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#1
Old 10-16-2010, 03:07 AM
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"Unforgiven" -- isn't Little Bill the good guy, ultimately?

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!

This is one of my very favorite movies, for background. I've seen it at least ten times.
Anyway, when trying to think about the moral background of the movie, I've come to compare the two characters, William Munny(Clint Eastwood) and Little Bill Dagget(Gene Hackman).

The general vibe you get from reviews (which represent a first seeing, and this may be important) is that Little Bill is broadly "wrong", in his actions. He's even sometimes referred to as "sadistic".

Its true that Little Bill engages in two acts of violence, as well as maintaining a somewhat "hard" demeanor through the entire film. His portrayed acts of violence are, first, to beat up English Bob.

I just viewed this very scene (its a great one -- beginning with Bob chatting on the train, everyone reading newspapers about the assaination attempt on Garfield by Guiteau). When Bob (and his conspicuous biographer/dime-novel-writer, W. W. Beauchamp) arrive in town, Bob ignores the "no firearms" ordinance. He makes his presence known in town, and basically -- its clear to all present that he's there to kill the two cowboys and collect the bounty.

Its clear by this point that Little Bill (as sheriff, charged with the safety of the town and its environs) has been wary of the threat. He knows that word has been spread that there's a $1000 reward to whomever kills the two cowboys. Whatever his personal reasons, he's behaving in such a way as to do what he's charged with -- to enforce the law, to maintain order.

Bill responds to English Bob's appearance by making a public spectacle. After Bob rebuffs Andy (a deputy) in his attempt to relieve him of his firearms, Little Bill confronts Bob coming out of the barbershop. After a lengthy back-and-forth of words (and once Bob has been disarmed), Little Bill beats the shit out of him. He makes a public pronouncement that there will be no assasins tolerated in Big Whiskey (the town). He believes that by coming down hard on English Bob, he can scare other potential assassins away, and preserve the peace.

The second act of violence by Little Bill is his beating of Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) during an "interrogation". This, while being harder to justify, is still within the realm of Little Bill's "operating space", I would argue. He knows that Ned is a member of a party of assassins -- I believe he knows that there are three -- and he knows that the other two are still at large. He also knows that Ned is lying to him. Ultimately, we learn that Ned has died at Little Bill's hand.

I think the fact that we don't see Ned's death is significant. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what it means. Was it the intent to...leave it ambiguous? We know that Little Bill was beating Ned, and had used a bullwhip. We know that he had threatened to become even harsher. I think all that we ultimately know is that Little Bill is a hardass, willing to use violence, and we have no way of knowing where he would "draw the line" on employing violence to achieve his ends.

Ultimately, and not to rehash the ending, we know what happens. Little Bill dies ignonominously. Does he deserve it, though? Hmm, thats what he said, and the answer does make you think. Here's my point: I believe the movie leads us to root for William Munny, in the finale; I also believe this may be leading us astray. Its hard to justify what Munny did -- most obviously, when he shot Skinny, in what was by far the most cold-blooded act in the film. Munny was also drunk, which I believe may be significant.

So, was Little Bill Dagget a sadist, or was he a good man in a bad situation? Was William Munny redeemed by his wife, or did he throw it away for whisky and cheap revenge?
#2
Old 10-16-2010, 03:55 AM
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I'm with you on the worth of the film. I think it is magnificent and easily in my top five.
You do realise this may turn into an "unforgiven" appreciation thread.

Personnaly, I don't think that there is a "good" guy in the traditional sense, everyone of them is flawed.
Without over-analysing, the impression I get is that it is almost impossible to escape what you are.
The trying situations you face will find you out in the end.
The kid and Ned were fundamentally good people who couldn't handle their crimes.
English Bob was a liar, braggart and killer and his air of faux nobility couldn't hide that.
Little Bill's past was hinted at more than once. He is obviously a bad bastard who tries to be the upholder of the law but his brutality is undiminished.
William Munny was the worst of the lot. He had a brief flirtation with decency but the call of the money was too much and he reverted to type.

I absolutely love the scene where the young whore is relating the story of Ned's demise to Munny.
She lays out what happened to Ned and the backstory to William Munny. All the while his eyes narrow and he starts at the whisky bottle as the kid listens on, appalled.

You can't escape what you are, Munny couldn't. Little Bill couldn't. And they both end up paying it in one way or another. I guess the clue is in the title. That's my take on it anyhow.
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Old 10-16-2010, 04:00 AM
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My take is that there is no hero in this film, and that's kinda the point. Little Bill is an evil sadist, who took the sheriff's job so he had power over others. Munny is basically amoral, yes he's supposedly doing it for his kids, then later his friends, but he has no problem doing whatever he wants, regardless of consequences.The only good characters are the prostitutes.
#4
Old 10-16-2010, 04:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Steophan View Post
My take is that there is no hero in this film, and that's kinda the point. Little Bill is an evil sadist, who took the sheriff's job so he had power over others. Munny is basically amoral, yes he's supposedly doing it for his kids, then later his friends, but he has no problem doing whatever he wants, regardless of consequences.The only good characters are the prostitutes.
Ooh -- but are they good? The prostitutes at Greely's set the whole thing in motion, because they couldn't accept the justice they were offered, as it were. I definitely feel like theres a vibe that Strawberry Alice (the "leader") pushed for a more violent frontier-vengeance. I cant think of her name, but the one who tells Munny about Ned's death, of course, is the one who was assaulted in the beginning -- I definitely got the impression she wasn't gung-ho to put out a contract on the cowboys.

