"The Unforgiven" - 1960

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movieman1957
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"The Unforgiven" - 1960

Post by movieman1957 »

Watched this John Huston film for the first time in a long time. I did a short search on TCM to see some comments and found some interesting thoughts. All in all I enjoyed the film. It was an interesting take on how finding one thing out about someone completely changed their opinions.

Interesting story with interesting performances. I thought Audie Murphy was quite good in a role unlike anything I had seen him in. (I did have a small laugh when Audrey declared Albert Salmi as beautiful.)

The change from brother/sister with Lancaster and Hepburn to "couple" was rather quick. I imagine there would be some feelings to get past.

The music sound was annoying. I think it was recorded in a church and sounded like it was piped in. It just seemed as though it didn't fit.

I'd love to hear what you think.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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Post by MikeBSG »

"The Unforgiven" was based on a novel by Alan LeMay, who also wrote the novel "The Searchers." When I watched this movie, I kept seeing this as a reshuffling of the characters from "The Searchers." Where Mose Harper in John Ford's movie is a harmless, likeable eccentric, the character in "The Unforgiven" who was played by Joseph Wiseman was both cracked and rather evil and came to a bad end.

It has been nearly 20 years since I saw this one. I remember liking Audie Murphy in this. He was very good in Huston's "Red Badge of Courage," which I finally saw on DVD last week.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

I've always liked this movie, especially Gish's performance, but I, too was very taken this time with Audie Murphy. He really let loose in this part - I always found him likeable, but rather stiff in most of his other films, except "Red Badge." Maybe Huston found a way to reach him that no other director could, and maybe Murphy relished the idea of playing a less than heroic character this time. If he had lived, he might have done some really fine work in darker parts.
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Post by cmvgor »

I have been jotting down a few notes on The Unforgiven for a couple of weeks with a thought to posting something on moirafinnie's
'Cinco de Mayo' (movies made in Mexio) thread. This new thread seems
more appropriate. / My own first experience with this movie: At age 17
I walked into the theater in the middle of a showing, knowing nothing about it. The mustache, the fleshy face -- I thought I was watching
Audie Murphy, but I wasn't sure until the closing credit. And I had been an
Audie Murphy fan since age 8 or 9!

I have not assembled my notes into a unified essay, but I will list what seem to me to be relivent facts. My primary source is No Name On The
Bullet
, Don Graham's 1989 biography of Audie Murphy (Viking-Penguin
Press). First, a few random facts:

--Filming was done in the area around Durango, Mexico. Durango was, at
that time, a wild, violent place that seemed to be still on a frontier. You
could hear gunplay almost any time at night from ongoing arguments and
vendettas (Source: John Saxon). Audie Murphy fit right into this environment:
He had guns along with him and often fired them as a way of annoying
others and amusing himself. Annoying Ms. Gish was one of his favorite
pasttimes.

--That Mexican Cinema powerhouse Emilio Fernandez was on hand as a
Second-Unit Director, and also playing one of the Kiowa Indians. Graham
states that Fernandez shot someone either during or immediately after this
film project.
(Damn! Every piece of info I can pick up on Fernandez comes with some kind of qualifier or "maybe" attached. I hope we can pick up some
users who have some definate knowledge on him.)

--The payroll office of the Unforgiven company was robbed at gunpoint, probably by someone local connected with the film.

--Duck hunting in a leaky boat, Murphy almost drowned. He was saved,
towed to shallow water, by Inge Morath, who was on the shoot as a still
photographer. (She later married playright Arthur Miller.)

--Murphy, who owned and flew his own plane, once taxied the plane into
position and let the prop wash stir up a windstorm when the script called for one.

--Doug McClure knocked on the door of the house that Murphy occupied
in Durango, perhaps too loudly, perhaps too many times. The door was
snatched open and McClure was looking into the muzzle of a .45 pistol
and into the enraged eyes of his co-star. Murphy was, at various times,
dangerously on edge.

--And Audrey Hepburn suffered a riding accident with broken bones and
torn ligaments.

