Tuesday, March 25, 2014



I was not needed on the set today; the director is filming some clearly inferior scenes with less important performers. I had the chance to see the rushes from the last few days in the editing room this morning. My big tap finale, Happy Landings , looks simply smashing, especially the bit where I throw aside my dull gray traveling dress to reveal the red sequined tail coat underneath. I hate to jinx a project by speaking too early but Flying Down to Reno , the musical remake of Airport '75 , has all the makings of a smash hit. Action, romance, suspense, tap shoes, what more could you want?

Joseph called to remind me that Norman and I are due to shoot our guest roles on E.R. next week. I play Helen Lawson, famous actress whose taxi is broadsided by Norman's character’s runaway iron lung. The two of us are transported to the ER, heroically saved by Dr. Greene and romance blooms. We're looking forward to it. It's been a while since Norman and I have been in front of the cameras together. He's still busy in San Diego filming Waterworld II: The Gills Have Eyes . When we spoke on the phone last night, he told me they were going to do his big dramatic monologue in the Sea World penguin pool today.

I decided it was necessary to watch an Oscar worthy film today; it’s never too early to get inspired for my assured win for best supporting actress this next year. Looking through the unviewed collection, I happened across 1992's Best Picture, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven . Having not seen a western for a while, I popped it into the home theater for a quick view.

Unforgiven is the story of William Munny (Eastwood), once a notorious old west outlaw, on a par with Jesse James or Billy the Kid. As the film opens, we realize he turned his back on the whiskey and the shooting and the cussing, and the loose women when he married his wife. After her death from smallpox, he's a not terribly successful Kansas farmer trying to support his children on a lot of sick pigs. One day, a nephew of one of his old partners in crime rides by, calling himself 'The Schofield Kid' (Jaimz Woolvett). The kid has heard of events up in Big Whiskey, Wyoming- A couple of drunken cowhands took a knife to one of the girls in the local bordello and scarred her. The women, under the leadership of Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher), seek restitution from the local sheriff, Little Bill (Gene Hackman). Little Bill is only able to see them as the property of the saloonkeeper and fines the attackers. This isn't enough for the girls and they pool their resources and offer a bounty of $1,000 to anyone who kills the knife man and his accomplices. It's the reward money that the kid is after but he has terrible eyesight and knows he'll never be able to kill the miscreants without help. This sends him to Munny. Munny eventually agrees to head north with him; they're accompanied by Munny's long time friend and partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Other gunslingers are also interested in collecting; including English Bob (Richard Harris), the self described 'Duke of Death' accompanied by his acolyte and biographer Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). The sheriff is determined to keep order in Big Whiskey by any means necessary and soon all these individuals are clashing in violent ways.
Even though this film has the traditional trappings of the western, the isolated frontier town, the saloon, the gunslingers, the cattle hands et al., these elements are incidental to the themes the film is determined to explore. Eastwood's Munny is a man who has done evil, and tried to change his ways; when events and economic necessity drive him back towards his old ways of living, he has an incredible moral and spiritual struggle that he must undergo. I shan't spoil the movie by giving the resolution; let's just say that his actions are real and psychologically grounded. Eastwood the actor and Eastwood the director come together to forge a flawed, tragic human in Munny, far from the raffish glamour of 'The Man with No Name' showcased in the Sergio Leone films of several decades ago. The true brilliance of the film is that all of the characters are flawed and tragically human. They all make mistakes, usually with dire consequences. They all think their own personal worldview and beliefs are the correct ones. They all lie, cheat, steal, and do whatever they have to in order to survive. There are no heroes and villains in the usual sense. The protagonists and antagonists are equally vicious and all are capable of great cruelty and great sacrifice.

David Webb Peoples' masterful script (which would have won an Oscar in almost any other year - it lost to The Crying Game ) is both a deconstruction of and an elegy for the American West. The characters trapped in his Western landscape are vaguely aware that they live in changing times and a dying society, slowly being killed by the railroads, improved communications, and federal policy. It also deglamorizes many of the Western stereotypes. The saloon girls aren't gorgeous creatures of corsets and ostrich plumes, they're hardscrabble women who cuss and fight and ride with the men. Gun battles aren't heroic, they're squalid little affairs with nasty, brutish death at the end. Outlaws aren't romantic figures, they're cold-blooded killers in it for the money. The law isn't just, it's as corrupt as any other human institution and its officers are as fallible as everyone else.

The performances are impeccable right down the line. Gene Hackman (who won an Oscar for his role) captures the fine line between being the good old boy trying to build his home and his porch and the cruel sadist bent on maintaining order, whatever the cost. Morgan Freeman brings quiet dignity to Ned, as he does to almost all of his projects. Jaimz Woolvett, as the kid, makes an auspicious debut and we should see more of him in the future. Richard Harris is memorable in his role as English Bob, the gunslinger whose reputation is not quite what it’s cracked up to be.

The film has much to say to a modern audience on the nature of violence. Violent acts have consequences, for the individual and in the aggregate for the society of Big Whiskey. Violent death is not glamorized - it's made to be as ugly and nasty as it is. Even the role of the press, the media of the time, in terms of selling violent fantasies to the public back east, is examined through the role of Beauchamp.

The DVD contains both widescreen and standard formats of the film. There are no extras other than a couple of production notes. The sound quality is excellent but the picture transfer leaves much to be desired. Much of Unforgiven is shot at night or in the rain to add to the mood. When the transfer was made, it was not done with appropriate attention to light levels and much of the film on the DVD is murky. Memorize who is wearing what hat as those silhouettes are often the only clue as to who's doing what. Even daylight scenes are too dark with faces in shadow. One hopes that this fine film will be re-released some time in a better condition.

Grave digging. Swine fever. Penis size plot points. Bad carpentry. Pheasant shooting. Penny dreadful. Whippings. Shootings. Outhouse assassination. Prostitution contracts.

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