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Author Topic: Unforgiven Screenplay Review  (Read 10064 times)
eustressor
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« on: April 23, 2003, 11:20:10 AM »

Hello everyone. After getting my greedy little hands on the 10th Anniversary Edition of "Unforgiven", I was moved to write a review of the screenplay on a website I write for, www.mystica.cc. This review was a lead story on Monday, April 21st.

Although the review focuses on the writing of "Unforgiven", I do make a few assertions based on my memory of a TNT special I saw a few years back which sadly is not included on this excellent DVD, and I hope my memory did not fail me.

After posting this article, I remembered visiting this site a year ago when I was looking for the script, and thought, hey, maybe these fans would be interested in checking it out. At any rate, I'd love to hear any feedback anyone here might care to offer about the accuracy of the article, or about this flawless screenplay in general.

Since this post concerns a screenplay, and a pointer to a review, I opted to post here under "general discussion". My apologies if it should have been placed elsewhere.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2003, 09:13:23 AM by eustressor » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2003, 12:08:35 PM »

Hey, great review, eustressor. Enjoyed reading it, thanks for the link. Will check out the rest of the website - looks like good stuff. :)
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2003, 12:38:01 PM »

Thanks, agent. I'm very glad you enjoyed it  :)

Here's looking forward to the "Unforgiven" Film Discussion, among others.
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Matt
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2003, 06:13:20 PM »

Thanks, agent. I'm very glad you enjoyed it  :)

Here's looking forward to the "Unforgiven" Film Discussion, among others.

I haven't discussed this with KC or mgk yet, but I'm guessing we'll probably get to Unforgiven after baseball season, since I know KC's gonna want to put a lot of work into making that one really good.  
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2003, 08:19:57 PM »

Thanks for the heads up, Matt. I look forward to the entire series of Film Discussions, particularly "In The Line of Fire", "A Perfect World", "True Crime", and "Space Cowboys" (I hope I haven't already missed some of these).
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« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2003, 08:43:13 PM »

You haven't missed any of those.  So far, we've only done The Bridges of Madison County, Hang 'em High, Play Misty for Me, Absolute Power and The Beguiled.  We start our next one on The Gauntlet Sunday night.  
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Doug
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« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2003, 10:53:26 PM »

Nice review, eustressor.  You say a lot of things about the writing that I also said in another thread that discussed Unforgiven, including that I could just listen to the movie and enjoy it.  It is an awesome screenplay.
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2003, 09:39:33 AM »

Yes, I can't think of one that is better. Perhaps also because it (ultimately) was so unchanged in the final cut of the film, something that I think is relatively rare in Hollywood.

I'm glad you enjoyed the review, and I'll keep an eye out for that thread you mentioned.
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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2003, 02:20:06 PM »

It's this thread: http://www.clinteastwood.org/forums/index.php?board=5;action=display;threadid=41;start=0

It's a little confusing to read as it's a thread that KC brought over from the old board, so if you have to look closely at who actually made the original post.  In my second post I mention some of the things you do about how the script is organic with none of the action being forced.  It's an interesting thread because it was a debate about the merits of Unforgiven, since some of the people here don't care for the movie a lot.   But we're all still friends. :)
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« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2003, 06:05:01 AM »

Thanks for providing that link, Doug. All I can say is, right on!

So very and truly right on!

 :)

Even more now, I can't wait for this Film Discussion...
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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2003, 08:12:34 PM »

Update: While looking for a Schofield Kid picture to avatarize, I stumbled across this website which offers a very thorough and rather intellectual "deconstruction" of Unforgiven, and seems to generally approve of the story as a Western "icon-buster".

http://mason-west.com/Unforgiven/index.shtml

An interesting read.
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« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2003, 05:16:40 PM »

Interesting ... two errors that I noted: 1) In Gone with the Wind, Charles Hamilton doesn't die of smallpox, but of measles.

