By the mid '70s, just as he began to remove himself from regular rotation in sand-and-saddle films, Clint Eastwood's work in Westerns had seen its status shift from that of an iconoclastic newcomer to that of an icon in his own right, albeit the embodiment of a far muddier set of values. Pale Rider, Eastwood's only Western as a director or actor between 1976's The Outlaw Josey Wales and 1992's Unforgiven, is easily the least of the three, an effort frustrating both for its familiarity and its obliquity. Importing the Shane formula pretty much intact, it casts Eastwood as a mysterious stranger who arrives in time to steer a dispute between the forces of industry (in this case a mining concern) and the forces of community (a tight-knit group of prospectors). To this, the screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack adds a dollop of mysticism that ultimately proves more distracting than affecting; it's open-ended to the point of feeling incomplete. In fact, it's the general slackness of the storytelling that continually drags down the otherwise handsome film, which finds Eastwood in fine form both in front of the camera and as a visual stylist behind it. Similarly, Michael Moriarty proves extremely effective in one of the straightest roles of his career and an inspired acting foil for Eastwood. Too bad, at a time when Eastwood Westerns had begun to take on the aura of events, he found himself stuck in the most dispiritingly acceptable film, least inspired of the bunch.
by Keith Phipps review