Perhaps she's the true good-guy?
#5
Old 10-16-2010, 04:34 AM
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Good point. It's certainly a film about the varieties of evil, rather than of goodness. I can't think of any character, other than the original victim, and Munny's dead wife, who isn't in some way corrupted.
#6
Old 10-16-2010, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Steophan View Post
Good point. It's certainly a film about the varieties of evil, rather than of goodness. I can't think of any character, other than the original victim, and Munny's dead wife, who isn't in some way corrupted.
Mr. Beauchamp, perhaps.

He is the observer throughout much of the film, and his preconceived notions are gradually torn down as he sees the reality of the people he previously admired. English Bob isn't the heroic figure he had been writing about. Little Bill teaches him about how to be a good gunfighter and lectures him about morality. But he then brutalizes Ned (appearing to enjoy it), and in the end is gunned down himself. When Munny kills everyone in the bar, it turns out to not be through experience, but luck that he shot in the right order.

Beauchamp was gradually shown reality, and was forced to accept it. He was perhaps stained through association, but in the end he became educated rather than corrupted.
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Old 10-16-2010, 08:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Recliner View Post
I cant think of her name, but the one who tells Munny about Ned's death, of course, is the one who was assaulted in the beginning -- I definitely got the impression she wasn't gung-ho to put out a contract on the cowboys.

Perhaps she's the true good-guy?
No the prostitute who was assaulted was Anna Levine. The one who rode out to give Munny the money (ha!) was a different girl.

As to the OP, while Little Bill's actions may have all been reasonably justified as per his position and the times, there was clearly a large degree of narcissism and hubris in the character as portrayed. I agree with Steophan that the film is about corrupted and very conflicted characters. No character in the film is either completely good or completely evil. Even the cowboys that Munny, Ned, the Kid, and English Bob are after are not portrayed as monsters, but just dumb boys who got drunk and made one (very) bad decision. I see the film as an examination of the moral ambiguities of revenge, enforcing the law, and life in general in the Wild West.
#8
Old 10-16-2010, 08:30 AM
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The ending of this film always annoyed me, that Munny was able to ride out alive. Are we supposed to see that as irony, since he got his reluctant accomplice Ned Logan killed? Or is it that Munny was the protagonist of the film, and thus the de facto hero? Maybe Hollywood/Eastwood wasn't willing to kill off the lead? Whatever, it didn't strike me as morally ambiguous, but morally confused.
#9
Old 10-16-2010, 08:40 AM
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Novelty Bobble is right that this may turn into an appreciation thread and so be it. (More below.)

Recliner, in your OP you omitted the one act that may have tipped the scales against Little Bill which was displaying Ned’s corpse in front of the saloon with the “This is what happens to assassins” sign.

This hardly seemed like the word of warning it may have intended but instead the celebratory gloating of a sick bastard. That’s why there’s not the slightest hesitation by Munny in letting the inn keeper have it. And yeah, he should have armed himself.

That’s what makes this movie great. It is a complete upheaval of all of the cowboy clichés we’ve come to know and embrace.

The best one? When Beauchamp (a role Saul Rubinek hits out of the park) asks Munny how he determined the order in which he knocked off the gunslingers. This is a direct reference to Eastwood’s scene from Outlaw Josie Wales in which he explains in comical detail –though a dead serious (!) recounting in that film- as to how he could read the other guys’ eyes knowing who’s going to fire first, which one’s scared and so on.