More seriously: 2) When Munny enters Greely's on the night of the fatal shootout, he isn't carrying "the Schofield rifle" (whatever that would be), but a sawed-off shotgun. That's the gun that misfires. He then doesn't "tak[e] advantage of the situation to find another gun" ... he simply draws the Kid's Schofield revolver, which he had taken from the young would-be killer before setting off for Big Whiskey for the showdown. After emptying this weapon in the shootout, he gets Beauchamp (who has remained on the battlefield after all the other survivors have fled) to hand him a rifle, presumably Ned's Spencer rifle, and that's the gun he uses to finish off Little Bill and Clyde.

It's a pity the screen captures are so bad, and none of them shows the proper 2.35:1 AR.
« Last Edit: April 26, 2003, 05:20:10 PM by KC » Logged
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« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2003, 11:28:35 PM »

(bowing humbly)

I do recall spotting that "Schofield rifle" bit and thinking ???, but I wrote that off as carelessness on the part of an excited writer racing to their point, as writers sometimes do - at the expense of accuracy and detail. The article was an interesting deconstruction, nonetheless.

But mistaking measles for smallpox in Gone With The Wind, that is unforgivable. :)
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« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2003, 12:34:37 AM »

It's astonishing how often I've seen that particular error ... well, no one ever called it a "Schofield" rifle before, to my recollection, but any number of writers misidentify the weapon as a rifle. In his error-ridden Clint Eastwood, Richard Schickel gets it right to start with (p. 458: "He is carrying a shotgun") ... but then fumbles barely four sentences later with "When Will's rifle misfires ..." In between, he quotes two of the most significant and celebrated lines of the film's dialogue, inaccurately.  ::)

By the way, eustressor, I enjoyed your review of the screenplay, but I did have a comment. You state above, "I do make a few assertions based on my memory of a TNT special I saw a few years back which sadly is not included on this excellent DVD, and I hope my memory did not fail me." I'm not sure which special this was, but if you're referring to a few statements at the beginning of the review, I'm afraid either your memory or the source itself may have led you astray. You state:

Quote
As so often happens with a project the scale of a big Hollywood production, the script was altered and reworked during filming. Eastwood (who also directed the film), some of the actors, and others involved with the production began suggesting and implementing changes to Peoples' original script. Maybe this would look better that way, or maybe this scene should go, or maybe this character should go. Eastwood himself has admitted in interviews that the movie got pretty far away from the original script. And it wasn't working. The altered version of the film, or at least of key scenes, met with lackluster response from executives and focus groups. Something was missing.

So in a move rare in Hollywood, they scrapped all of the changes and went back to the original script ...

As far as I know, it was always Eastwood's intention to film the script more or less as written. Peoples writes that Eastwood contacted him shortly before filming started and asked him to compose a new ending, in which Delilah would end up on Munny's hog farm. Peoples willingly complied, but learned only when he was invited to an advance screening of the finished film that Eastwood had thought better of the alteration.

I've never heard of any alternate versions of the film being shown to executives, or to focus groups. That's not the way Eastwood works. He makes his own decisions about his films, and is able to make his vision stand up because the financial success of most of his films and their relatively low budgets give him the independence of someone working outside of the Hollywood system, though in fact he is a Hollywood insider. As he told Michael Henry in an interview published in the French film magazine Positif (January 1985):

Quote
I trust in my instinct and make the films I believe in.

(Reprinted in Clint Eastwood: Interviews, p. 110.)

Eustressor, if you know of any specific interviews in which Eastwood "admitted ... that the movie got pretty far away from the original script," I'd certainly like to see them. Meanwhile, I wonder if you're familiar with the tribute to Eastwood that Peoples wrote for the AFI Life Achievement Award tribute book in 1996? I've quoted it on this forum before, but I think this thread would be a good place to reprint it in its entirety.

Quote
By David Webb Peoples

"HE'S GOING TO SHOOT YOU IF YOU DISAPPOINT HIM"

I barely know Clint Eastwood personally, but he made a picture from a screenplay I wrote a long time ago, before I was a professional screenwriter. When the picture was released, he made a point of always acknowledging the screenplay and the writer, frequently pointing out that he had shot the screenplay almost precisely as it had been written.

