BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE UNFORGIVEN

By • May 20th, 2003 •

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MGM Home Entertainment 1960.
2 hrs. 1 min / Color / Not Rated / Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Panavision, formatted for 16:9 screens.
No extras to speak of.

Angelic, outdoorsy Rachel Zachary dumps her adopted family in a whole heap of difficulty when the rumor starts building that she is really an Indian, raised white. The Texas settlers her clan co-exists with are a friendly, communal bunch, that is until racism rears it ugly head. It even threatens to tear her three closely-knit brothers asunder.

Burt Lancaster does some serious scenery-chewing in the first act, but he gets better as the narrative progresses, and at all times he displays his wonderful physical self. Audie Murphy is more consistent, playing Cash, the most prejudiced of Rachel’s three siblings. He claims his olfactory senses can detect an Indian anywhere in the vicinity. Maybe people could perform this feat back then – some tribes wore special oils. But considering all his bragging, he’s in for an awful comeuppance with Rachel living right there in his home all those years.

Hepburn rides a horse bareback, and generally embraces the rough prairie life, suggesting, or course, not only that she’s a tomboy, but that it’s been in her blood all along. Lillian Gish (reprising some of her NIGHT OF THE HUNTER moments), makes a strong impression as the proud family matriarch.

Spatial design and striking imagery are the hallmarks of this film. Joseph Wiseman’s angel of death, slumped on his horse, silhouetted against the sky, is an unforgettably eerie spectre. Gish, in the light of the prairie at night, playing a piano to demoralize the distant Kiowas, will make you appreciate screenwriter Ben Maddow’s visual thinking.. Cattle grazing on the roof of their single-story home is a surrealistic tableau without explanation. These images haunted me ever since I first saw the film at age sixteen, and have doubtless influenced my creative thinking.

Dimitri Tiomkin bothers the hell out of me. With the exception of a lovely main theme, he has baldly recycled music from his score to THE ALAMO here, and not that composers don’t dip into their own work for inspiration, but this came out the same year as John Wayne’s epic. Could he have thought that no one would notice? And then there was RIO BRAVO: same deal, only this time it was a year before THE ALAMO. Since Wayne was in on RIO BRAVO, I always assumed he and Tiomkin were experimenting with musical ideas that would be fully developed in the upcoming film. But to regurgitate the same score in this unrelated project? I just don’t get it. Didn’t the man have any self-respect? Why it’s…unforgivable!


Cast:
Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy, John Saxon, Charles Bickford, Lillian Gish, Albert Salmi, Joseph Wiseman.

Credits:
Directed by John Huston.
Screenplay by Ben Maddow.
Produced by James Hill.
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.

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