My only problem with Unforgiven? It’s one of several films that when I’m clicking through the channel rotation, will make me stop and watch every time.
#10
Old 10-16-2010, 08:52 AM
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This whole thing would have been handled well but for Little Bills misogyny. He basically gave little weight to the assault on Delilah itself and only fines the boys for Skinnys loss of income. When confronted, he says to Alice "It's not they was bad boys..." "You mean like whores?" Alice says. So if Bill had whipped and banned them from the town, the girls might at least have felt like some kind of justice was done on their behalf and not taken things into their own hands. The most evil man in the film, Munny, is the only one who gives a damn about them. Part of his departing warning to the town was to not "cut up any whores, or I'll kill every last one of you."
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#11
Old 10-16-2010, 09:06 AM
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Historically in the old west, the line between lawmen and criminals was not as clear-cut as you might think. Working as a sheriff was just a job you did for a while, like mining or cattle driving, and many notorious gunmen did stints as lawmen — often to the regret of the towns that hired them. Little Bill doesn't see any higher purpose to being a sheriff; he does the job as he sees fit, and in a way that suits his proclivities.
#12
Old 10-16-2010, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Maserschmidt View Post
Whatever, it didn't strike me as morally ambiguous, but morally confused.
I don't think it was the movie that was confused at all. Indeed, I don't think it was morally ambiguous, either; it was presenting amorality. The idea isn't to question who is or isn't moral; the idea is to present a cast of characters who all act in immoral ways, as opposed to most Westerns, which usually have clear-cut good and bad guys, whether white knights (most early Westerns) or antiheroes, like The Man With No Name.
#13
Old 10-16-2010, 10:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Steophan View Post
Good point. It's certainly a film about the varieties of evil, rather than of goodness. I can't think of any character, other than the original victim, and Munny's dead wife, who isn't in some way corrupted.
I would say that the second cowboy (Davey?) is not corrupted, and is rather the victim of blind vengeance. His only crime that I can see is being aquainted with fellow cowboy with a small dick and big anger issues. He's off banging a difference prostitute and not involved at all in the cutting. No reason for him to be whipped out of town. When he gets hit with the fine as well, he brings in two of the best horses from his string, and for that he gets pelted with shit. Then he gets gutshot and dies slowly and painfully. If anyone could truly say, "I don't deserve this," it would be Davey.
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Old 10-16-2010, 11:42 AM
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Originally Posted by UncaStuart View Post
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Originally Posted by Steophan View Post
Good point. It's certainly a film about the varieties of evil, rather than of goodness. I can't think of any character, other than the original victim, and Munny's dead wife, who isn't in some way corrupted.
I would say that the second cowboy (Davey?) is not corrupted, and is rather the victim of blind vengeance. His only crime that I can see is being aquainted with fellow cowboy with a small dick and big anger issues. He's off banging a difference prostitute and not involved at all in the cutting. No reason for him to be whipped out of town. When he gets hit with the fine as well, he brings in two of the best horses from his string, and for that he gets pelted with shit. Then he gets gutshot and dies slowly and painfully. If anyone could truly say, "I don't deserve this," it would be Davey.
Davey runs in and holds Delilah while the other cowboy slashes her face. "Davey! Come a runnin lad!" That's evil enough to get gutshot, certainly in this movie.
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Old 10-16-2010, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Recliner View Post
WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!

This is one of my very favorite movies, for background. I've seen it at least ten times.
Anyway, when trying to think about the moral background of the movie, I've come to compare the two characters, William Munny(Clint Eastwood) and Little Bill Dagget(Gene Hackman).

The general vibe you get from reviews (which represent a first seeing, and this may be important) is that Little Bill is broadly "wrong", in his actions. He's even sometimes referred to as "sadistic".

Its true that Little Bill engages in two acts of violence, as well as maintaining a somewhat "hard" demeanor through the entire film. His portrayed acts of violence are, first, to beat up English Bob.

I just viewed this very scene (its a great one -- beginning with Bob chatting on the train, everyone reading newspapers about the assaination attempt on Garfield by Guiteau). When Bob (and his conspicuous biographer/dime-novel-writer, W. W. Beauchamp) arrive in town, Bob ignores the "no firearms" ordinance. He makes his presence known in town, and basically -- its clear to all present that he's there to kill the two cowboys and collect the bounty.

Its clear by this point that Little Bill (as sheriff, charged with the safety of the town and its environs) has been wary of the threat. He knows that word has been spread that there's a $1000 reward to whomever kills the two cowboys. Whatever his personal reasons, he's behaving in such a way as to do what he's charged with -- to enforce the law, to maintain order.

Bill responds to English Bob's appearance by making a public spectacle. After Bob rebuffs Andy (a deputy) in his attempt to relieve him of his firearms, Little Bill confronts Bob coming out of the barbershop. After a lengthy back-and-forth of words (and once Bob has been disarmed), Little Bill beats the shit out of him. He makes a public pronouncement that there will be no assasins tolerated in Big Whiskey (the town). He believes that by coming down hard on English Bob, he can scare other potential assassins away, and preserve the peace.

The second act of violence by Little Bill is his beating of Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) during an "interrogation". This, while being harder to justify, is still within the realm of Little Bill's "operating space", I would argue. He knows that Ned is a member of a party of assassins -- I believe he knows that there are three -- and he knows that the other two are still at large. He also knows that Ned is lying to him. Ultimately, we learn that Ned has died at Little Bill's hand.

I think the fact that we don't see Ned's death is significant. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what it means. Was it the intent to...leave it ambiguous? We know that Little Bill was beating Ned, and had used a bullwhip. We know that he had threatened to become even harsher. I think all that we ultimately know is that Little Bill is a hardass, willing to use violence, and we have no way of knowing where he would "draw the line" on employing violence to achieve his ends.

Ultimately, and not to rehash the ending, we know what happens. Little Bill dies ignonominously. Does he deserve it, though? Hmm, thats what he said, and the answer does make you think. Here's my point: I believe the movie leads us to root for William Munny, in the finale; I also believe this may be leading us astray. Its hard to justify what Munny did -- most obviously, when he shot Skinny, in what was by far the most cold-blooded act in the film. Munny was also drunk, which I believe may be significant.