It was a western and Francis Coppola had optioned it briefly, but there was not a lot of enthusiasm for westerns back then and he had to let it go. When Clint acquired it in 1985 we spoke on the telephone and he drawled in his Rowdy Yates drawl, "I can't do what Francis Coppola would do but I think I can bring something to it."

Six or seven years later I heard from Clint again. He called me to say he was going to make the picture at last, what did I think of Morgan Freeman as Ned, what did I think of Unforgiven as a title, and what did I think of rewriting the ending so that Delilah, the cut-whore, would wind up at William Munny's hog farm?

I was flattered to be asked about casting and the answer was easy enough: what writer wouldn't want Morgan Freeman saying his or her words? As for the title, Unforgiven didn't do much for me, but then I didn't have a better title to offer after numerous attempts. And as far as rewriting a scene, a seasoned professional by now, I was glad to do my best to please the director, the star and the producer, all rolled into one.

I worked two days and sent off the pages, surprised to see how well Clint's idea for tying up the story and putting a sort of bittersweet upbeat twist on it worked.

And again I didn't hear from Clint for a long time. Then, in June of 1992, I got a call.

He invited me over to Warner Bros. to see his picture, complete now except for the mix. It was nice of him to ask and it would have been rude of me to decline, but I didn't want to go. I'd have preferred to take my lumps privately in a public theater. But there's a kind of authority in Clint's soft drawl, all friendly and gentlemanly but sort of like he's going to shoot you if you disappoint him. I went over to Warner Bros. and met him in person for the first time. As he ushered me into the theater, he told me he'd thrown out the two scenes I'd rewritten, said it was better the way I'd written it the first time.

I sat way down front so nobody would see if I cried. The lights went down and I watched Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. To my astonishment the pig farmer rolled in the mud. The whores looked plain, no makeup. The scenes rambled on, not the crisp scenes that propel a narrative forward briskly. The wordy speeches, the kind I had learned not to write anymore, were magical when Gene Hackman delivered them, his eyes alternately twinkling and glittering mercurially. And then a Major Motion Picture Star shot a helpless boy in the gut while the boy cried for water. And finally, in the smoky light of a nineteenth-century bar, that Major Motion Picture Star recklessly dispatched the well-meaning sheriff in a scene that truly horrified me. Jesus Christ, right in the face with a shotgun. I'd never seen or imagined anything so dark and relentless and powerful. The new title was perfect.

The guy who wrote what became Unforgiven was long gone. I could no more write stuff like that today than I could fly to the moon by flapping my arms. And I couldn't have written it then if I hadn't been hidden away in a room, sheltered by ignorance and anonymity.

But Clint was neither ignorant nor anonymous, nor could he hide in a room protected from the hysteria of Show Business, the Marketplace, the Entertainment Industry. It was just like in those earlier pictures, the spaghetti westerns, where the characters he played walked right down Main Street, surrounded by snipers, exposed, vulnerable, unblinking.

Without changing the words, Clint made the script his vision. He went into the character and into the story and it was all his, as an actor and as a director. Like the very best directors, the light was his, the faces were his, everything was his. Of course lots of people helped, lots of people contributed, that long gone amateur who wrote the words in 1976 among them, but if ever there was a director's vision, this was it. He meant it, every word, more than the writer meant it, tougher, more uncompromising, without slickness, and the heart was still in it. Never does Clint Eastwood the storyteller say, "Look at me, I'm an artist," which is, of course, the mark of a true artist.

I get pleasure out of being "the author" of Unforgiven and I always like it when Clint acknowledges my contribution. But, while I might be opposed, generally speaking, to the proliferation of possessory credits, if ever there was a picture that belonged to a director, it is Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.


