Connect with us

Clint Eastwood

Unforgiven’s Jailhouse Standoff Makes Clint Eastwood’s Western a Classic

Let’s start with the obvious: Unforgiven is a masterpiece. Clint Eastwood’s gritty deconstruction of the Western genre easily stands as one of the best of its kind. From start to finish, we’re enraptured by this dangerous world populated by men and women who utilized violence as a means to an end.
Starring Eastwood (who also directed), Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, the epic galloped into theaters in August of 1992 and quickly found acclaim amongst critics and moviegoers. All told, Unforgiven earned a massive $159M against a $14.4M budget and went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Hackman), and Best Film Editing. One could argue that two more awards were due — for Eastwood’s performance (he lost to Scent of a Woman’s “hoo-ah” screaming Al Pacino) and Jack N. Green’s stunning cinematography (the Oscar went to Philippe Rousselot for A River Runs Through It).
No matter. Eastwood has no need for pint-sized Hollywood awards. The iconic director/actor aims for something bolder and grander, which is why I think Unforgiven stands as his masterwork; the pièce de résistance of a storied career that continues to this day. And for an artist with a resume chock-full of classics like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter, Kelly’s Heroes, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby … that’s saying something.
I could go on and on about Unforgiven and echo the sentiments of Peter Travers who, in his review in Rolling Stone magazine, called it “the most provocative Western of Eastwood’s career” and noted: “By weighing Munny’s rise to prosperity against his fall from grace, Eastwood gives Unforgiven a tragic stature that puts his own filmmaking past in critical and moral perspective. In three decades of climbing into the saddle, Eastwood has never ridden so tall.”
Instead, I want to focus on my favorite scene from Unforgiven. No, it’s not that scene, but rather a smaller, quieter moment that occurs midway through the film that serves as the turning point in the story.
Unforgiven mostly operates like a traditional Western throughout its first hour. We are thrust into a familiar tale of revenge, meet a colorful cast of characters, and are whisked away on a grand adventure filled with campfires and atypical sweeping country landscapes. That all changes about 50 minutes into the production when Gene Hackman’s Little Bill beats the ever-loving shit out of Richard Harris’ English Bob and hauls him to jail. It’s here that Eastwood unveils the true purpose behind this tale. Here, the director deconstructs the myth of the cowboy, blurs the line between good and bad, and sets the tone for the remaining film whilst laying groundwork for the dark finale.
He also gives us one of the more intense standoffs in modern cinema. Let’s rewind.
English Bob is a notorious gunslinger who rides into the town of Big Whiskey in the hopes of collecting a bounty on a couple of cowboys who cut up a local brothel worker. Bob, we quickly learn, possesses gunslinging skills and a talent for embroidering the truth, but has clearly let fame go to his head, as is evident by the biographical writer (Saul Rubinek) currently attached to his person. The denizens of Big Whiskey treat Bob like some sort of English Elvis; his legend precedes him at every turn. All it takes is a mild game of “shoot the pheasant,” which Bob easily wins, for challengers to holster their sidearms and take a step back; so renowned is the Englishman’s mythos.
Except, in truth, English Bob is just a man who rose to fame thanks in large part to a fortunate moment of happenstance. We learn as much when Little Bill gleefully recounts Bob’s “legendary” tale as it actually happened:

The conversation gives way to “my favorite scene,” or the standoff between Little Bill and English Bob:

I’ve watched this scene a thousand times and each viewing makes my heart race. There’s a lot to unpack here, from the way Bill demystifies the gunfighter legend by demonstrating how difficult it is to draw a weapon, aim and kill a moving target; to the manner in which Mr. Beauchamp attempts to create his own “iconic scene” that he hopes to exploit through his books.
Take note of Eastwood’s use of sound in the clip above. There’s no music. Rain and thunder pervade the soundtrack. Old Westerns often scored gunfights with dramatic orchestrations packed with rousing themes for the good guys and darker melodies for the bad guys. Check out this clip from the classic High Noon in which Gary Cooper takes on some dastardly villains and listen to the way Dimitri Tiomkin’s bombastic score highlights the action:

