It’s the last and one of the best Westerns of an absolute legend in the genre, and in this post, we’ll take a closer look at some facts about Unforgiven.
The story of the movie is about a retired gunslinger with a dark past who reluctantly takes on a final job to find a criminal who horribly mutilated a local prostitute in the town of “Big Whiskey.“
He does so together with 2 partners and while grieving his murdered wife and raising his motherless children.
1. Unforgiven won 4 Oscars
Unforgiven starred and was directed by Clint Eastwood, along with other great actors such as Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, and Gene Hackman.
The movie was released on August 7, 1992, and was Eastwood’s 16th movie as a director and 34th movie as an actor. This made it all the more surprising that it was the first time that he won an Oscar. Better yet, it was even the first time he was actually nominated for an Academy Award altogether!
Unforgiven went on to win 4 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Film Editing for editor Joel Cox.
2. It was only the third Western ever to win an Oscar
To make this achievement even more fascinating is the fact that it was only the third Western movie in history to actually win an Oscar for best picture. The other ones being Cimarron (1931) and Dances with Wolves (1990).
Clint Eastwood once made an interesting statement about why he thought he would never actually win an Oscar, ever:
First, I’m not Jewish. Secondly, I make too much money. Thirdly, and most importantly, because I don’t give a f*ck.Clint Eastwood’s claim before actually winning an Oscar.
After winning his first Oscar he would go on to win 2 more, including for his 2004 boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby.”
3. The script was written nearly 20 years before the movie was made
The script was written by David Webb Peoples, a screenwriter famous for his work on classics such as “Blade Runner” (1982) and “12 monkeys” (1995). one of the most interesting facts about Unforgiven is that the script was written back in 1976.
It also had a different name back then as it was called both “The Cut-Whore Killings” and “The William Munny Killings,” a story that takes place between 1881 and 1882.
4. The original idea was to write a script without violence
David Webb Peoples originally didn’t intend to write a script that involved actual murders at all. When he started working on the script he thought that killings in movies tended to be unrealistic and don’t seem to have any consequence attached to them.
So there he went, off to write a script without much violence at all. He had this idea until he watched “Taxi Driver” (1976), Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece featuring Robert de Niro.
The writer went on to explain: “All of a sudden I see Taxi Driver, and people are getting killed, and the characters maintained how they would be in real life. But at the same time, it’s an entertaining movie, and that was always important to me … I wanted to write entertainment. Taxi Driver opened up what entertainment could be. It said, ‘Yeah, you can write this kind of stuff and it’ll be entertaining.'”
5. Gene Hackman and John Malkovich refused the script earlier
So the script had been circulating in Hollywood for nearly 20 years before somebody actually committed to making a movie out of it.
During this period, Gene Hackman was offered a role in it but actually refused because he didn’t really like the script as it contained too much violence, something he wasn’t too fond of as he feared it would incite violence in real life.
In the early 1980s, Francis Ford Coppola, the famous director of “The Godfather” Movies and “Apocalypse Now,” got his hands on the script. He was unable to get the movie financed so he let it slip.
Coppola actually sat together with John Makovich who was offered the role of William Munny. Makovich was delighted the movie wasn’t made because it would have been a total failure according to him.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that Clint Eastwood acquired the script and ended up doing nothing with it, not even reading it, until many years later.
6. Eastwood dedicated the movie to his mentors
In the final credit, we can read the words “Dedicated to Sergio and Don,” which refers to two of the directors Clint learned the ropes from, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.
With Leone, he made “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” in the “Dollars Trilogy,” starring as the epic “Man with no Name” and finally making a name for himself. With Don Siegel, he shot the “Dirty Harry” movies, which further established himself as the epitome of a tough, macho actor.
7. Morgan Freeman really wanted a role in the movie
Morgan Freeman, known for his epic role as “Red” in “The Shawshank Redemption,” was introduced to the script by Kevin Costner while they were working together on the movie “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
It was Freeman who contacted Clint Eastwood because he liked the script so much and Clint instantly offered him the role of Ned Logan.