But the movie got made in a timely fashion -- and failed to meet the producers' expectations. John Huston, for the only time ever and to his
regret, had nothing to do with the script. In the end, he was proud of the
performance that Murphy produced, and of the work of Joseph Wiseman,
but overall it was the only movie of his that he actively disliked. The plot
point of the fond older brother who became lover/husband material when
the "sister" discovered she was a Kiowa foundling, did not sit well with a
lot of reviewers. For the director, this film wound up on the minus side of
his personal balance sheet. And yet there are still admirers of the effort.

And as for Audie Murphy. Arguably the best single performance of his career. This was his first project after coming off of a failed attempt at
series TV ('Whispering Smith', for possible discussion elsewhere), and he
went from this experience back into routine potboiler Westerns that his publc had come to expect and appreciate. He never again worked with an A-list director, cast or budget. But in this performance, he does deliver
in top form.

Huston later explained that Murphy was (always) afraid of making a fool of
himself in front of the camera. But for this film, Huston promised to protect him. It helped that he was in the middle of an ensemble, and not
the star -- carrying a major load. The director helped Murphy to dig into his own roots in a racist culture. In spite of fame, the military experience
and Hollywood, and some degree of wealth. there was still a small-town
Texas redneck in there. Huston helped Murphy locate and use that side of himself. "Cash Zachary" refers to Indians as "red-hide n***s, and,
upon discovering that his beloved sister was born a Kiowa, he goes on a
drunken rampage. There is humor also: Disappointed and betrayed as he feels, Cash is still not drunk enough to let a comely neighbor seduce him into a marrage proposal. And when the mass attack on the family
comes (and no help from the neighbors, who will not protect a Kiowa),
Cash is back to stand with the family.

Doug McClure describes another incident: The family have driven off an
attack and Cash is still firing after the retreating Kiowas, out of control
and wasting ammunition. Murphy also was out of control. Older brother Lancaster told him to stop firing and Cash wouldn't stop. Lancaster then slapped him, really belted him, to get him under control.
Huston had to walk him up and down to calm him.

(Elsewhere, Graham reports that Frederick de Cordova, the director of
Column South, had learned to change camera angles at certain
dramatic moments. When told to demonstrate anger, Murphy would sometime demonstrate a really scarey rage. At times not appropriate
to his hero image. Huston, in The Unforgiven, was working with
material more appropriate to that side of the performer's range.)

"Ambitious Failure" is an overworked phrase. My own assessment is that
The Unforgiven is a success that did not get the recognition it richly
deserved. There are such successes.
Last edited by cmvgor on July 23rd, 2007, 11:33 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Post by MikeBSG »

Thanks for the information on "The Unforgiven." I need to see it again.

I think Huston hated "Roots of Heaven" and "Barbarian and the Geisha" more than "The Unforgiven." I read a book of Huston interviews, and he actually discouraged people from seeing those two movies.
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Post by movieman1957 »

Thank you for the info cmvgor. I'm always interested in the making of films and what went into them. I appreciate your effort.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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Post by cmvgor »

MikeBSG wrote:Thanks for the information on "The Unforgiven." I need to see it again.

I think Huston hated "Roots of Heaven" and "Barbarian and the Geisha" more than "The Unforgiven." I read a book of Huston interviews, and he actually discouraged people from seeing those two movies.
Yo, Mike:

My source for the sentiment expressed was Don Graham's biography of
Murphy (and yes, he did take his title from one of Murphy's later movies).
I have no doubt that your recollections are accurate and the statements
probably true. A man who accomplished as much as John Huston did has much to be proud of, and also has the right to re-prioritize his regrets from time to time.

Regards
"Faint heart never filled inside straight"
--Bret & Bart's Pappy
klondike

Post by klondike »

CM, judging from the insights you've squirreled out about The Unforgiven (a film I've watched piecemeal, too seldom, and too long ago!), it seems to me it would be the perfect "center-piece" to run between The Searchers, and Flaming Star.
Whaddaya think?
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Post by cmvgor »

klondike wrote:CM, judging from the insights you've squirreled out about The Unforgiven (a film I've watched piecemeal, too seldom, and too long ago!), it seems to me it would be the perfect "center-piece" to run between The Searchers, and Flaming Star.
Whaddaya think?
Klondike;

No disagreement here. Aside from being one of the five or six really good
scripts that Elvis "Kiowa Burton" Presley ever laid his hands on, Flaming Star carries the same theme like a banner. Good suggestion.