The difference between High Noon and Unforgiven is that the former features clearly drawn heroes and villains operating on very distinct sides of the law, while Unforgiven dips its toes in murkier waters. During Bill’s standoff with Bob, there’s no need for music because, well, we’re not sure who to root for. Little Bill carries a badge and certainly seems like he has good intentions, but isn’t much better than the murderers he abuses. It’s no coincidence that as tensions mount in the jail, Eastwood posits Bill behind bars in several shots, giving the impression that he deserves to be locked up right alongside the criminals he so despises:

I’ve always seen Bill as a man desperately trying to be the good guy, who too often mistakes violence and abuse for justice. His treatment of English Bob, for example, is a misguided attempt to condemn a man who hasn’t done anything wrong:

After Bill’s mistreatment of Bob, the film escalates into a series of violent standoffs and showdowns.
At one point, Bill comes face-to-face with a feeble and sick William Munny and seizes the opportunity to beat the shit out of the old cowboy. His directive is to scare the bejesus out of bounty hunters who ride into town aiming to kill for a handful of cash. I should point out that Bill’s violent actions make little impact. William and his partner, the Schofield Kid, eventually murder the two wanted cowboys and collect the bounty. Ironically, if Bill had acted as an actual lawman rather than a violent psychopath, he may have saved the two boys’ lives. Instead, his deeds incite more unnecessary violence and eventually lead to his own death.

Ironically, in the jailhouse, Bill calls English Bob a pathetic coward for shooting one of his victims in the back. He’s not wrong. Bob is a phony and a coward. However, Bill spends half the film beating defenseless people to a bloody pulp. He literally murders Ned (Morgan Freeman) — a character who outright refuses to kill — after a violent interrogation goes wrong and later displays his corpse for all to see.
In the end, Bill is more ruthless, cowardly, and cold-blooded than the men he tries to keep from entering his town. No matter, Little Bill eventually gets what he deserves in Unforgiven’s astonishing final scene:
What’s great is that Bill’s death is foreshadowed during his extensive conversation with Mr. Beauchamp in the jailhouse: “Look son,” he says, “being a good shot, being quick with a pistol, that don’t do no harm, but it don’t mean much next to being cool-headed. A man who will keep his head and not get rattled under fire, like as not, he’ll kill ya.”
We see two examples of this play out. First, when Bill squares off against English Bob, and second, during his final confrontation with William Munny. In the first, Bill is calm and steady — he even smirks! That’s because Bill knows the truth about Bob. He doesn’t buy into the lies surrounding his person and knows the Englishman will back down from a fair fight or end up dead. Bob represents the faux legend whose mythos quickly unravels when you peel back the layers and peer just below the surface.
In the second example, Bill comes toe-to-toe with an actual gunfighter with a known reputation — Munny has killed women and children, after all — and panics. By contrast, William Munny keeps his cool and manages to take out a half dozen men (including Bill) with relative ease. Munny is the legend we all long to see, but the cold truth is that he’s a miserable old man haunted by his past deeds. Mr. Beauchamp will likely embellish his story and paint Munny as some sort of mythical figure, but we know the truth.
Ultimately, I could’ve picked any number of scenes from Eastwood’s classic to explore. However, the jailhouse standoff has always been the moment where Unforgiven morphed from being a really good Western to perhaps the greatest Western ever made. In the end, this might not be the old-fashioned Hollywood cowboy adventure we all wanted, but it’s the film we deserved.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Clint Eastwood

‘Gran Torino’: Clint Eastwood Co-Star Bee Vang Blames the Film for ‘Mainstreaming Anti-Asian Racism’

Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino earned praise from critics and audiences. Many criticized the Awards for not nominating the film at the ceremony. However, some folks came forward to condemn Eastwood’s film regarding its use of racial slurs. Gran Torino star Bee Vang came forward to criticize the film for “mainstreaming anti-Asian” racism.