So, was Little Bill Dagget a sadist, or was he a good man in a bad situation? Was William Munny redeemed by his wife, or did he throw it away for whisky and cheap revenge?
Nitpick: The second beating was delivered to Will Munny in the saloon. There was no real reason for doing so, as the man was obviously very ill and would be easily disarmed. It was, of course, a plot device to generate sympathy for the Munny character.
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Old 10-16-2010, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
Davey runs in and holds Delilah while the other cowboy slashes her face. "Davey! Come a runnin lad!" That's evil enough to get gutshot, certainly in this movie.
Curse my faulty memory!
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Old 10-16-2010, 01:23 PM
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Two thoughts:

Little Bill could have been the moral hero of the story if he weren’t so flawed. That is what the house building metaphor is all about. It is a worthy thing to build a beautiful house. Yet while Little Bill’s house looks nice it is severely flawed. It has an uneven foundation, it leaks rain and allows gusts to blow through, and it is taking Little Bill far too long to complete it. Likewise his attempt at establishing a system of justice in Big Whiskey, a noble act, is marred by his imperfect manner of carrying it out (many of the flaws have been mentioned by others). In this view Munny comes through and scours the town of an imperfect system that has begun to spiral out of control. Munny is evil, but a necessary one. He condenses into one night what might have been a decade long cycle of violence. The sheer horror of his act forces the actors to realize the flaws in Bill’s approach, and afterwards perhaps the citizens of Big Whiskey will make a better attempt at providing justice.

Another way to look at it is that there is no such thing as Justice. It is a human construct, and one filled with limits, contradictions, and imperfections. Perhaps we must attempt attaining a sense of Justice, but it will never work truly well. In this sense Little Bill is almost tragically noble. He is simply trying his best to serve mankind’s desire for justice. But no matter what he does he will fail (as will all who make a similar attempt). Nothing will give the prostitute’s face back, nothing can reverse time and take away her fear and pain, nothing can relieve her trauma. Little Bill comes up with the best approximation he can according the morals and morays of his time and place along with his own best judgment. But neither the victim, nor the perpetrators, nor any of the observers are happy with the outcome. Had he killed the two men (who didn’t themselves commit a capital crime), then it would have been their friends instead of bounty hunters plaguing the city of Big Whiskey. No, an attempt to establish justice is a lose-lose situation because while justice is a noble ideal, it is an unattainable one. After all, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” (The most important single line of the film).

Last edited by Speak to me Maddie!; 10-16-2010 at 01:24 PM.
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Old 10-16-2010, 01:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post

Nitpick: The second beating was delivered to Will Munny in the saloon. There was no real reason for doing so, as the man was obviously very ill and would be easily disarmed. It was, of course, a plot device to generate sympathy for the Munny character.
I don't think that is a nitpick, it is a major plot point. It shows Little Bill to be a coward and needlessly violent and once again, unjust, as he didn't have reason to do so, despite his suspicion being right. Had his victim not help, he would have died.
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Old 10-16-2010, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Steophan View Post
My take is that there is no hero in this film, and that's kinda the point. Little Bill is an evil sadist, who took the sheriff's job so he had power over others. Munny is basically amoral, yes he's supposedly doing it for his kids, then later his friends, but he has no problem doing whatever he wants, regardless of consequences.The only good characters are the prostitutes.
I agree that the whole point of the movie is that nobody is a hero. Munny is maybe the closest, because he does clearly see that his life is immoral and changes it; he relapses for the events of the movie, but we presume gets back on the straight and narrow afterwards (though whether he forgives himself is the question).

But I didn't take Little Bill's beating of English Bob as purely sadistic. Little Bill saw the choice of beating English Bob or having to kill (and maybe be killed by) either English Bob or the flood of assaissins that would follow. Better one beating than a bunch of killings, after all. Maybe he enjoyed the beating a bit too much, but I still think it was a decent choice given the situation.
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Old 10-16-2010, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Maserschmidt View Post
The ending of this film always annoyed me, that Munny was able to ride out alive. Are we supposed to see that as irony, since he got his reluctant accomplice Ned Logan killed? Or is it that Munny was the protagonist of the film, and thus the de facto hero? Maybe Hollywood/Eastwood wasn't willing to kill off the lead? Whatever, it didn't strike me as morally ambiguous, but morally confused.
I think you're making a mistake by trying to read any sort of moral argument into the ending at all. You're attempting to fit the story into a moral framework that, in reality, did not exist in that time and place. That came later, when people like Beauchamp go back East and start mythologizing the frontier. When he writes the story, it'll be the tragedy of a noble law man, cut down by assassins. Or the triumph of a rugged frontiersman over the cruelty and injustice of a small town. But all it really was, was a bunch of fucked up men, fucking up in a fucked up world. The reason Munny was able to ride out alive at the end isn't irony, or a moral statement, or anything like that. He lives because nobody killed him.
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Old 10-16-2010, 02:12 PM
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...all it really was, was a bunch of fucked up men, fucking up in a fucked up world. The reason Munny was able to ride out alive at the end isn't irony, or a moral statement, or anything like that. He lives because nobody killed him.
Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
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Old 10-16-2010, 03:31 PM
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But I didn't take Little Bill's beating of English Bob as purely sadistic. Little Bill saw the choice of beating English Bob or having to kill (and maybe be killed by) either English Bob or the flood of assaissins that would follow.
I suspect that if you were to take 100 people who'd not seen the movie, make them watch it up until just past that point, and then have them fill out a questionnaire about how the rest of the movie would go, many of them would predict that Little Bill would turn out to be the hero. His beating of English Bob isn't just justified - it's the LEAST violent way of getting rid of him, in all likelihood, and Little Bill is clearly doing it for the express purpose of keeping murderers from coming to collect the bounty.
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Old 10-16-2010, 03:48 PM
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I suspect that if you were to take 100 people who'd not seen the movie, make them watch it up until just past that point, and then have them fill out a questionnaire about how the rest of the movie would go, many of them would predict that Little Bill would turn out to be the hero. His beating of English Bob isn't just justified - it's the LEAST violent way of getting rid of him, in all likelihood, and Little Bill is clearly doing it for the express purpose of keeping murderers from coming to collect the bounty.
English Bob is, as I recall, the only character who is explicitly racist - he brags about how much he enjoys killing Chinamen. In the modern cinematic lexicon, that justifies nearly any horrible thing any other character chooses to do to him.

