Released through United Artists THE UNFORGIVEN (1960) is an engaging drama set on the Texas Panhandle of the American west. Nicely photographed in Panavision and colour by Franz Planer it was skillfully directed by John Huston, who it has to be said, was something of a stranger when it came to directing westerns. Written for the screen by Ben Maddow it was based on the novel by prolific western writer Alan LeMay ("The Searchers"). Burt Lancaster not only headed a fine cast but he was also producer of the project with his partners Ben Hecht and James Hill. Lancaster is Ben Zachary the inscrutable and patriarchal elder son of the Zachary family who are raising cattle on their barren land. Together with his two brothers Cash (Audie Murphy), Andy (Doug McClure) and his partner Zeb Rawlins (Charles Bickford) they are preparing to drive their herd to market. Then, appearing out of the blue one day comes an old sword wielding saddle tramp (James Wiseman) who begins to spread the story that the Zachary brothers sister Rachel (Audrey Hepburn) is in reality an Indian who was adopted by Ma Zachery (Lillian Gish) as an infant. On learning this the local Kiowa tribe want her returned to them resulting in the Zachary's unbridled resistance leading to an all out battle to the death. Performances generally are excellent throughout! Lancaster as usual is superb and gives a perfectly measured portrayal of the man left with all the decisions. Audrey Hepburn in the most unusual role of her career is also excellent though her London accent does sneak out now and then. But the surprise performance comes from Audie Murphy who, eschewing his matinée B picture cowboy image is quite amazing as the Indian hating brother ("hellfire Ben we can kill them before breakfast"). This was the actor's second best ever performance! The other being his brilliant portrayal as the young troubled Yankee trooper in "The Red Badge Of Courage" (1951) which was also directed by his director here - John Huston. Also notable is the appearance of Lillian Gish (1893/1993) as the mother. The female star of such great silent classics "Birth Of A Nation" and "Intolorance" is terrific as Mattilda Zachary an old woman who for years has concealed a crucial secret. But it is curious that John Saxon's striking portrayal as the half breed Johnny Portugal gets to be written out of the picture! His part looked very promising in the early stages of the movie but all of a sudden and without any reason he disappears and is never seen again. Adding greatly to the atmosphere is the marvellous score by Dimitri Tiomkin. With an attractive and lingering main theme the piece was a minor hit in the early sixties when a cover version was recorded by piano duo Ferrante & Teicher. Also there is some exciting cues for the cattle and horse sequences and ominous music underlines the scenes for the Indian attacks on the Zachary's humble sod cabin. It is one of the composer's best scores! Unfortunately however it is not very well recorded. There is a pervading echo quality from the music throughout the picture which at times is a tad irritating. Tiomkin conducted the score in Rome with an Italian orchestra. THE UNFORGIVEN wasn't a particularly well liked movie by critics. Even Huston himself didn't like it. But over the years it has slightly gained a cult following and gets better with each viewing. For me its high production values, its great cast, performances and its racist undertones make it a compelling movie.
Drama / Romance / Western
Drama / Romance / Western
The neighbors of a frontier family turn on them when it is suspected that their adopted daughter was stolen from the local Kiowa tribe.
January 27, 2021