Clint Eastwood movies have always been essential viewing at our house, but I remember thinking that Pale Rider was especially hot. I was only about nine when I saw it the first time, and it struck me as very romantic and delightfully Little House on the Prairie-ish. I decided to revisit the whole thing this weekend, and immediately understood why I was so intrigued. Oh, but I’m sure it had nothing with a fourteen-year-old Sydney Penny announcing that she wanted to do it with Clint.
Now, it seems to me that Sydney Penny had all the fun in the early Eighties. She got to play Grizzly Adams’ daughter, flirt with Ralph de Bricassart in The Thorn Birds, and put the moves on Clint in Pale Rider. In the latter two movies, her characters are named Megan (only my favorite name of all time), and to top it off, she’s absolutely beautiful. Lucky!
We first meet up with Megan Wheeler as her makeshift mining community is being attacked for the umpteenth time. Every so often the LaHoods (Chris Penn and Richard Dysart) ride through with their men, pulling down houses, shooting the animals, and kicking guys in the back. They want the claim all to themselves, and the sooner they can drive off these poor prospectors the better. Making matters worse, they’ve got the sheriff on their side, so there’s no real hope of stopping them. Megan prays for a miracle as she buries her dog, and he comes to her in the form of The Pale Rider.
After an upsetting scrap in town, Hull (Michael Moriarty) returns home to Megan and her mother with a mysterious stranger. He came to Hull’s aid at just the right time, and the least they can do is give him some dinner and a place to sleep for the night. Megan watches with mild interest as her mother (Carrie Snodgress) throws a complete fit about having a gunman in the house, but everyone goes quiet when Clint Eastwood walks in wearing a preacher’s collar.
For the first time in ages, it looks like this little community has a chance against the LaHoods and their creepy hydraulic equipment. With Preacher on their side, they can actually get some work done, and when work’s getting done, folks are finding gold! Things may be looking up, but any good fortune is hard won, and Preacher is complicating matters as much as he’s helping them.
Megan’s father has disappeared, so Hull is acting as the man of the house until a more permanent situation can be arranged. He would like to marry Megan’s mom, but he hasn’t quite been able to pin her down. It’s no wonder, really. Hull is a good guy, but kind of wimpy-looking and hare-brained. He always does the right thing and takes care of everybody, but you’d never guess it by looking at him. Unsurprisingly, Megan’s mom thinks Preacher is pretty cute, and this makes Megan mad. He’s her answered prayer, after all.
Shortly after his arrival, Megan shows Preacher her dog’s grave and tells him that she loves him. Keeping his cool, Preacher concedes that if there were more love in the world there would be a lot less dying. Then she tells him she wants him to teach her about the other kind of love, because she’s going to be fifteen soon, and her mom was only fifteen when she got married, and why don’t they just set a wedding date while they’re at it? Preacher looks like he’d like to hightail it out of there and never look back, but he gently tells her that they should practice the first kind of loving before they think too hard about the second kind.
Naturally Megan is incensed, but the fact that he does the decent thing only makes you—I mean Megan—love him more. Despite the fact that it’s all impossible, you’ve got to admire her for being brave enough to lay her feelings bare. It’s a move so bold, you almost wish it would work out for her. And when he rescues her from a gang rape at the hands of the LaHood gang? He’s like a knight in shining armor.
Though the lives of the prospectors will never be the same, Preacher climbs on his dapple steed and rides into the mountains when his work as done. It’s not likely that Megan will ever meet anyone as badass and upstanding as Preacher, but the important thing is that he was there when she needed him most. Pale Rider may not be the greatest Western ever made, but for anyone who’s ever dreamed of being rescued by a handsome stranger, it’s still one of the hottest.