Bee Vang starred in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino’ as Thao Vang Lor

'Gran Torino' Bee Vang, Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her smiling with Eastwood's arms around Vang and Her

L-R: Bee Vang, Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Gran Torino follows Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), who is a widow and Korean War veteran. His family alienates him and he’s angry at the world. Walt’s young neighbor, Thao Vang Lor (Vang), tries to steal Walt’s 1972 Ford Torino to impress a local gang, but Walt ultimately develops a close relationship with Thao and his family.

Vang earned a role in Eastwood’s Gran Torino. However, he wanted to elevate the movie and breathe authenticity into it. “During the shooting of the film, I tried to stay true to the script,” Vang wrote in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “But as a Hmong person, I also tried to do justice to my own life and to that of others like me.”

Bee Vang blames Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino’ for ‘mainstreaming anti-Asian racism’

Vang wrote a piece on NBC News that outlines anti-Asian racism in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic era. He reflected back on starring in Eastwood’s Gran Torino and how it connects with the modern social and political climate.

“At the time, there was a lot of discussion about whether the movie’s slurs were insensitive and gratuitous or simply ‘harmless jokes,’” Vang wrote. “I found it unnerving, the laughter that the slurs elicited in theaters with predominantly white audiences. And it was always white people who would say, ‘Can’t you take a joke?’”

However, Vang looks back at Gran Torino with a different perspective, especially regarding the anti-Asian racism spreading around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Gran Torino may have elided the crisis in Asia that birthed our diaspora and many others across the Pacific,” Vang wrote. “But more concerning was the way the film mainstreamed anti-Asian racism, even as it increased Asian American representation. The laughter weaponized against us has beaten us into silent submission.”

Vang continued: “To this day, I am still haunted by the mirth of white audiences, the uproarious laughter when Eastwood’s curmudgeonly racist character, Walt Kowalski, growled a slur … It’s a ‘harmless joke,’ right? Until it’s not just a joke, but rather one more excuse for ignoring white supremacy and racism.”

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic overtly perpetuates anti-Asian racism

Vang uses Eastwood’s Gran Torino as an example of how anti-Asian racism becomes integrated into mainstream culture. It’s not simply a joke to Vang when it has real-world ramifications. The 2008 film is not harmless content for Vang and many folks who spoke against the movie’s use of anti-Asian racism.

“In times of crisis, solidarity requires a collective commitment to justice,” Vang wrote in NBC News. “We cannot lose sight of this, or it will become impossible to imagine a new and better world. And I no longer wonder what people mean when they ask me why I can’t take a joke. Covid-19 has removed all doubt.”

Continue Reading

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood Once Said We’re in a ‘P**** Generation’: ‘Everybody’s Walking on Eggshells’

Clint Eastwood is a legendary name in Hollywood. He remains one of the biggest western movie stars of all time. However, the world also knows him for his particularly conservative values and beliefs. Some audiences applaud him for his social and political stance, while others criticize him for it. Eastwood once explained what the “p**** generation” is and how it impacts him.

Clint Eastwood is an actor and director

Clint Eastwood in article about new generation smiling in front of AFI Fest step and repeat

Clint Eastwood | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Eastwood’s first acting role was an uncredited part in 1955’s Revenge of the Creature. However, he truly hit the big time by playing the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. The franchise consists of 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, 1965’s For a Few Dollars More, and 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. His legacy continues to live on through its impact on modern cinema.

Eastwood stepped behind the camera for the first time with 1971’s Play Misty for Me. He didn’t stop acting, but his passion certainly pushed him to continue making movies. At the time of writing, Eastwood earned four Academy Awards for films including Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.

