Preacher".

Coy LaHood's son Josh attempts to scare the Preacher with a show of strength from his giant work hand, Club, who smashes a large rock with a single hammer blow. When Club attempts to attack the Preacher, he hits him in the face with his hammer and delivers a blow to Club's groin. Meanwhile, Coy LaHood returns from Sacramento and is furious to learn about the Preacher’s arrival, saying that his presence would strengthen the resolve of the tin-panners. Failing to bribe the Preacher into settling in the town instead, LaHood offers to buy the miners out at a $1000 per claim provided they evacuate within 24 hours. LaHood threatens to hire a corrupt Marshal named Stockburn to clear them out if they refuse.

The miners initially consider accepting the offer but when Hull reminds them of their purpose and sacrifices, they decide to stay and fight. The next morning, however, the Preacher leaves without notice and retrieves his Remington Model 1858 revolver from a bank. Meanwhile the miners find that LaHood's men have blown up the creek running through their camp, causing it to dam up. They have a brief discussion but agree to stay and continue mining the now drying creek bed. Megan, who has grown fond of the Preacher, goes looking for him and wanders into the Lahood camp, where Josh attempts to rape her. While his cohorts look on and encourage him, Club moves forward to help Megan before Josh can do anything serious. At that moment, the Preacher arrives on horseback and rescues Megan, shooting Josh in the hand in the process.

Stockburn and his six deputies arrive at the town and LaHood describes the Preacher to Stockburn, who appears startled and says that he sounds like someone that he once knew, but that couldn't be possible, since that man is dead. Spider Conway, a miner at the camp, recovers a large gold nugget and rides into town, where in an inebriated state, he yells abuses at LaHood from the street. After gunning him down, Stockburn tells Spider's sons to tell the Preacher to meet him in town the next morning.

The following morning, the Preacher and Hull blow up LaHood's strip mining site with dynamite. To stop Hull from following him, the Preacher then scares off Hull's horse and rides into town alone. In the gun fight that follows he kills all but two of LaHood's men and then, one by one, all six of Stockburn’s deputies as they search for him throughout the town. When he goes face-to-face with Stockburn, the latter recognizes him in disbelief and goes for his gun. The Preacher draws first and shoots Stockburn, sending six bullets out through his back, before shooting him in the head. LaHood, watching from his office, aims a rifle at the Preacher, only to be shot and killed by Hull who enters through a back door.

By way of thanks, the Preacher remarks to Hull, "Long walk," before riding off toward the snow-capped mountains. Megan then drives into town and shouts her thanks and love to the Preacher. Her words echo through the canyon as the Preacher 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. 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, California.[5]

Religious themes

In an audio interview, Clint Eastwood said that his character Preacher "is an out-and-out ghost".[6] However, whereas High Plains Drifter resolves its story-line 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. The viewer is left to draw different 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 the temptation to shift his ministry to the town, Preacher says, "You can't serve God and Mammon, Mammon being money."[7] According to Robert Jewett the film's dialogue parallels Paul's teaching on divine retribution (Romans 12:19-21).[7]


Pale Rider was released in the United States in June, 1985, and became the highest grossing western of the 1980s.[8] It was the first mainstream Hollywood western to be produced after the massive financial failure of Heaven's Gate. The film received positive reviews, and currently holds a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert praised the film, giving it four out of four stars.[9]

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

The film was entered into the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.[8][13]

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:



  1. Box Office Information for Pale Rider. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. Box Office Information for Pale Rider. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. Barnes, Mike (2016-09-15). "Dennis Shryack, Screenwriter on Clint Eastwood's 'The Gauntlet' and 'Pale Rider,' Dies at 80". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  4. "Eastwood film gives boost". Spokane Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. November 30, 1984. p. 12.
  5. Hughes, p.36
  6. "Clint Filmography / Pale Rider". Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  7. 1 2 Clive Marsh, Gaye Ortiz, Explorations in theology and film: movies and meaning, Blackwell Publishers 1997 (reprint 2001), p. 68
  8. 1 2 Hughes, p.38
  9. "Pale Rider", Roger Ebert, June 28, 1985.
  10. "Pale Rider (1985)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  11. "Pale Rider movie info". Mooviees!. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  12. "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  13. "Festival de Cannes: Pale Rider". Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  14. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.


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