Not to be confused with Clint Eastwood's 1992 film "Unforgiven", "THEUnforgiven" is a 1960 John Huston film that is almost worthy of joiningEastwood's as one of the top ten westerns of all-time. That it fallsslightly short of that status could be because Huston withdrew from theproject in post-production, after the studio insisted on toning downhis message of racial tolerance to give the film more commercialappeal. Although this tampering tends to cloud his political message,it is still there if you do conduct a little analysis. "The Unforgiven"does lay claim to the distinction of being the most ambitious westernof all time.<br><br>Based on an Alan LeMay novel, as was John Ford's "The Searchers", "TheUnforgiven" presents the flip side of the search for a missing sister.Here it is an Indian looking for his sister who was abducted as a babyby a white man and then adopted by his family. The obvious complaint isthat the Indians are the villains in both films, by a kind of damned ifyou do-damned if you don't logic. But there is a distinction as thelittle girl in "The Searchers" was abducted when she was nine years oldand she retained a desire to be reunited with her white family. Thegirl in "The Unforgiven", Rachel (played by Audrey Hepburn), has onlyknown her adopted family.<br><br>John Huston once said that a good story should have "excitement, color,spectacle and humor, adventure, high drama, tragedy, good conversation,truth and irony". Even the studio version of "The Unforgiven" does apretty good job of bringing all these elements to the screen. The mostobvious sign of studio tampering is the inconsistency in John Saxon'scharacter (Johnny Portugal), a half-breed who is often harassed by thelocal cowboys and is meticulously set up to be Ben's (Burt Lancaster)rival for Rachel's affections. But Portugal mysteriously disappearsfrom the film by the half-way point and there is no attempt to resolvehis situation with Ben and Rachel.<br><br>Ben is the eldest son of a ranching family. Audie Murphy is the middlebrother Cash. Doug McClure is Andy, the youngest brother. Lillian Gishis their mother Mattilda. Since their father's murder by the KiowasMurphy has been a violent racist.<br><br>The film's title refers to the attitude of Abe Kelsey (JosephWiseman-later to play Dr. No), a bearded half-crazy avenger who hastormented the family for many years, ever since his son was abducted bythe Indians and Ben's father refused to trade Rachel for Abe's son. Thetwist is that only Wiseman and Gish know that Rachel's biologicalparents were Indians, everyone else (including Rachel) believes thatshe was the only survivor of a massacred settler family.<br><br>Rachel has grown up to be a loving and happy young woman. Huston'sintention is to demonstrate that one race is not inferior to another;that while cultural differences are very real, there is no biologicalreason for racism. When Rachel's actual parentage is revealed itdivides the family; Cash leaves to go on a wild bender, the other twobrothers distance themselves from Rachel and she from them, and thesurrounding settlers shun the family.<br><br>One scene is absolutely riveting, Rachel is comforting the mother(played by June Walker) of the boy she was to marry. Walker slowlylooks up at her and then suddenly goes absolutely ballistic. Hepburn'sstunned reaction appears to be absolutely genuine, as if Huston hadaltered the script and not told her about the change.<br><br>Interestingly, the climax actually occurs just after this and beforethe final shoot-out. The Indians come to the homestead to take Rachel.She attempts to join them, reasoning that they will spare her familyonce they have her. Ben physically restrains her and has Andy shoot oneof Indians, rendering Rachel's intended sacrifice useless because theIndians will now attack to avenge the killing. But more important, thisdemonstrates to Rachel that they still consider her their sister, thefirst sign of this since everyone learned of her Indian parentage.<br><br>You can quibble that Hepburn is physically miscast, at a minimum theyshould have made her hair darker, but the story requires that thecharacter look "non-Indian" as she has been successfully passing for awhite girl for many years. Watch for the scene where she is on thecorral fence watching the cowboys break horses. She simply glows inthis shot. How ironic that someone who was so closely associated withhigh fashion and glamor would look her most beautiful as a dusty tomboyand a dirty-faced flower girl.<br><br>My only real criticism of the film is the moronic nature of the finalshootout. There was no need for a war party, a handful of Indians wouldhave been better. Otherwise this is a thoughtful and entertaining storythat moves along briskly as Huston nicely crafts a number of roundedcharacters. He utilizes a variety of camera angles and positions, whichenhance the story without drawing attention to the technique. Lancasteris excellent as man of character and conviction who manages to conveythe conflict between brotherly love for his adopted little sister andthe growing sexual attraction between them. Gish is amazing and Murphyturned in the best performance of the whole ensemble, playing againsttype and showing an unexpected range..<br><br>Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Drama / Romance
Drama / Romance
Western about racial intolerance focuses around Kiowa claim that the Zachary daughter is one of their own, stolen in a raid. The dispute results in other whites turning their backs on the Zacharys when the truth is revealed by Mother. Cash, the hotheaded brother, reacts violently upon learning his "sister" is a "red-hide Indian." He leaves the family but returns to help them fight off an Indian raid.
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