(I note that even Peoples has made an error in the matter of weapons. When Munny finally "dispatche(s) the well-meaning sheriff," it is not with a shotgun ... but with a Spencer rifle.  ::) )

Eastwood, by the way, did make one significant change to the script: Peoples had written a homecoming scene for Munny and his children, and Eastwood actually shot it (stills are quite common), but then decided not to use it. Instead, he makes the film end as it began, with an extreme long shot of the Munny farmstead and Munny standing over Claudia's grave. (This in itself is a departure from the script, which had no prologue—the opening crawl goes over the scene in Alice's room upstairs at Greely's—and which ended on a closeup of Munny's eyes.)

The script includes one other scene that was apparently shot, but not used: a brief flashback to Munny's animal-mistreating youth.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2010, 08:59:44 PM by KC » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2003, 10:06:52 AM »

"You just shot an unarmed man!"

"Well he shoulda armed himself if he's gonna go decoratin' his website with a review of the finest Western and one o' the finest films ever made."

Thanks so much for your invaluable feedback, KC. I think anyone who would be so foolish as to go toe-to-toe with you (I certainly wouldn't want to) about anything Clint would quickly find themselves suffering Skinny's fate  :o

I have revised my review, and for more about that, please see the revised footer at the bottom of the article.

To begin with, I have in the course of my woefully late research on this script, come across several different numbers for the number of years Clint sat on this script, from 14 years here to 10 years there, and now to Mr. Peoples' reference of 7 years. In absence of a definitive answer, I have changed my review to simply say "several years". Perhaps KC could come to bat on this one?

I really wish I could recall the title and airing date of this "mysterious" special I refer to - unfortunately, I have a notorious ability to forget details unless they are hammered into my brain by repitition. It was a career retrospective of Clint which may have been narrated by Morgan Freeman - I'm unclear on this. The special spent a fair amount of time on Unforgiven, since this film seems to be generally regarded as a milestone for Clint, and is arguably his finest hour as a director. I'm hoping that some of our 550+ members might have a better memory than I and be able to provide some concrete information regarding this special.

First off, it perhaps wasn't aired on TNT. It could have been TBS, Bravo, or even AMC. I should be clear about that up front.

I remember Morgan Freeman discussing his excitement when he was offered a chance to star in a Clint Eastwood film, and he refers to the fact that everyone in Hollywood knew that Clint was sitting on a script called The William Munny Killings (he refers to it by this original title, the first I'd heard of it at the time), and that he was very happy to have this opportunity.

I also seem to remember that comments from Gene Hackman, whose brilliant performance simply cannot be over-complimented, were notably absent. I seem to recall being disappointed by this.

This interview was also the first I'd heard about Richard Harris' casting call. Clint talks about how he called Richard Harris himself (on a Sunday afternoon, did he say) at Harris' home (in Florida somewhere?) to ask him to play the part of English Bob, only to discover that the very-interested Harris was struck by the irony of the fact that he was (just then, earlier that afternoon?) watching one of Clint's classic westerns (I really want to say it was The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly). Harris said of course, he'd love to be involved.

Regarding the key point about whether Unforgiven ventured far from the original script, this I remember clearly, and it came directly from Eastwood's lips, although I may have misrepresented his statements in my original, unrevised review. I have since amended them, after much reflection, in light of your comments, to be more in line with my recollection. You are probably right about focus groups, although it seems to me he mentioned something about an outside party of some sort responding to at least part of this alternate version and feeling non-plussed about it. I can't be sure on that particular detail. But he did say that they had departed from the original script, and the way he described it, it seemed like what started as a minor change here and there led to more changes here, then there, until the whole thing had changed significantly, and he (and others?) were unhappy with the results, and found themselves at an impasse. Then he (did he say "we" or "I" - again, a detail escapes me) decided to return to the original script, with very minimal alteration.

While it is possible he is referring to the deleted scenes you spoke of, KC, the way he described it suggests that these changes were much more substantial. One thought that occurs to me as I write this is that I can in no way be certain whether this departure he speaks of occurred before filming began, or after. It's quite possible (I really wish this special had been included on the DVD) that he is referring to rewrites which occurred in pre-production, before principal filming began. If this were the case, I think it would fall more in line with your comments and Clint's own comments regarding how he approaches film-making. I regret not being more clear about the parts of this interview I do remember, and again, have since revised my review.