"Clint's all right, but watch out for Pacer."

cmvgor
"Faint heart never filled inside straight"
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its about the unforgiven, stupid

Post by cmvgor »

I'm glad of the added comments from Chris, Mike BSG and Klondike; it would be inappropriate for focus to be taken away from the movie itself
just because I got diarrhea of the keyboard and devoted perhaps too much space to one of the performers. There are other people and other
themes that could be addressed here.

Joseph Wiseman has been mentioned in passing, and I would like to express my enjoyment of his performance. Dr. No? Paterfamalias
Minsky?
With spurs and saber? As a glad-I-saw-it event, it ranks
alongside James Mason's performance In Lord Jim --a cutlass -wielding pirate in business suit and bowler hat, who brews up a proper British tea for a conference with his fellow cutthroats, and curtly snubs
their hints about something stronger. LOL for a while!

Huston. Gish. Lancaster.* Bickford. Saxon. Salmi. McClure. There are
other people worthy of mention in a discussion of this film.

* This was, after all, one of those Hecht-Lancaster-Hill productions, and I doubt that our Burt was one to let something get to the final cut that did not have his approval.
Last edited by cmvgor on December 16th, 2007, 6:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by cmvgor »

cmvgor wrote:
klondike wrote:CM, judging from the insights you've squirreled out about The Unforgiven (a film I've watched piecemeal, too seldom, and too long ago!), it seems to me it would be the perfect "center-piece" to run between The Searchers, and Flaming Star.
Whaddaya think?
Klondike;

No disagreement here. Aside from being one of the five or six really good
scripts that Elvis "Kiowa Burton" Presley ever laid his hands on, Flaming Star carries the same theme like a banner. Good suggestion.

"Clint's all right, but watch out for Pacer."

cmvgor
Klondike; Further thoughts on this theme of racism in Westerns.

Meadering around to no particular purpose, I ran across another title that
would be an addition to the triligy already mentioned.

Broken Lance (1954) carries the same theme into an arena where
the racists have to watch their step somewhat. Local Society can ill afford
to cross the powerful cattle rancher (Spencer Tracy), and the result is a
giggle-to-LOL point. They take the position that Tracy's second wife (Oscar nominee Katy Jurado) is a Spanish blueblood rather than a Comanche princess ("Welcome, welcome, Senora!").

Also, Governor E.G. Marshall, who needs Tracy's support and friendship,
doesn't want their halfbreed son Robert Wagoner courting his daughter
Jean Peters.

This is one of the strong subplots running through this remake of House Of Strangers, but it carries the theme very well. A theme - fest
of these four movies would be quite powerful.
"Faint heart never filled inside straight"
--Bret & Bart's Pappy
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Post by knitwit45 »

I haven't seen this movie in a long time, but something that struck me at the time was that Lancaster KNEW about her parentage. To me, he had always loved her, and kept it hidden. Did I just perceive it that way, or was that in the film?
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Post by cmvgor »

knitwit45 wrote:I haven't seen this movie in a long time, but something that struck me at the time was that Lancaster KNEW about her parentage. To me, he had always loved her, and kept it hidden. Did I just perceive it that way, or was that in the film?
kw45;

You are correct. Up until the mother (Lillian Gish) makes her confession, she and the oldest son (Lancaster) are the only ones who know. The younger sons (Murphy and McClure) know just that they are occasionally hounded by a crazy old coot who makes that accusation.
"Faint heart never filled inside straight"
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A return to primary sources.

Post by cmvgor »

The Unforgiven is scheduled to be aired on Monday, Dec 31 at 3 PM
and 10:30 PM On the Hallmark Channel. Probably not your idea of a New
Year's Eve (is it anybody's?), but anyone wanting to see it (or see it again) can copy it and look it over.

