Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A to Z Challenge - U is for Upended by a Horse

A to Z Challenge for today and the letter U is dedicated to the last Western to win Best Picture, 1992's Unforgiven.  Nominated for nine Oscars and winner of four including Clint Eastwood's first Oscar for Best Director and a Supporting Oscar to Gene Hackman.  This was only the third Western to win Best Picture along with Cimerron back in 1931 and only two years after Dances With Wolves won. Westerns are not often recognized by the Academy when Oscar season rolls around.

This is not your typical Western.  Westerns in the 1930's were pretty much B movies.  In the 1940's you had John Ford style Westerns, I say that because everyone was trying to make another Stagecoach, which were dramas set in nineteenth century western America.  This changed to the more popular family style Westerns of the 1950's and early 60's.  Spaghetti Westerns, Italian Westerns that ironically were filmed in Spain, became the standard during the late 60's and into the 70's.  Hollywood Westerns were not as good by comparison, with maybe an exception of Sam Peckinpah.  By the late 1970's Westerns were almost all gone, except for Clint Eastwood.

Making his start in television Westerns, Clint Eastwood went to Italy and became a star in some of the most iconic Spaghetti Westerns.  He came back to Hollywood and continued to make some great movies all through the 1970's and 80's.  When the Western became popular again in the early 90's he made this movie.  Which is not like other Clint Eastwood Westerns, hence why I came up with today's title.  I'll explain after a summary of the movie and what that means and why I knew from one scene that this was the best film of the year.

The film has a collection of great actors, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and even an appearance by Richard Harris.  The story is after a prostitute has her face cut with a knife, the rest of the women in the brothel put a bounty on the heads of the men responsible.  A young gunslinger seeks out Will Munny, played by Clint Eastwood, since he was a fierce killer years ago.  When he finds him, he is a widower with two small children and a farm.  He is not interested in getting involved, but changes his mind in order to get the money. On the way he gets his old buddy Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman to come along.  They head to the town where the sheriff played by Gene Hackman is a sadistic violent man who doesn't want any killing in his town and bans any weapons.  The challenge is can they complete the assassinations without being caught.

That may sound like a standard Western movie, but this one was so different. Unlike the standard Western where the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black, there are no real heroes.  There are villains ranging from wanting to try and be a tough guy, to outright violent killers.  The film is dark, depressing and more than that, probably much closer to reality than most other Westerns.

But there was one scene in the early part of the film that made me realize that this was the Best Picture of the year and one of the best Westerns I've ever seen. It's the scene when Clint Eastwood attempts to get on his horse and is upended and thrown to the ground.  I saw the film in the theater with my wife, in fact we were still dating at the time.  The theater had about twelve to twenty people, many other couples like us.  When Clint Eastwood hit the ground every guy in the theater gasped.

Me: (In utter shock, and whispering) Clint Eastwood fell off the horse.
Wife: Yeah.
Me: No, you don't get it.  Clint Eastwood fell off the horse.
Wife: I saw that.
Me: (getting frantic)  No, you don't understand.  Clint Eastwood fell off the horse!
Wife: So?
Me: Clint Eastwood never falls off a horse!

I'm sure the same conversation was happening with every other guy and his wife, girlfriend or date as well in the theater.  Up to that point, every Clint Eastwood Western I'd ever seen, he was the man.  As the stranger with no name in the Spaghetti Westerns through High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pale Rider, he was the tough, cool, collected, epitome of the tough fearless gunslinger.  For my generation, he replaced John Wayne as the Western hero.  To see him take on a role where he would expose himself and fall off a horse made me realize that this was not going to be like any other Western.  And it isn't, which is why it won Best Picture.

Please note that this is a scene from later in the film (spoiler alert) and is very violent.


  1. I remember watching Unforgiven in the theater when it came out, and being very impressed with the film. It definitely deserved all the awards it was given.

  2. It is an excellent film that I really enjoy. I found it gritty and quite rough but very realistic. I always laugh at Hackman's house...he was not a good builder