Thursday, Oct 2020
Director: John Huston
Screenwriters: Ben Maddow from an Alan Le May (The Searchers) novel
Length: 125 minutes
Released: 1960

the unforgiven posterThe civil rights movement of the late 1950's, early 1960's gave impetus to many movies that portrayed racial intolerance and bigotry. The Unforgiven (1960) was one of the first Westerns to show hatred of Indians to be a form of racism (also see Broken Lance (1954)). When the Indians were raiding, scalping, and killing it was OK to hate them, but when the Indian is a beloved member of the family, how does one explain the hatred? The Unforgiven is the story of such a situation.

In the Unforgiven, Audrey Hepburn is the elegant prairie pixie, Rachel Zachary. She and her mother Mattilda (Lillian Gish) live in a west Texas Eden. Two frontier families, the Zachary's and Rawlins are building a dynasty. And marriage between the two families appears to be certain until a creepy stranger (Joseph Wiseman) arrives with the rumor that Rachel is an Indian. Although Indian hostilities are a distant memory, the hatred of Indians remains overpowering. The resulting fray ends with the dynasty being scuttled and the families shattered.

Burt Lancaster is the the Zachary elder, Ben. He does a wonderful job portraying a man of principle and frontier resourcefulness (all while controlling his toothy grin). Ben's bigoted younger brother Cash is played by Audie Murphy. And Lillian Gish is magnificent as the Zachary family matron. Her timing and control are amazing. It is easy to see why she was so successful in silent movies. But the movie is dominated by the fetching Audrey Hepburn. Some may complain that she is not believable as an Indian, or that her Euro-accent is distracting, or that she better in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Those are people that do not understand that The Unforgiven is not primarily a Western. It is first and foremost, a commentary on race relations. The skin color or accent of Hepburn are not important.

As a Western, The Unforgiven succeeds. It features fine horsemanship (including Hepburn's bareback riding), cattle drives, Indian attacks, and awesome long shots of the beautiful countryside.

It is said that John Huston hated The Unforgiven. What is unclear is why he did not like the movie. Was it because some claimed that The Unforgiven rode on the coattails of a LeMay story made by John Ford; The Searchers (1956)? Or because Hepburn fell while riding pregnant (and subsequently lost the baby)? The movie itself is undoubtedly very good. We call it a Must See.

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 Rawlins
  • Joseph Wiseman.... Abe Kelsey
  • June Walker....Hagar Rawlins
  • Kipp Hamilton.... Georgia Rawlins
  • Arnold Merritt.... Jude Rawlins
  • Doug McClure.... Andy Zachary
  • Carlos Rivas.... Lost Bird
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