Along those lines, though, I do wonder if we're supposed to read a racial element into Little Bill's whipping of Ned.
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Old 10-16-2010, 04:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Recliner View Post

Ooh -- but are they good? The prostitutes at Greely's set the whole thing in motion, because they couldn't accept the justice they were offered, as it were.
That's just it. They weren't offered justice of any kind, so they went looking for it.
#25
Old 10-16-2010, 04:29 PM
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But I didn't take Little Bill's beating of English Bob as purely sadistic. Little Bill saw the choice of beating English Bob or having to kill (and maybe be killed by) either English Bob or the flood of assaissins that would follow. Better one beating than a bunch of killings, after all. Maybe he enjoyed the beating a bit too much, but I still think it was a decent choice given the situation.
Little Bill was sending out a message; anyone riding into town to kill the two cowboys and collect the whores' bounty was going to meet overwhelming force and get the shit kicked out of them. :
I guess you think I'm kicking you, Bob. But it ain't so. What I'm doing is talking, you hear? I'm talking to all those villains down there in Kansas. I'm talking to all those villains in Missouri. And all those villains down there in Cheyenne. And what I'm saying is there ain't no whore's gold. And if there was, how they wouldn't want to come looking for it anyhow.
The supposed moral conflict is more a manufacture of our modern expectations, both in cinema and the real world. Remember, this is a local problem, and Bill can't just call up the district U.S. Marshall, even if he could get ahold of him. While Bill might seem somewhat hypocritical, expressing as he does to Beauchamp his disgust with "assassins, or men of low character," by any practical standard he is doing the smart and safe thing, confronting would-be assassins with excessive force and making examples of them pour encourager les outres. Our view of law enforcement today as custodians of legal statute, and the unacceptability of the use of excessive force comes from an expectation that criminals will surrender or suffer dire consequences when confronted, which is drawn from movies and television (especially during the Hayes Production Code era, where such results were mandatory). Little Bill, on the other hand, is effectively his own law.

However, I wouldn't say that this makes Bill "the good guy"; not only does he brutally torture Ned and act dismissive toward renumeration for the whore that was injured, he also shows an enthusiasm of atavistic, needless violence. His jailhouse baiting of the battered English Bob, for instance, in which he basically humiliates Bob, or seeks and excuse to kill him. Bill indicates in his stories to Beauchamp (after Bob leaves town) that he's hung around the crowd of gunslingers for a good portion of his life; although he may not be quite as degraded as others, he's clearly a man that seeks violence and responds accordingly, even if his goal at Big Whiskey is to build a house and sit on the porch smoking his pipe. (Notice how badly all the real gunslingers are at making any other life for themselves; Muny is a failure as a hog farmer, Ned has no family, Bill can't put a straight corner into his leaky house to save his life.) Bill is the type of man needed for the role at the time. Good and bad aren't the point (or, as Muny notes in his parting shot to Bill, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

Regarding Muny, the reason he gets to ride out alive is he was simply the most brutal, cool-headed of the lot, and not just slightly lucky as well. In the end, he isn't compromised by self-doubt the way Ned and the Kid are. The characters try to spend the entire film justifying their actions to each other and themselves, but when Muny gets drunk and goes back for vengeance, there isn't any attempt at justification; he's just a bloodthirsty killer looking for revenge. It's no longer about right and wrong: "Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down." This is how such men lived.

As for Skinny, he proudly displayed Ned out in front of his saloon. His entire interest in this was squeezing out his investment in Delilah; he could care less about the injury to her, and in fact taunts her deformity. He's hardly innocent of wrong-doing, even if he is largely a passive player. "Any man don't wanna get killed better clear on out the back."

Beauchamp is the audience's connection with these people; he's essentially a tool to give both Little Bill and Will Muny someone to provide exposition in order to express the experience and internal states of the characters. He's hardly innocent, either; he romanticizes the violence, which in turn recruits people like the Schofield Kid into wanting to be a gunslinger (and the kid, of course, inflates his own experience).

