Posts tagged “Audrey Hepburn

The Unforgiven (1960) Revisited


Continuing my exploration of the influence of The Searchers (1956) on films, here the Western, I’m stopping in with The Unforgiven (1960) which shares and elaborates on some on the themes and even down to the imagery that’s heightened here. Also spurred on after reading a review last month of the film over at Bored and Dangerous who I in turn recommended Cheyenne Autumn (1964) to looking at the depiction of the Native Americans, which again I will touch upon.

Now I first caught this film about 5 years ago, I focused more on the mis-casting of Audrey Hepburn, now I’m not so concerned about that. I’ve also seen more films by both lead actors and the director John Huston who dabbled in practically every genre that Hollywood works it. Instead I felt from the very beginning of the film I was taken aback by the dark and mysterious soundtrack took me into a world where nothing is certain, the truth is hidden, even out in a landscape where being honest is the only way to survive and do business. It’s the arrival of a rider Johnny Portugal (John Saxon) with a saber, much like the beginning of a Shakespeare play predicting what will happen, spouting a very harsh truth that’s still cryptic enough that it lingers in the audiences mind throughout. He’s hiding in the bushes on his horse, ready to scare the life out of Rachel Zachary (Hepburn) still innocent to the world around her, the next few days are going to be quite revealing for her.

So how does this compare with The Searchers then? Well from the start, if Rachel is to be Kiowa as we are lead to believe she is the Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) or Debbie (Natalie Wood) has long been accepted into the Zachary family, with a white mother Mattilda (Lillian Gish) and three brothers who have taken in and raised this child, now a young woman as their own. Known as an abandoned child has been long been assimilated into White civilisation. So any revelation shouldn’t cause that much harm, can it? In the home of the Edwards in the John Ford original, Martin Pawley is seem as an Edwards, there’s no question of his place in the home or in the film, accepted.  Debbie has been written off as a squaw, better off dead, there’s no place for her, that’s until Ethan finally on rescuing her, decides not to kill her, instead returning her to the home of the Jorgensens, in a memorable sequence that brings the film to a close. Of course that wouldn’t make much for a film in The Unforgiven, Rachel’s identity is kept secret until much later on. 

This is a time which could have seen the Jorgensens move away and settle in a different town, a town that is not aware of Debbie’s past that saw her brought up and married to Comanche chief Scar (Henry Brandon), she is far from pure in the eyes of a Wild West society, she’s tainted. So what about Rachel, at the moment she’s open to the possibility but gives it little thought when her mother brushes it aside.

I’ve not even turned to the Zachary brothers lead by Ben (Burt Lancaster) who I naturally thought would be the Ethan (John Wayne) of the film. Starting out hating her, wanting to search and hoping to kill his niece for the dirty blood that runs through her veins. Instead he’s a doting son and wrangler who has returned with a big dealing in the air with another local family. You can see his love for his mother when he literally lifts a piano on his back from a cart for her. He’s a mother boy, and father of the family. Could this be the Edwards has they survive the massacre and fought off the Comanches? The Zachary’s are a happy cohesive family on the surface, they have built a home out in the frontier, even if cows like to graze on the roof.

Everything starts to go wrong when Charlie Rawlins (Albert Salmi) who had just started courting Rachel is killed by a Kiowa. This is after we have already met them at the Zachary’s homestead, wanting to trade horses for Rachel. An offer refused which backfires. The offers refused but the question of her identity now wont go away, is she a Kiowa or not, the presence of the Native Americans suggest they mean business. A posse’s formed and they go in search of who we think are the Kiowas, it’s methodical, long and good length montage that finally leads them to Johnny Portugal the blast from the past, whose placed on trial, at the wrong end of noose. The truths revealed, with no room for the Zachary’s to wriggle out of. The tone of the film now changes, the family are seen as outcast unless they release Rachel to the Kiowa’s. To the point they want to humiliate her by stripping her down to reveal the truth, making them worse than the Kiowas are perceived to be. The Whites are just as bad if not worse.

