Seminal Image #102


Unforgiven
(Clint Eastwood; 1992)

Clint Eastwood's vision of a morally neutered West where everyone has semi-decent justification for their most heinous, seemingly wanton acts is so profoundly disturbing because it has a greater ring of truth to it than the visions which guided even the darkest benchmark Westerns that preceded it.

I chose this image because to me it's the turning point in the film; the first sign of how far into this bleak territory Eastwood is prepared to take us. This gunfighter played by Richard Harris, the Duke of Death, consumed by his own bravado, frozen in his tracks with abject terror before he's administered one of the most savage beatings in all Cinema. It virtually announces to admirers of the Western that Eastwood is going to address the moral dimensions of this genre with an intent and an authority no one (not even he) had dared attempt since Sam Peckinpah's paranoid/schizophrenic vision blasted away the Western's self-protecting layers in the 1960s.

Eastwood's Westerns had always been Revisionist to one degree or another (hell, most of his non-Western films were revisionist also), but "Unforgiven" is a virtual renovation of the form, and no one is ever going to be able to make a serious Western ever again without perpetually hearing its footsteps just behind them.

5 comments:

Rob said...

The Duck of Death!

The last 20 minutes or so of that film are truly scarier than a lot of horror films. Western Noir at its finest.

BCNU

Rob said...

Yeah, no heroes in this one, really. It was closer to Red Harvest than The Big Sleep in pulp aspects. Or "Point Blank" FTM. I always thought this one, "The Culpepper Cattle Company", and the lesser "Conagher" were the most honest westerns I ever saw in a lot of ways. I grew up with all the myths and truths about the Old West, one of the Carvers having run with Butch and Sundance, (he's in the famous group photo), and the almost casual cruelty of the cowboy way I had come to know at an early age was very difficult for me to reconcile with the movie versions. Never did take to John Wayne much. That said, I enjoyed a lot of the quirkier ones like "Sergeant Rutledge" or "Savage Pampas". And don't get me started on the whole Native American thing.

BCNU

swac said...

Me, I just saw Commanche Station for the first time recently. Talk about a revelation. The economy of storytelling, the matching of Randolph Scott to the landscape, a sneaky performance by Claude Akins, and oh, that Nancy Gates (who ended her film career in this film...one that started with a minor role in The Magnificent Ambersons!).

With the announcement that several films from John Wayne's estate are going to finally see the light of day, I've got my fingers crossed that Boetticher's Seven Men From Now will be among them....

Tom Sutpen said...

Stephen wrote:

Me, I just saw Commanche Station for the first time recently. Talk about a revelation. The economy of storytelling, the matching of Randolph Scott to the landscape, a sneaky performance by Claude Akins, and oh, that Nancy Gates (who ended her film career in this film...one that started with a minor role in The Magnificent Ambersons!).

*****
"Comanche Station" is an amazing film even in Pan'n'Scan. I once got into an argument with a cinephile from France who was insisting the Mann/Stewart series of Westerns were superior to Boetticher/Scott. It's one of the few times I've employed the old "well, you people love Jerry Lewis' cliche (though I've gradually become a hardcore Lewis convert).

With the announcement that several films from John Wayne's estate are going to finally see the light of day, I've got my fingers crossed that Boetticher's Seven Men From Now will be among them....

*****
It is, to the best of my knowledge. The story I read virtually mentioned it in passing, though. Obviously cinephiles aren't writing these news items, otherwise they'd have their priorities straight.

I'm jazzed that Wellman's "Track of the Cat" is finally going to see the light of day again, myself.

But yes, the big news is we will, in our lifetimes, get to see "Seven Men from Now" (have you seen it, Stephen? I haven't)

I know, I know . . . there is a God (maybe)

swac said...

tas said...

I'm jazzed that Wellman's "Track of the Cat" is finally going to see the light of day again, myself.

*****

Allow me to add an AOL-esque "Me too!"

*****

But yes, the big news is we will, in our lifetimes, get to see "Seven Men from Now" (have you seen it, Stephen? I haven't)

*****

Heck no...I don't think it's been broadcast anywhere recently, and the only public screening I know of was at Cinecon in Los Angeles over a year ago. (Of course people there grumbled about "a film from the '50s" being shown.) There may have also been an Eastman House screening in Rochester, but I think showings are rarer than a Scott Walker concert.