There are no good guys in this film, and conversely, no irredeemably bad ones, either. Even Muny, "a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition," can be tamed and lead a peaceful existence, but some people are drawn to violence like moths to a flame. This film stands in stark contrast to other Eastwood films like Pale Rider, which present a clear, manufactured dichotomy of good and bad. It would make a good pairing with High Plains Drifter, another film where there are no innocent victims, and in which the violence that is received upon the town is begat by their previous actions.

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#26
Old 10-16-2010, 05:02 PM
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Good stuff everyone, and you all highlight what I love about the film. There are no absolutes, no good guys, no bad guys. The narrative doesn't pan out in heroic western fashion and I'm never quite sure who I should be rooting for.

I'm sure I'm not the only one that felt sorry for Little Bill when Munny kills him. I shouldn't feel sorry, but I did.

I loves me some ambiguities in a film!
#27
Old 10-16-2010, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Novelty Bobble View Post
I'm sure I'm not the only one that felt sorry for Little Bill when Munny kills him. I shouldn't feel sorry, but I did.
He was building a house, damnit!

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#28
Old 10-16-2010, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train View Post
(Notice how badly all the real gunslingers are at making any other life for themselves; Muny is a failure as a hog farmer, Ned has no family, Bill can't put a straight corner into his leaky house to save his life.) Bill is the type of man needed for the role at the time. Good and bad aren't the point (or, as Muny notes in his parting shot to Bill, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."
Ned had an Indian wife. Will tells his kids to go see her if they run into problems, and IIRC tells the Kid to bring his share of the money to her if he doesn't come back from the town. There's no indication Ned wasn't doing pretty well until his friend tells gets him to come along on one more adventure. And Ned's having a great time - riding with friends, freebies from whores, shootin shit over the campfire - until he shoots Davey. I'm guessing that's part of Will's anger - he knows Ned would be home happy if he hadn't convinced him to come along.
#29
Old 10-16-2010, 05:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Novelty Bobble View Post
I'm sure I'm not the only one that felt sorry for Little Bill when Munny kills him. I shouldn't feel sorry, but I did.
The only time I felt sorry for the death of a Gene Hackman character was in "The Royal Tenenbaums". And that's only because he died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship.
#30
Old 10-16-2010, 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Clothahump View Post
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Originally Posted by Recliner View Post

Ooh -- but are they good? The prostitutes at Greely's set the whole thing in motion, because they couldn't accept the justice they were offered, as it were.
That's just it. They weren't offered justice of any kind, so they went looking for it.
I saw it the same way, and the irony of it is, they went for William Munny, a notoriously brutal man who openly bragged about killing women and children. The only way to get justice, was to turn to a vicious maniac, so to speak.

The fact that after all the killing, Munny rides off, simply reinforces the "deserve has nothing to do with it" thread running through the movie. . If anything, in most westerns, Munny would have been shot or hanged years before. The same would/should have happened to English Bob, who gets away with a beating from Bill and a set of ruined guns.

All the characters were flawed in some way, and "we all got it coming" was a true statement, when Munny says it. And yet, the meanest and arguably most evil one simply rides away and disappears into obscurity.
That is what made the film so powerful. The good guys don't win. There is no happy ending. Not really.
#31
Old 10-17-2010, 01:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Speak to me Maddie! View Post
Little Bill comes up with the best approximation he can according the morals and morays of his time and place along with his own best judgment.
Just so you'll know, "mores" is the word you are looking for. "Morays" are eels.
#32
Old 10-17-2010, 01:32 PM
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Answering without reading the thread, I'd say this:

There are no good guys -- in the traditional, Western, white-hat sense -- in Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood's character comes closest, but he'd deny he was a hero if anyone called him one, which no one in his world would. And his massacre of Little Bill and his men at the end is not a victory, and he did not think of it as such.
#33
Old 10-17-2010, 01:34 PM
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My take is that there is no hero in this film, and that's kinda the point. Little Bill is an evil sadist, who took the sheriff's job so he had power over others. Munny is basically amoral, yes he's supposedly doing it for his kids, then later his friends, but he has no problem doing whatever he wants, regardless of consequences.The only good characters are the prostitutes.
Ooh -- but are they good? The prostitutes at Greely's set the whole thing in motion, because they couldn't accept the justice they were offered, as it were.
They couldn't accept the justice they were offered for the same reason they couldn't accept the gold-plated latinum they were offered.
#34
Old 10-17-2010, 02:45 PM
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I've always liked this explanation of the film.


Quote:
When Bill and Munny face each other, they deliver the film's most famous lines. "I don't deserve this," says Bill. "Deserve's got nothing to do with it," Munny replies. A better summation of Christ's parable can't be found. Despite his flaws, Bill truly deserves to live. Munny who deserves to die. But the the Pharisee's sins are not forgiven; it is the tax collector, whose inner struggle is so fierce he beats himself, who receives justification.
Both characters were evil. The difference is that Munny knew it and fought his demons every day, while Bill never thought of himself as evil.
#35
Old 10-18-2010, 07:56 AM
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Munny instructed the compañeros of the gut-shot and slow-dying man to bring him water. He gave them safe passage, unharassed by rifle fire, to do so -- even though it took a good deal of convincing.