Now onto the scenes that I hazily remember, the gunfight in the homestead, the Zacharys surrounded, minus one disgusted brother (Cash – Audie Murphy) so its 4 against an army of Kiowa’s. This is like the massacre in The Searchers as we only saw before when the secure the ranch pre-attack. Just as we saw in The Stalking Moon (1968) when its was 3 against 1. Here its more dramatic, Huston doesn’t leave anything out, every character has a dramatic moment, it’s literally jam-packed for at least 10 minutes, wanting to make every second count whilst they’re cooped up in the house. Lancaster is stronger than Ethan, able to accept Rachel for who she is and even kill her own kind, where as the Indian hater would kill them indiscriminately.

Finally I must turn to the casting of Hepburn who I originally thought was mis-cast, yet it’s her innocence that makes her perfect for the role. Not aware of who she truly is, her heritage, never questioning it. Thinking for a time she can marry her oldest brother, she has no understanding of family relationship beyond the power of love. When Charlie requests to start courting with her, she jumps at the chance, maybe to make Ben jealous, not that he would be. When she sees her Kiowa brother though, the man who killed her potential husband it brings out her natural self that she has been resisting. Resulting in an unsatisfying conclusion for me. Much like friend over at Bored and Dangerous – the happy ending, her family accept her, but does the wider society that left them all to be killed. Is family love all she needs when she knows deep down what she now wants – to be with the Kiowa. Who again are treated as one dimensional – which I’m not really surprised at, they are however allowed if however briefly to enter the white mans world to claim what is rightly theirs – Rachel.


Capote (2005)


Capote (2005)With the sad passing of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman I had to find the time to watch his only Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote in the dark Capote (2005) a film that I was previously wasn’t concerned about, thinking I would have far longer to get around to this film. Unaware of the actors battle with drugs that abruptly took him away. Leaving behind him a career of incredible performances in both Hollywood and art-house films, knowing at the time he was still very much hard at work.

Nonetheless I felt compelled to now view Capote with a renewed sense of respect for the actor who I already respected. His performance is completely transformative, going down the dramatic route of loosing weight, much like the Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013). Hoffman’s attention to the role goes into overdrive, taking on a high-pitched voice which at first unnerves the audience, not used to the writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood which was the focus of the film.

When a family shooting in Kansas in 1959 catches the attention of Truman Capote he is compelled to use this news story as the basis for his next book. Like most artists, starting with the inspiration, not sure of the final form until it starts to take hold and forming, as he and friend fellow author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) go on a research trip, at first in the guise of a magazine. There is an unusual fascination with the events for Capote as he meets the investigating detective Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) who wants very much to solve the case in a town that is not used to such tragic events.

The fascination for the case becomes almost a fetish for Capote as he seeks out all the evidence, to visit the girl who discovered the bodies of the family to the men who are finally brought in. Wanting to share their story with the world. Which for most would be just another newspaper story to sell the paper. Here we have another aim entirely to show to the country what can happen when things go wrong for people, their actions and the consequences.

Forming a careful bond with the convicted men who now await their final sentence, the book that Capote aims to write will remain incomplete until he has the truth of what happened, which lies with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). The relationship is based on power and desires, all one way, leading to years of internal struggle and turmoil for Capote as he writes what is to become his last novel. Even with friends around him he finds it hard to really open to them.

Hoffman is mesmerizing as a man who is far smaller than him, taking on the life of a legend of modern literature, instead of the Audrey Hepburn classic for which he is more fondly remembered. We find the man, openly homosexual in a time that is still not ready to accept his lifestyle, being incredibly bald in his direction to seek out the truth, a truth that may cost him his sanity and happiness. Visually the film is very muted in tone with the dark subject matter. In a writers world, as one seeks out his newest project and another on the sidelines is being pushed into the limelight for To Kill a Mockingbird which later saw Harper Lee spending the rest of her life in seclusion. The writers life is full of struggles to get a book in the form they want, which can cost more than you first hope. The line between journalistic professionalism and distance is blurred in the endeavour for a story, from which you may never return.

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