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 The Unforgiven (1959, John Huston)

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scherpschutter
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PostSubject: The Unforgiven (1959, John Huston)   Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:57 pm

THE UNFORGIVEN

Director: John Huston – Cast: Burt Lancaster (Ben Zachary), Audrey Hepburn (Rachel Zachary), Audie Murphy (Cash Zachary), John Saxon (Johnny Portugal, Charles Bickford (Zeb Rawlins), Lillian Gish (Mattilda Zachary), Albert Salmi (Charlie), Joseph Wiseman (Abe Kelsey), Doug McClure (Andy), Carlos Rivas (Lost Bird).


The Unforgiven is an adaptation of a novel by Alan Le May, who also wrote The Searchers, the novel John Ford’s movie was based upon. Like The Searchers it was supposed to be an ‘adult’ western about racial hatred and tension.

The story is about a young girl, Rachel, who was adopted as a child by the Zachary family. This is made clear early on in the movie, most probably to avoid suspicions of an incestuous love affair. The point is that Rachel - although she is courted, more or less successfully, by the neighbours’ son - adores her older ‘brother’ Ben, and we soon understand it’s not just sisterly love. There’s also a mysterious old man who claims the girl wasn’t a foundling, as stated by her ‘mother’, but was stolen from the Kiowa. When this tribe is on the warpath, Rachel’s fiancé is killed, provoking a burst of anti-Indian sentiments among the settlers. Her identity is now revealed and Ben’s younger brother Cash leaves the family because he doesn’t want to live under one roof with a dirty Indian.

And then the Kiowa attack and claim the girl ...

The Unforgiven was a troubled production. Director John Huston wanted to make an strong anti-racist statement, but was constantly at odds with his producers, who preferred a more audience friendly western. Audie Murphy never felt at ease as the hot-headed Cash, and the works had to be postponed because Audry Hepburn was severely hurt when she fell off a horse. Huston almost disowned the film, calling it one of his least accomplished works. This is hard to understand. True, the intricate script is not entirely convincing in its treatment of racial identity and prejudice, but it’s compelling and, in spite of it’s shortcomings, even insightful. Moreover the film is unusually affecting for a Huston movie, lacking what some have called the ‘clumsy solemnity’ that mars many of his films (1).

The unforgiven could have been a perfect companion piece to The Searchers, but unfortunately it’s marred by some serious problems. To avoid problems, Rachel’s foster parents have always sustained that she was a foundling, a girl who’s real parents were killed by Kiowa. In other words: we’re supposed to believe that her friends, and even some of her relatives wouldn’t have noticed that Rachel was an Indian. For an anti-racist movie, the depiction of the Indians is rather clichéd. In one particular silly scene Hepburn paints a red line on her fore-head, apparently to underline the idea that she has become aware of her descent. This all feels forced, the more so because Rachel is played by an actress like Audrey Hepburn. She tries very hard and she’s not a bad actress, but it simply is very hard to accept her in this part. Murphy got some got reviews but isn’t convincing either. He could be effective when he was asked to play a character that was modelled after himself, or better his emblematic image of the ordinary guy who had become a war hero through circumstance. In The Unforgiven his character is far more complex and he turns in an overwrought performance, rather typical for a non-trained actor who can’t suppress the tendency to over-act.

But if the script has its shortcomings, it has its strong points too. The intricate story of white people stealing an Indian child without even considering the feelings of her relatives, is compelling and incisive. The haunting atmosphere of family secrets and the mysterious messenger threatening to reveal them, give the film a aura of doom, reminiscent of some of the most classic gothic stories in world literature (there are some similarities to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights). On a different level, the film also manages to transmit the spirit of the settlers, living in the middle of a hostile nowhere. And the Indian attack which concludes the movie, is mesmerising, one of the best ever filmed.


Note:

(1) TIME OUT Film guide, The Unforgiven, review by Geoff Andrew
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PostSubject: Re: The Unforgiven (1959, John Huston)   Wed Jun 02, 2010 6:52 pm

Sounds like an interesting film!
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PostSubject: Re: The Unforgiven (1959, John Huston)   Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:01 am

I haven't seen this, but I relly do want to because John Huston directed it. After all, only he could raise Moulin Rouge (1952) into something watchable (the screenplay was against him in that one).
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PostSubject: Re: The Unforgiven (1959, John Huston)   Mon Jun 28, 2010 9:11 am

a great western good cast and audie murphy steals the film.his best performance.found it strange to have audry hepburn in a western.i taught she was excellent in her role as the half breed.burt lancaster is always good and so is all the cast.10/10
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