Clint Eastwood Almost Threw Out Unforgiven’s Screenplay Sight Unseen
“Unforgiven” can be seen as both Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus and a treatise on his mortality. A film about a retired Western outlaw taking on one last job, it’s awfully reflective of Eastwood’s career up to that point.
The man who starred in films like “Dirty Harry” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” for years, always the brave renegade, was getting older. Eastwood was 61 years old when he filmed the movie, clearly past his prime as a cowboy. The movie was one last try at being an outlaw, just as it was for the protagonist William Munny in the film. However, according to a piece written for the film’s 30th anniversary, Eastwood almost never made the film at all.
The film’s script was written by David Webb Peoples, who shopped it around to multiple directors but had trouble finding a home for it. The script eventually made it to the desk of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, of “The Godfather” fame. Coppola was looking for a script to revitalize his idling career and liked “Unforgiven.” He optioned the script but couldn’t get production going, and eventually, the option expired.
Eastwood was the next one to pick up the script, but he made the mistake of letting his collaborator Sonia Chernus read it first. Chernus hated the script, saying, “We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work. I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it fast.”
Trusting his colleague’s opinion, Eastwood considered taking her advice and throwing the script away. Thank goodness he didn’t.
Love at first sight
Luckily for fans of the Western genre everywhere, Eastwood did eventually read the script, and he loved it instantly. He liked it so much that he decided he’d both direct and play the lead, but he wanted to wait until he was the right age to carry the role properly. Eastwood was extremely dedicated to the script, wanting to make sure everything was done just as it had been originally written. It was love at first sight, and Eastwood was ready to put in the work to make the movie a reality.
Eastwood was able to make the film with a modest budget and a fantastic supporting cast that included Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. Eastwood was even not alone in hesitating to sign on to the project, as Hackman also was initially unsure whether he would do the film.
By 1992 when the film was released, Sonia Chernus must have really regretted the call she made. The movie was both critically and commercially successful, Eastwood may not have realized that his career would continue into his 90s, but the film still serves as a proper swansong for the Western genre as a whole, which has fallen out of favor with modern audiences. If there’s a lesson here, it’s to never take a friend’s movie recommendation. They might be dead wrong.