|Audie Murphy, Lillian Gish, Doug McClure, Audrey Hepburn and Lancaster|
A mysterious man named Abe Kelsey (Joseph Wiseman) wanders around the ranch of the Zachary family, and his presence causes consternation in old Mattilda Zachary (Lillian Gish). Apparently Abe is spreading stories that Mattilda's adopted daughter, Rachel (Audrey Hepburn), is not white but a "red injun." Members of the Kiowa tribe seem to think the stories are true, and want Rachel returned to them. Neighbor Zeb Rawlins (Charles Bickford) wants the truth, too, or there'll be no more business dealings with the Zacharys. Then one of Zeb's sons is murdered, Abe Kelsey is captured, and the whole thing comes to a boil ... The Unforgiven has a fascinating but ultimately contrived premise that doesn't make nearly enough of the situation and operates on an almost shamefully superficial level. There are some powerful scenes in the movie, but too many questions.remain unanswered. It all ends in a bloodbath wherein the one-dimensional Indians are pretty much picked off like flies.and a supposedly "happy" ending is tacked on. For a movie that some feel is about racial intolerance, it is staggeringly racist itself. The acting is generally good, although of the once-removed Hollywood variety. which is particularly evident in the climax. Wiseman is excellent as Abe, demented by loneliness and grief, and Gish [The Cobweb] has a tremendously good moment confronting him for what turns out to be the final time. Burt Lancaster plays Rachel's step-brother, who is secretly in love with her, this being one of the new breed of psycho-sexual westerns (while still being stubbornly old-fashioned as regards Native Americans). Doug McClure overdoes the boyish posturing a bit as Lancaster's youngest brother, but Audie Murphy is effective as his other brother, Cash. John Saxon also makes his mark as a cowboy who may be an Indian, as does Carlos Rivas [The Black Scorpion] in a nearly silent role as a tribe member who may be Rachel's true brother. Kipp Hamilton [War of the Gargantuas] is also good as Zeb's daughter, who is anxious to marry one of the Zacharys, and June Walker is excellent as her mother, Hagar. For obvious reasons, Audrey Hepburn was hardly the best casting choice for the role of Rachel. The attack on the ranch at the climax is admittedly exciting and well-staged, but in some ways unconvincing, while Franz Planer's widescreen cinematography doesn't make the most of the settings, and Dimitri Tiomkin's score, aiming for the unusual perhaps, is one of his worst, only serving to muff some sequences that could have been moving. Apparently director John Huston was hampered from really making the film he wanted to make, resulting in this rather hypocritical exercise.
Verdict|: Hollywood Cowboys and Indians -- when it could have been so much more. **.