Little Bill bull-whipped a man to death under questioning and was an all-around bastard at every single opportunity.

The audience's sympathies were with Munny from start to finish. The beating of English Bob crosses a line into a certain kind of brutality that the audience was supposed to - and I think largely did - find off-putting and egregious. Munny is doing it for his kids, he's reformed, he's tortured by the thought of returning demons -- the character was designed for us to morally align with him like no one else in the film.
#36
Old 10-18-2010, 08:41 AM
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Munny's regret is a big part of the film. He's been reformed for years and is reluctantly doing the job for his kids' benefit. So yeah, he's the protagonist. Little Bill may be trying to keep order in his town, but he's excessively brutal (although others have pointed out that he was sending a message in English Bob's case) and a complete hypocrite when criticising violent gunmen while daring English Bob to try to kill him in jail. Combined with my previous post about his disregard for the whores, it tips the scales against him. The great thing about this film is that it really shows how Little Bill considered himself the good guy.
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#37
Old 10-18-2010, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by drastic_quench View Post
The audience's sympathies were with Munny from start to finish. The beating of English Bob crosses a line into a certain kind of brutality that the audience was supposed to - and I think largely did - find off-putting and egregious. Munny is doing it for his kids, he's reformed, he's tortured by the thought of returning demons -- the character was designed for us to morally align with him like no one else in the film.
Indeed, I think it's a little disingen... disingenue... you know, to pretend that the movie doesn't ultimately cast Little Bill as the bad guy in opposition to Munny. While you can have some this way/that way about Little Bill for most of the movie, his torture and murder of Ned is simply evil.

The thing is that Munny's sins are largely in the past, as retold by the opening crawl, his own stories, and the stories of the Schofield Kid and Little Bill, as well as Ned's acknowledgment that Munny was once a real bastard. But it's all just stories, really, and until the very end it's hard to tell what parts of the stories are real and which parts are total bullshit. Until the orgy of violence in Greeley's, we don't know for sure what a ferocious killer Munny actually is.

The audience is set up to sympathize with Munny until that point because they don't see Munny being as much of a bastard - he does murder Davey, of course, but he seems almost civilized about it - as they do Little Bill, whose barbarism explodes on screen several times before Greeley's.

Of course, AFTERWARDS, you're left with the question... who was worse, Will Munny or Little Bill? (Incidentally, I do not for one instant believe it was an accident that they're both named William.) That's the genius of the movie; that's why the movie makes you sympathize with William Munny. They took a very conventional Western story, led you through it, and at the end you find yourself thinking, "Wait a minute... was I rooting for the villain this entire time?"
#38
Old 10-18-2010, 08:54 AM
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Off the subject, but I have a question: How and why would English Bob have "worked for the railroad shooting Chinamen"?
#39
Old 10-18-2010, 09:00 AM
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A lot of the work on the western railroad construction (that is, the portions built eastwards from the west coast) was done by chinese labor. The chinese were treated poorly, very poorly. It's no stretch to imagine a railroad hiring a low-down bastard to shoot any chinese workers who get out of line by asking to not be brutalized.
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#40
Old 10-18-2010, 09:21 AM
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I think its worth considering the townspeoples opinions on Little Bill when thinking about who is good or bad. Agree or disagree with his methods, but I bet most of the townspeople were glad to have him around.

Consider, they defer immediately to his judgements, but its not because of fear. In a town with a stereotypical "bad" sheriff, the townspeople would be a little cowed, afraid to speak their minds. Instead Skinny is confident enough that he can demand justice/payment for his "whores". The deputies seem happy enough in their roles, just happy to defer to Little Bill on the bigger issues. Even the girls are quick enough to chew Little Bill out for not being harsh enough on the cowboys. Would they shout at him like that if he was "bad"?
Even the climatic scene in the bar starts with Bill promising to sort out expenses for the posse, a posse that seems in very good humour and content to work with Little Bill.

The image presented in the film is definately one of Bill as a hard man, but a man who is doing a good job for the town. So is Bill a good guy? I bet the townspeople would say he was.
#41
Old 10-18-2010, 09:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
Davey runs in and holds Delilah while the other cowboy slashes her face. "Davey! Come a runnin lad!" That's evil enough to get gutshot, certainly in this movie.
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Originally Posted by UncaStuart View Post
Curse my faulty memory!
Having watched the scene again this weekend, Davey comes in, Mike tells him to hold Delilah, Davey does, but it's pretty clear he doesn't know what Mike is going to do. After the second slash Davey lets go of her and physically tries to stop Mike, including attempting to tackle him. So yeah, Davey is probably least deserving of what happens to him, though even in a modern court I'd guess he'd still have been prosecuted for murder if Delilah had died.

And Ned's Indian wife is Sally Twotrees. Will tells his kids to go see her if they need anything before he leaves, and tells the Schofield Kid to give Ned's half of the money to her before he goes into the saloon.
#42
Old 10-18-2010, 04:16 PM
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I think you missed the main point Eastwood was trying to offer up in this revisionist piece of self-indulgent crap: There are no good guys. Every man has sins and flaws which ultimately lead to his downfall.

