Tuesday, 13 August 2013

No.117 : The Unforgiven

The Unforgiven at the IMDb

 No, not the Clint Eastwood non definitive article effort, this is the 1960 John Huston directed western that stars Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. It is a bit long at two hours but it has a bit to say and plenty of action, especially in the last half hour.

Burt plays a cattleman returning home prior to a big drive to Wichita. He’s brought home a piano that he won in a bet and his old Ma Lillian Gish is most impressed. His sister Audrey is also pleased, as are the cows and the minister. In what is a slow burning half hour they bash out a couple of tunes and break some horses in, scenes that would have been far better on the editor’s floor. Still it sets an idyllic scene that we know can’t last.

We learn that Audrey is a founding, with the story going that she was found in a settler's wagon after they were killed by the Indians. Not everyone is convinced however, especially an old stranger with a big sword who keeps popping up and looking ominous. Things come to a head when three Indians appear with a gift of horses and ask ‘How much for the woman’ in a scene later echoed in ‘The Blues Brothers’. The Indians are convinced that Audrey is a child stolen from them during a massacre and they want her back, even though she’s at least 30.

Burt, who may have more of a shine to his ‘sister’ that is healthy, spurns the Indians but soon the racist locals start to question the squaw in their ranks. The mysterious stranger is captured and tells what he thinks is the truth of Audrey’s origins before Lillian hangs him by chasing off the horse he’s sitting on while he's wearing a noose. With Audrey suffering the shortest engagement in history the locals leave Burt and his clan to take on the whole Indian nation on their own. Luckily they have more bullets than Patton and the Indians have been practicing falling off their horses. Will Audrey return to her roots or will Burt reveal his thinly hidden passion? Can the cowboys v. Indians saga be resolved once and for all or will the smashed piano fester resentment evermore?

After a slow start this film turned out to be an enjoyable and though provoking effort that delivered with an action packed last half hour as the homestead is besieged by endless Indians. The main theme was one of identity and the trouble in store was rote large from the off when the family cows were grazing on the homestead roof - off the reservation you see!

Things start off well and the neighbours are nice until the trouble starts and then they disappear. Masks are dropped when Audrey’s fiancé gets filled with arrows after his first kiss. This lets rise all the bubbling resentments with one old woman totally racialist! Audrey does well but I wasn’t convinced she was a red Indian and she herself didn’t seem that bothered with a return to her roots on the cards one minute, with Burt’s brotherly and incestuous arms favoured next.

Burt did his usual stand up job of being softly spoken and decent but with a strong right hand to back it up. His motivations were suspect from the off as he beats up an Indian for touching his sister’s hair and we were sure it was more than brotherly love that saw him lose his herd and then burn down his house for his frankly rather skinny and annoying sister.

The Mexican locations were great and the cast list was filled out with some great character actors, especially the scene chewing tell tale, John Saxon, Audie Murphy, Doug McClure and even Dr No!

It’s certainly not as memorable or as brutal as Clint’s effort but it’s still a superior western that will reward those how stay about after the piano is put away.

THE Tag Line : Lillian Gish It Is Not  71%

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