81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Unforgiven

October 23rd, 2009 · No Comments · 1992, C-Word, Clint Eastwood, Color, F-Word, Gene Hackman, Mid-Point, Morgan Freeman, Original Screenplay, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, Sex, Unforgiven, Warner Bros. Pictures, Western

Unforgiven With a cast that includes three of my favorite actors (Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman), there’s no way this movie could fail.

And it doesn’t. (WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Don’t read on unless you want to know how the movie ends.)

But how could it? All those actors, direction by Clint Eastwood, and it’s a Western! A Western! We haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time.

The movie opens with a nice widescreen shot of a man beside a tree in the distant background. Scrolling upwards on the screen are these words:

She was a comely young woman
and not without prospects.
Therefore it was heartbreaking
to her mother that she would
enter into marriage with
William Munny, a known thief
and murderer, a man of
notoriously vicious and
intemperate disposition.

When she died, it was not at
his hands as her mother might
have expected, but of smallpox.
That was 1878.

Just for the heck of it, I’m going to analyze this movie’s structure.

Screenplay Structure – Unforgiven

Act I
Inciting Incident: This is set up at the 2:09 mark when a woman in a cathouse is attacked with a knife. (Okay, they called it a whorehouse. But that’s such a harsh phrase.) Her face is disfigured. The Inciting Incident is paid off at the 8:46 mark when a young gunslinger (The Schofield Kid, played Jaimz Woolvett) by rides onto the property of William Munny (Clint Eastwood), sees him struggling with pigs, falling all over himself, and says, “You don’t look like no rootin’ tootin’ sonofabitchin’ cold-blooded assassin.”

The Schofield Kid wants William Munny to help him kill the two men who disfigured the woman. To enlist Munny’s aid, The Kid exaggerates the story, making the woman’s injuries sound much worse than they were. He says the reward for killing the men is $1,000, split 50/50.

Munny brushes The Kid off. But his pigs are sickly, his wife is dead, and he has no money. So, after mulling it over (and visiting his wife’s grave to, I assume, talk to her about it), he decides to do it – pull off one last job as a gunslinger.

Plot Point I: At the 20:09 mark, Munny finally sits in the saddle of his horse (after a bit of difficulty getting up there) and rides away, leaving his young children at home to fend for themselves. “Now, I’ll be back in a couple weeks. You remember how the spirit of your dear, departed Ma watches over ya.”

The first stop Munny makes is to his old partner-in-crime Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). He enlists Logan’s aid by exaggerating the woman’s injuries even more. “Three ways?” Logan asks, referring to the split of the bounty. Munny and Logan ride off together over amber waves of grain, Munny’s horse-riding skills slowly improving.

Mid Point: At around the 48 minute mark, William Munny and Logan catch up to The Kid who shoots at them thinking they are someone else. The Kid argues with Munny, not wanting to take on a third partner. At the 50:46 mark, the three ride off together, over the amber waves.

But all is not well. At around the 52:40 minute mark, Logan figures out The Kid can’t see objects at a distance. The Kid admits he can see about 50 yards. “Fifty yards will do just fine,” Munny tells Logan. They ride off together again.

I’m going to guess that’s the Mid Point of the movie because it sets up a lot of questions in the minds of the audience. For example: “What happens now? Will The Kid’s nearsightedness cause problems for the trio? If so, how? When? Will the three get to be friends? Will they help each other? Or get in each others’ way?”

By the way, the wrinkle in the plot comes from the whores who spread the word far and wide that they’ll pay $1,000 to the man or men who kill the two who injured their friend. So it’s possible the trio will have competition. More gunsels will likely show up to claim the bounty.

Either that, or the sheriff of the town, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a sadistic SOB who beats first and asks questions later, will be the object of their wrath. Especially since Daggett just beat up a feverish Munny and sent the other two sneaking out the back way to pick up Munny, throw him on his horse, and high-tail it out of town.

Plot Point II: At about one hour and 30 minutes into the movie (precisely where Plot Point II should be in a 120-minute movie), the first of the two men who cut up the whore (hey, that’s what she’s called in the movie) has his horse shot out from under him. He falls to the ground. His leg is broken.

Why do I think that’s Plot Point II?

Because now the train is barreling down the track, figuratively speaking. Lots of questions arise: “What’ll happen now? Will any of the trio be shot and killed? Will they get the second man, too? Will they finish off the first man? Or will they call it a day and go home?”

The first guy is shot and killed. Shortly thereafter, the second man is tracked down to his cabin hideaway. The Kid shoots him, ignominiously, as he’s taking a dump. The Kid admits that was his first killing and he’s in tears as he’s guzzling his whiskey.

“It’s a helluva thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have,” Munny says to The Kid.

“Yeah, well I guess he had it coming,” The Kid says.

“We all have it coming,” Munny says.

Act III
Amazing! What an incredible third act. Clint Eastwood’s character shoots up the town and every one in it – including the sadistic sheriff – and then rides off. It was a scene straight out of High Plains Drifter Clint’s way-cool movie from 1973. If you haven’t seen High Plains Drifter you haven’t seen Clint Eastwood.

The movie ends as it began – with the widescreen shot of a man beside a tree (whom we now know is Munny beside the tree where his wife is buried) in the background and these words scrolling on the screen:

Some years later, Mrs. Ansonia
Feathers made the arduous
journey to Hodgeman County
to visit the last resting place
of her only daughter

William Munny had long since
disappeared with the children…
some said to San Francisco
where it was rumored he
prospered in dry goods.

And there was nothing on the
marker to explain to
Mrs. Feathers why her only
daughter had married a
known thief and murderer,
a man of notoriously vicious
and intemperate disposition.

Unforgiven is a very good Western, and a truly well-made movie. As usual, Clint has terrific lines – terse and pithy.

The Cast
Clint Eastwood (1930- )……………..William ‘Bill’ Munny
Gene Hackman (1930- )……………..Little Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman (1937- )…………..Ned Logan
Richard Harris (1930-2002)………..English Bob
Jaimz Woolvett (1967- )……………..The Schofield Kid
Saul Rubinek (1948- )…………………W.W. Beauchamp
Frances Fisher (1952- )……………….Strawberry Alice
Anna Levine (1955- )………………….Delilah Fitzgerald

Directed By:
Clint Eastwood

Written By:
David Webb Peoples (1940- )

Unforgiven was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gene Hackman), Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Film Editing, and Best Picture. Nominated but not winning were Clint for Best Actor in a Leading Role and David Webb Peoples for his screenplay.

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