I grew up watching Westerns. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Glen Ford, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, and eventually Kurt Russell, and Val Kilmer (that one’s for a later time).
My favorites were always Clint’s.
My dad and I loved the “Spaghetti” Westerns as we called them, “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Trying to describe the feeling while watching those is difficult. The movies are about “MEN.” Men riding horses, men whoring, men shooting guns, men shooting guns at other men. It doesn’t sound appealing at all when it’s talked about at its rawest description, however, you can’t help but smile while you’re watching them. I think when you see a hero that is able to “outdraw” three villains and hear most of the gunshots sound like a ricochet, it can be challenging to take the killing seriously. The movies have a highly entertaining style about them. The wide shots that cut closer and closer and closer until we’re right at the eyes, the zooms, the moving cameras, and Morricone’s famous scores–entertainment at its highest.
What’s the first?
“Unforgiven,” without hesitation.
Rumor has it that Eastwood received the script in 1976, but wanted “To do other things.” Again, it seems the stars aligned for this movie to be made correctly.
Clint plays Bill Munny, a man with a violent past who changed his ways and took up farming in Kansas after he met a woman who has since passed. He has two children to raise on the farm and he presents as a God fearing man.
In Big Whiskey, Wyoming, two cowboys have roughed up a prostitute by cutting her face with a knife after she laughs at the size of one of the men’s manhood. Enter Little Bill Daggett played by the masterful Gene Hackman. Daggett is as ruthless as they come. It’s clear that he has a past similar to Munny’s, but he has turned to upholding the law instead of farming. He lets the cowboys off by allowing them to pay compensation to the brothel for the injured “whore.” Outraged, the women of the brothel pool their money and create $1,000.00 bounty for the men that kill the cowboys.
News spreads. Tall tales of how the prostitute lost one of her eyes in the torture are embellished and the self proclaimed “Schofield Kid” comes to knock on Munny’s withered farmhouse door. Realizing his farm and children may not make it through another winter, he takes up the job. He gathers his old partner Ned (Morgan Freeman) and they make their way.
The world that Eastwood was able to create is the realist western that I have ever seen. The language that is used is raw and modern. Women aren’t “prostitutes,” they’re “whores.” They don’t “partake in the pleasures of the flesh,” they “fuck” for money. It’s very real, plain, and simple.
Watching it with my parents was a challenge. They’d seen Westerns before…no one had seen a Western like this. As the credits rolled, I could sense the uneasy feeling that my mother had after watching it. I loved every second of it. Over the years I want to believe that my mother has come to realize the rough brilliance of its honesty; I’m not holding my breath. She still doesn’t understand, “why people need to use that word.”
Know that this picture plays out through dialogue–correction–excellent dialogue delivered by top actors. It is by no means boring and the tension builds to a masterful climax well worth the wait.
My dad loved it.