Me, through no merit of my own, I now have a copy. A friend who knows
my interests mailed me a VCR of the movie copied off of SHOWTIME about a year ago. It is of good quality as to picture and sound but
it is forematted to fit my screen, i.e., pan and scan. I probably will not have the strength of character NOT to upgrade to a letterbox copy, but I'll
try.

I've watched it twice since I got it, and made notes. This new viewing has
allowed me to correct some errors I made, and has reminded me of some
things I had forgotten.

--I remembered the John Saxon character, "Johnny Portugal", only as the
supurb horseman who chased down the Joseph Wiseman character who
stole Rachel's horse. I had forgotten that he was a halfbreed and that Cash (Audie Murphy) disliked him on sight. Ben (Burt Lancaster), who had
hired Johnny and who respected his work, took direct action when Johnny
flirted with Rachel, and she seemed receptive. Johnny sort of faded out of the story after the chase scene.

--I mistakenly thought that Ben knew the truth about Rachel's origins,
but he did not. Only the mother knew, and she confessed it only after the family had been alienated from their community. Ben had always
accepted the father's account that Rachel was found in a wagon after an
attack that wiped out some westering settlers.

--The sequence where Cash/Audie went ape and Ben/Burt had to subdue
him did not happen during a full-scale attack. The Kiowa brave named
Lost Bird (Carlos Rivas) did a gallop-by and left a spear "Just like the one that killed Papa" quivering in the door. Cash ran out and fired until he was snapping
on an empty weapon and Ben had to physically subdue him. As mentioned in an earlier posting, a witness at the filming said that Murphy
really did go over the top on this scene, and he had to be calmed down by
director Huston.

I noted also that Cash's claim that he could "smell" indians seemed to be
supported by hard facts. When the family returns from the meeting that
resulted in their being rejected by the neighbors, Cash announces as they
near the house that he smells "injin". They enter cautiously, and find that
the Kiowas have left them a decorated buckskin that Ben describes as a
"part of their Bible, sort of like Chronicles". He interprets one of the
drawings on it to mean "girl baby, in a cradle, taken by white men with
rifles, in the year of the falling stars." This documentation is what elicits
the mother's confession.

And to my own satisfaction, I am sure that I have identified Second Unit
Director Emilio Fernandez. It happens in fractions of a minute, but he's
there. Note: Whenever the Kaiwas want to parley, a delegation of three
come farward. >> Lost Bird, who is sure that he is Rachel Zachery's biological brother, and is probably right. >> A man in a full buffalo headdress, complete with horns; seemingly a Medicine Man. >> The third
man wears a white folk's hat decorated with a feather. This man gets one
medium close-up, and one line in Kiowa. But he has more facial hair (a
stubble, really) than the others, and he looks like a younger. slimmer version of the man who put a bounty on the head of Alfredo Garcia in 1974.

Nearing the climax of the action, Rachel brades her hair, wipes a lampblack streak across her forehead, and tries to go out and join the
waiting delegation, in hopes that the Kiowas will then spare the lives of
the Zacherys. Ben stops her, but she vows to go when she can. Ben then
orders brother Andy (Doug McClure) to kill one of the delegation. Andy
objects on grounds of protocol; Ben says do it anyway. Andy selects his
target and fires. I can't tell if Fernandez did his own stunt, but it's the
dude in the fedora who hits the ground. Killing a man under a flag of peace is a step you can not recover from. No action of Rachel's can save
the family now.

And this point had slipped my mind completely: The sod house has been
breached; The Zachery men are not dead, but they are stunned and
trying to recover. Lost Bird, seemingly the last Kiowa standing, enters and confronts Rachel. He approaches her with an expression of such joy!
such love! such relief! And she sticks a pistol in his belly and blows him
A-way!

The serious themes of this story have been discussed before and will be
again, no doubt. I still consider it a very great film.
"Faint heart never filled inside straight"
--Bret & Bart's Pappy
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