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USA 1960
Directed by
John Huston
122 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Unforgiven

It comes as no surprise that the novel on which John Huston's Western is based was by Alan LeMay who wrote the source novel for John Ford's The Searchers (1956). That film had John Wayne as a Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his young niece, played by Natalie Wood, who had been abducted by Indians. Here the main protagonist is Burt Lancaster, the girl is Audrey Hepburn and the setting is the Texas Panhandle shortly after the Civil War

Like so many Westerns of the period, Huston's The Unforgiven attempts to tackle the less-than-savoury history of White appropriation of Native American lands but in a deeply flawed way. Posing some interesting moral issues, at one level the film tackles the ugliness of racism as Rachel (Hepburn) is alleged to be a full-blood Kiowa who was taken in as a babyby her family, the Zacharys, an allegation that deeply antagonizes the tiny community of cattle farmers struggling to survive in hostile territory.

At a deep level however the film subsumes the rifts this situation precipitates with the typically reassuring triumph of the White civilization over the heathen savage, resolved by alpha-male Lancaster wiping out the witless redskins with the help of Rachel, who not only has no real interest in rturning to her people but declares her allegiances by killing her Indian brother. Needless to say, her chaste desire for Lancaster lies behind this.

Produced by Lancaster's joint venture company with Ben Hecht and James Hill, apparently it was a vexed production with Huston distancing himself from it. This is eminently understandable for no matter how solidly it is made, its values, unlike the earlier Ford classic, are largely repugnant.




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