Clint Eastwood said that we’re in a ‘p**** generation’

Esquire interviewed Eastwood and his son, Scott to discuss their experiences in Hollywood and their personal beliefs and ideals. The social and political climate entered the conversation, resulting in his discussion of Donald Trump and people’s level of sensitivity to specific topics.

“But he’s [Trump] onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up,” Eastwood said. “That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a p**** generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff.”

Eastwood continued: “When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist. And then when I did Gran Torino, even my associate said, ‘This is a really good script, but it’s politically incorrect.’ And I said, ‘Good. Let me read it tonight.’ The next morning, I came in and I threw it on his desk and I said, ‘We’re starting this immediately.’”

He described the “p**** generation” by saying, “All these people that say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that, and you can’t do this, and you can’t say that.’ I guess it’s just the times.”

Eastwood further described the generation as one where, “Nobody wants to work.”

‘Gran Torino’ continues to divide audiences

Eastwood’s conversation comments previously offended some audiences. However, his films also speak for themselves. Gran Torino star Bee Vang spoke out about the film, accusing it of “mainstreaming anti-Asian racism.” The film includes slurs against Asian people and turns them into a joke for mainstream audiences to laugh at. Vang and other critics raise the problems that arise with such casual racism.

Eastwood most recently made Cry Macho. He also starred in the lead role. He currently doesn’t have any films set for the new year, although he doesn’t show any sign of slowing down and retiring. Stay tuned for more information on Eastwood’s next project.

Continue Reading

Clint Eastwood

How The Good, The Bad & The Ugly 2 Would’ve Brought Back Clint Eastwood

The unmade The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2 would have brought back Clint Eastwood in a surprising way. Clint Eastwood had spent years on a classic western series Rawhide before landing what would turn out to be a star-making role in 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars. This low-budget Italian western was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and saw Eastwood’s Man with no Name playing two gangs against each other. The movie’s style and Eastwood’s iconic turn saw the movie become a surprise success and it helped establish the spaghetti western subgenre.

The popularity of westerns began to wane during the ’60s and ’70s, and later outings usually took a darker, more cynical view of the west. Clint Eastwood’s westerns tended to be more violent, and the lines between heroes and villains were very blurred. Eastwood directed some of his most famous outings in the genre himself, including High Plains Drifter – which has a supernatural angle – Pale Rider and 1992’s acclaimed Unforgiven.

The Man with no Name is still Clint Eastwood’s most famous western antihero, and following A Fistful Of Dollars, he reprised the character twice, for 1965’s For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. This latter entry is actually a prequel to the events of the previous films and followed three characters hunting for buried gold against the backdrop of the American Civil War. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is the most acclaimed of director Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy and has been hailed as a masterpiece. The movie ends with Eastwood’s “Blondie” riding off with half of the gold, and co-writer Luciano Vincenzoni later revealed he had plans to make The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2, with Clint Eastwood returning as narrator.

For context, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly ends with Eastwood’s Man with No Name having killed Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes and seeming to leave Eli Wallach’s Tuco to hang. In the final moments, he shoots Tuco’s noose to free him, with Tuco cursing out Eastwood’s character as he rides away. Vincenzoni’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2 was to take place 20 years later, with Tuco tracking down the grandson of Blondie for the gold. Reportedly, Clint Eastwood – who has directed many movies – was interested in serving as narrator for a potential The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2, though it’s unknown if the Man with No Man would have actually appeared in the story.

Sadly, there’s little solid information available on The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2, including when it was being developed, though the late ’80s seems likely. Vincenzoni confirmed Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach were interested in returning too, and it appears Joe Dante was being courted as director. It was Leone who killed The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2, as he didn’t want any more sequels to happen or his name linked to it. Vincenzoni put this down to a rift between the two men, but without Leone’s consent, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly 2 quickly died. It’s hard to know if the sequel could have worked without Clint Eastwood (who turned down Superman 1978) as the main character, though it certainly would have been intriguing to see what happened next.

Continue Reading