Pale Rider: Film Review

A retelling, or a ‘pale’ imitation of a classic?

In a movie made in 1953, a man rode in to a one horse town and helped a subsistance farmer, his family and group of homesteaders stand up to the local cattle baron who wants to take over there land. He persuades the farmers to band together and stand up for themselves and then at the finale’ of the film he fights a duel with a gunman hired by the rancher. He win’s of course and rides off into the sunset with the young boy calling after him. The movie was Shane with the eponymous lead role played by Alan Ladd, as the gunfighter trying to put his past behind him.

Now move the action to a gold miners village, where poor miners pan for gold by hand and just about scratch a living with a huge corporation breathing down their necks, intent on taking over their valley for strip mining. A man rides in who does not fear the corporations bullies, unites the small mining community and kills the hired guns at the end. He too rides off into the sunset but this time it’s a teenage girl calling after him. Sound familiar? This was Pale Rider, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood in that eponymous lead role, in a film that, it seemed to me as you might have realised from above, was basically a re-make of Shane, albeit with the good grace to give it a different title, perhaps hoping no one would notice.

With more than 30 years between the films, there are clear differences in the style. They are each film’s of their time with the generation who saw Clint Eastwood’s film before seeing Shane, if they bother to watch old movies at all, brought up on a greater degree of violence in their movies and on television than when Shane was made.

One review I read referred to Eastwood’s character as “the quiet, calm, cool and mysterious cowboy” a description that could equally have been applied to Alan Ladd’s Shane thirty some years earlier. It would appear that, that reviewer had never seen Shane. Whilst I have not seen a review that acknowledges that Pale Rider seems to be a remake of Shane, surely I am not the only person who spotted it?

I do not suggest that Pale Rider is a bad film, it was not but I am sure that it is not going to become a motion picture classic like Shane.

Shane: Do you mind putting down that gun? Then I’ll leave.
Joe Starrett: What difference does it make, you’re leaving anyway?
Shane: I’d like it to be my idea.

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