Picks and Pans Review: Pale Rider

updated 07/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In his first Western since 1976, Clint Eastwood has cast himself as a miracle. This sober effort to resuscitate the genre has a 14-year-old girl praying for deliverance in a California canyon where an evil land baron, lugubriously named LaHood, is trying to run out a settlement of honest prospectors. As the girl beseeches God, the camera focuses on a black-hatted man astride a white horse. Dressed like a preacher, and a devil of a shot, this mysterious, possibly mystical, certainly mythical figure answers the girl's prayers. Soon he is righting all wrongs that befall the unfortunate citizens of Carbon Canyon, and since it appropriates a quote from the Book of Revelation, the movie suggests that this spirit of salvation is, in fact, Death. And that's the problem with Pale Rider—Eastwood plays a symbol, not a character. From right-wing iconoclast in the '70s to Reagan-era emblem, Eastwood onscreen and off has always proved an inadvertent archetype. That's the source of his appeal—the guy who steadfastly stands for his own values and unexpectedly ends up standing for everyone else's too. But Pale Rider (which Eastwood produced and directed) needlessly hypes Eastwood and his myth, as if Clint weren't already capable of energizing an audience with just the whites of his eyes. Eastwood is the one star who need not do an advertisement for himself. Unlike Lawrence Kasdan's superior Silverado, this script never marries the classic Western to contemporary sensibility. Eventually this Shane with skirts degenerates into a monotonous series of showdowns with the clichés showcased instead of skewered. Despite his careful compositions, Bruce (Tightrope) Surtees' autumnal, dark cinematography demonstrates what's wrongheaded about Pale Rider—it's an attempt to revive the Western by fashioning an elegant elegy for it. Judging from this dreary entry, Eastwood has aged better than the genre that made him a star. (R)

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