Combustible Celluloid
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With: Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy, John Saxon, Charles Bickford, Lillian Gish, Albert Salmi, Joseph Wiseman, June Walker, Kipp Hamilton, Arnold Merritt, Doug McClure, Carlos Rivas
Written by: Ben Maddow, based on a novel by Alan Le May
Directed by: John Huston
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 125
Date: 04/06/1960

The Unforgiven (1960)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Indian Bummer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alan LeMay wrote a lot of screenplays and teleplays, but his biggest contribution to history was writing the novels The Searchers (1954) and The Unforgiven (1957). John Ford made a movie of the first one, in 1956, and it's generally regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. John Huston made a movie of the second one, in 1960, and it's considerably less.

They have in common a sinister undercurrent of racism, centered around two girls kidnapped from their homes as children, a white girl taken by Indians in The Searchers, and an Indian girl taken by whites in The Unforgiven. Ford handled his with powerful storytelling and visual grace, while Huston's relies more on long, talky scenes, with the drama inflated and dragged down.

Audrey Hepburn stars as the Indian girl, Rachel, and she does an admirable job with her role, finding an emotional place where she never quite feels comfortable, never quite belongs. (By the way, the movie does not reveal that she's an Indian girl until late in the proceedings.) She lives with her adoptive mother Mattilda Zachary (Lillian Gish, eerily recalling a similar performance in The Night of the Hunter) and two Zachary brothers. While the brothers are away, a weird, grizzled old man turns up on horseback, and it seems as if he knows something. The brothers, Ben (Burt Lancaster) and Cash (Audie Murphy), return home, and before long the Kiowas are showing up, demanding to see Rachel. Ben knows what the consequences will be, but he attacks anyway.

There's a huge subplot about another family, the Rawlinses, that work with the Zacharys, and begin to feel betrayed when all this comes around. There are a great many scenes of characters talking and arguing and waiting, but without much suspense. The movie is too slow for any kind of burning or tension to ever occur. Likewise, Lancaster seems to know that he's in an Important Movie, so he acts with all the charisma of a bust on a pedestal.

Huston's career was long and spotty, with several great films, a few bad ones, and a lot in-between. But apparently when this film came on television once, Huston himself shut it off in disgust. Kino Lorber released the film on a new Blu-ray, not exactly dazzling, but passable. The only extra is a trailer.

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