The more I scrape my rusty databanks, the more sure I become that this indeed was the case as revealed by Clint - the rewrites all took place before filming began, with Clint and some referred-to others becoming disenchanted with the results. He used some good adjectives which I wish I remembered better-explaining just why they were unhappy with the rewrites as they got out of hand.

In a last-ditch effort to help others perhaps recall where I can't any more details about this special, the interviews with Clint appeared to be filmed at his home (homes?) and I distinctly recall a life-size statue (bronze? wood?) in the background which was certainly Clint, and may or may not have been the MWNN.

Does any of this ring any bells for anyone? Am I delusional ???

My thanks for all the great feedback I have received about this review. This was precisely what I was looking for when I posted the link and began this thread - but nothing could have prepared me for the warm welcome, kind words, and quality of advice and assistance I have received. Thank you all.

And KC, above all, special thanks for the quote of that GREAT article written by David Webb Peoples. Pure gold  :) Is this article online anywhere, and if so, would it be possible for you to provide me with a direct link? I'd love to include a link to it it in my revised review somewhere.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2003, 10:13:36 AM by eustressor » Logged
Doug
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« Reply #15 on: April 27, 2003, 11:12:53 PM »

posted by KC:
Quote
In his error-ridden Clint Eastwood, Richard Schickel gets it right to start with (p. 458: "He is carrying a shotgun") ... but then fumbles barely four sentences later with "When Will's rifle misfires ..."


Of course a shotgun is not a rifle technically, since it has a smooth bore...but I'm sure Schickel meant a long-barreled gun fired from the shoulder.   Hardly the worse error found in a Clint bio.... ::)

posted by eustressor:
Quote
But he did say that they had departed from the original script, and the way he described it, it seemed like what started as a minor change here and there led to more changes here, then there, until the whole thing had changed significantly, and he (and others?) were unhappy with the results, and found themselves at an impasse. Then he (did he say "we" or "I" - again, a detail escapes me) decided to return to the original script, with very minimal alteration.

That doesn't sound like Unforgiven, but another movie Clint was connected to, but I can't remember which one.  An early one.  The Beguiled?  Play Misty for Me?  KC, help me out.
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« Reply #16 on: April 28, 2003, 12:00:52 AM »

Hmm, Doug, I think you may be right. I'm pretty sure I've never read, or heard, anything of the sort about Unforgiven, other than the addition (and then subraction) of the final "happy ending," but I do vaguely recall something of the sort ... perhaps about another film ... Or could Clint have been speculating about what MIGHT have happened to Unforgiven, if it had gone through the ordinary process of Hollywoodization, instead of becoming a Malpaso production?

It's too late tonight, and I have to get up too early, for me to investigate more. I'll try to look into this soon, though.

As for the shotgun-rifle thing, indeed, it's "hardly the worst error found in a Clint bio" ... specifically, in Schickel's bio ... but it's a shame that the "authorized" biography, in particular, should be so full of easily correctable blunders.  ::)
« Last Edit: April 28, 2003, 04:20:29 PM by KC » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2003, 06:02:52 AM »

Doug and KC, he was definitely referring to Unforgiven - but after re-reading KC's post about Mr. People's statements referring to an alternate ending, and re-reading my own posts, and thinking REAL hard, I have to say that it is entirely possible he was referring largely to the alternate ending they almost went with. And as KC suggests, perhaps a bit of speculation as to where it might have gone from there was implied. To boldly state that it was shown to focus groups and execs was likely a total error on my part - I was writing from the impression of a memory and not the details, which mostly escape me.

This feels a bit like a retraction, and I do feel somewhat mollified at my inability to better defend my original assertion, but, on the other hand, I got to read a great David Webb Peoples article about this awesome screenplay which I might otherwise never have seen.

Thanks!

BTW, I put a friendly pointer to these forums and this thread at the bottom of the revised article. Credit where it's due.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2003, 06:04:18 AM by eustressor » Logged
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