The Old West, and this Californian gold prospecting community, consisting of a bunch of poor folks trying their luck and hoping to strike it rich, have a big problem on their hands. It's not the lack of gold, although there is not as much as they would like, it's the way that the mining company from town has a habit of trying to force them off the land that they actually have a right to stay on. It's not the first time that the panning has been interrupted by a gang of thugs sent by robber baron Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart), as today when they smash through the innocent prospectors, killing one girl's dog in the process...
We can't have that, can we? But who is supposed to stand up to these criminals when their victims cannot do so themselves? How about Clint Eastwood? Yes, he'd do fine, but first he has to show up, and that takes a quarter of an hour of a film that moves at far too a leisurely pace for its own good, as if savouring the genre that Eastwood was returning to after ten years away (unless you counted Bronco Billy, which didn't quite fit the classifications). It was his film, he produced and directed so he had the right to do it his way, but after a while the straining to be a classic Western became hard to take.
And which classic Western was this attempting to emulate? Most would have said Shane, and they wouldn't be wrong, but actually how this played was a cross between that favourite and Eastwood's own, decidedly stranger, High Plains Drifter. That was, his character the Preacher (which is how everyone refers to him) is supposed to be of supernatural origin, out to avenge his death at the hands of the unscrupulous businessmen who had him killed. Yes, being the eighties the idea of big business against the little guy was well to the fore, with the baddies a group of traders wielding guns to ensure that what they say is carried out, and woe betide anyone who disagrees.
As in Shane, the hero - who doesn't pick up his guns until halfway through - moves in with a poor but honest family, but in a modern twist the couple, Hull (Michael Moriarty) and Sarah (Carrie Snodgress), are not married, and the teenage daughter, Megan (Sydney Penny), is the product of a broken home. It was her dog which was shot (and apparently stuffed in the process judging by how unconvincing the coprse looks), which prompts her to say a prayer over its grave in the forest, meaning that it was Megan who invoked the spirit of the Preacher, but more unintentionally making it appear as though Eastwood is playing the avenging human incarnation of the aggrieved pooch.
There are a few plot points later on that hint this is not the case, but the script tended to be vague about Preacher's origins for artistic purposes: after all, they were not making a horror movie here. In truth, this is too slavish towards both Shane and the previous Eastwood movie, which prevents it from standing alone as an entity in its own right, although granted you cannot imagine Alan Ladd whomping his opponent in the bollocks with a sledgehammer. There's a decent amount of bad guy acting here to render them formidable enough to stop us questioning why the prospectors didn't fight back on their own, and the photography, as with all Eastwood-directed Westerns, is exemplary, truly making the most of some glorious landscapes. It's just that it makes it obvious why the genre was effectively dying out in this decade, with all the revisionism and tributes leaving little left to be said. Music by Lennie Niehaus.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.