In case you hadn't guessed, I really, really loathe this movie.
#43
Old 10-18-2010, 04:19 PM
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I think you missed the main point Eastwood was trying to offer up in this revisionist piece of self-indulgent crap: There are no good guys. Every man has sins and flaws which ultimately lead to his downfall.

In case you hadn't guessed, I really, really loathe this movie.
Why do you call Unforgiven "revisionist"? What do you see it as revising?
#44
Old 10-18-2010, 04:53 PM
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This movie is also about vengeance, and its unsatisfying outcomes.

The cowboy exacts vengeance on the whore who laughs at his little wiener. Which leads the whores to seek vengeance against the cowboys. Which leads the cowboys and Little Bill to exact vengeance on Ned. Which leads William Munny to seek vengeance against Little Bill.
#45
Old 10-18-2010, 05:13 PM
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I think the most powerful thing about it is the depcition of Munny throughout most of the movie as a sympathetic character in many regards. We here tales of his bad nature, but we don't really see him do anything. But then, after a whole movie of building up sympathy, we see the visious cold-hearted William Munny at the end. And even if Little Bill deserved it, it isn't clear the whole bar deserved it, but more important it really shows us what kind of many Munny must have been and is stil lcapable of. Munny is not, therefore, a sympathertic man, but a complicated, dangerous man. Our feelings about him are shaken up.

This whole movie also is simply the Western version of the Thin Blue Line.
#46
Old 10-18-2010, 07:00 PM
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Does anyone know Clint Eastwood's take on it? Paul Newman, for example, was appalled that some movies goers like the Hud character.
#47
Old 10-18-2010, 07:11 PM
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Indeed, I think it's a little disingen... disingenue... you know, to pretend that the movie doesn't ultimately cast Little Bill as the bad guy in opposition to Munny. While you can have some this way/that way about Little Bill for most of the movie, his torture and murder of Ned is simply evil.

The thing is that Munny's sins are largely in the past, as retold by the opening crawl, his own stories, and the stories of the Schofield Kid and Little Bill, as well as Ned's acknowledgment that Munny was once a real bastard. But it's all just stories, really, and until the very end it's hard to tell what parts of the stories are real and which parts are total bullshit. Until the orgy of violence in Greeley's, we don't know for sure what a ferocious killer Munny actually is.

The audience is set up to sympathize with Munny until that point because they don't see Munny being as much of a bastard - he does murder Davey, of course, but he seems almost civilized about it - as they do Little Bill, whose barbarism explodes on screen several times before Greeley's.

Of course, AFTERWARDS, you're left with the question... who was worse, Will Munny or Little Bill? (Incidentally, I do not for one instant believe it was an accident that they're both named William.) That's the genius of the movie; that's why the movie makes you sympathize with William Munny. They took a very conventional Western story, led you through it, and at the end you find yourself thinking, "Wait a minute... was I rooting for the villain this entire time?"
I was with you until the very last paragraph there. I came away thinking that because Muny was to some extent avenging Ned by killing a despicable sheriff, and because he offers that one last threat in protection of the prostitutes, that he still got to leave holding some moral high ground. Which is why I disliked the movie.

Of course, I might have misread it that many years ago, so perhaps I should watch it again.
#48
Old 10-18-2010, 07:44 PM
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I don't think this is a movie about morality at all. This is a movie about how the desire for 'power' or 'control' gets in the way of efficiency. It is at the same time a tale of 'the effects of disproportionate violence'.

The cowboy who cut up the whore was trying to establish his power over her after she laughed at his little dick.

The whores wanted power over the cowboys because they thought the cowboy's actions were disproportionately violent.

English Bob used disproportionate and unnecessary violence to control Chinese rail-workers and gain a reputation and attempted to use these to get money.

Little Bill used disproportionate violence to control/demean English Bob and send a message to any other 'English Bob's' and thus maintain power.

The only character who doesn't use disproportionate violence to advance his own ego/concerns is William Munny. Munny may not be a good friend (A good friend would have let Ned stay in his current life.), but he is a loyal friend. When Ned says he doesn't have the heart to kill anymore, Munny lets him leave the party. Munny isn't interested in controlling Ned.

Munny has no interest in shooting anyone but the cowboys who deserve shooting. He only goes after Little Bill after Ned is killed. He avenges Ned because Ned was his friend and Ned's death was demeaned.

In the bar, Munny also declines to be disproportionately violent when he gives those who don't want to be killed an opportunity to go out the back.

Munny doesn't argue with Little Bill about whether Little Bill deserves death (Munny's actions have nothing to do with societal morals, but everything to do with loyalty - first to his children and then to his friend.) but agrees that they will meet in Hell.

Munny lives because he never lets his ego influence, or get in the way of, his killing. He is simply the most cold-blooded/efficient killer.
#49
Old 10-18-2010, 07:55 PM
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Not to hijack or anything. I would love to see a prequel to this movie about Munny and his past.
#50
Old 10-18-2010, 08:21 PM
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I would love to see a sequel (ala Little House on the Prairie) about William Munny's successful West Coast mercantile business. (With occasional reference to why customers should buy from him and not competetors.)

Heh heh heh!
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