8. Clint Eastwood’s mother played a role in the movie as well
One of the funniest facts about Unforgiven is that Clint Eastwood offered a role in the movie to his own mother, Ruth Wood, only to cut the scene in which she boards a train out of it.
Clint just referred to it as “the movie is too long, so some parts had to go.” Clint didn’t seem to take into account that his then 83-year old mother had spent a very tiring day wearing a heavy dress to shoot a short scene.
He made up for cutting her out of the movie by bringing her to the Academy Awards the following year and explicitly thanking her in his acceptance speech, a moment she never forgot for sure!
9. There was no rain, but there was unexpected snow
Most of the movie was shot in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada. This happened between August and November of 1991, a period that ended up being extremely dry. This means that the rain we see in the movie was artificially created.
One of the scenes of the movie, in which William Munny is recovering from a terrible beating, has snow. This wasn’t in the script and since it provided for a nice unexpected effect, they filmed this particular in the snow.
10. There’s something about Clint’s boots
One of Clint Eastwood’s first major roles was in the Western television series “Rawhide” (1959-1965). It established him in the genre and made him famous as an actor.
The boots he wore in Unforgiven were the same boots he wore during Rawhide about 3 decades earlier. They are in Clint’s private collection as they surely mean a lot to him. He wore them in both his first major role and the first movie he won an Oscar for.
11. The entire movie was shot in just over a month
While filming officially took place between August 26, 1991, and November 12, 1991, the actual shooting of the movie was done in a total of 39 days.
Completing the set of the town of Big Whiskey went rather fast as well and was completed in 32 days. This made it Production designer Henry Bumstead’s fastest set ever.
Clint Eastwood is known to move quickly through scenes, often refusing to do second takes, which resulted in the movie being wrapped up 4 days ahead of schedule.
12. The train scenes were shot on an authentic railroad
The train sequences were shot in Sonora, California. This location actually has an authentic and operational 19th-century standard-gauge railroad track.
This heritage railroad is also referred to as the “Movie Railroad” and is part of the “Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.”
13. The windmill still operates today
In multiple scenes, you can see a windmill pop up, which is located near the fictional town of Big Whiskey, the location that the movie takes place. The windmill, however, wasn’t fictional and was an actual operating windmill located near the set.
After the shooting, the windmill was donated to the “Dow Wetlands Preserve” in Antioch, California, and it’s still pumping water there today!
14. The movie made huge profits at the box office
The movie had a relatively humble budget of USD 14.4 million. Because it was such a huge success, it debuted in the first position during the opening weekend and actually made a profit already with earnings of USD 15,018,007.
This was the best-grossing opening weekend for a Clint Eastwood movie at that time. It went on to gross a total of $159,157,447 worldwide, of which $101,157,447 in North America alone!
15. Unforgiven received nothing but positive reviews
Unforgiven was instantly considered to be a masterpiece, even by the critics at “Rotten Tomatoes.” At the moment, it has an approval rating of 96% based on 105 expert reviews and an approval rating of 93% based on over 122,000 regular reviews.
On the most popular online movie database IMDB, it has a rating of 8.2/10 based on over 360,000 ratings at the moment of writing this post (June 2020).
16. Sheriff Daggett was based on a real person
Police brutality and racism aren’t something that popped up recently. It actually goes back a long way and resulted in police officers being acquitted in the early 1990s, the period that Unforgiven was shot. LAPD Chief Daryl Gates resigned after the beating of Rodney King, an African American man. This event resulted in severe riots in Los Angeles in 1992.
Gene Hackman, who plays the role of Sheriff Daggett, was told by Eastwood to base this role on Daryl Gates.
In one of the scenes, Sheriff Daggett is overseeing the brutal beating of Ned Logan, an African American man played by Morgan Freeman. Hackman referred to this scene as “my Rodney King scene.”
17. It was ranked in the top 100 movies of all time, twice
In 1998, the American Film Institute released a list of top 100 movies of all time. In that list, Unforgiven was ranked as the 98th greatest movie of all time.
In a revised list published 10 years later by the same institute, in the year 2008, Unforgiven was listed as the 68th greatest movie of all time. It was also ranked as the 4th best Western movie of all time.
Yes, it’s really a masterpiece of a movie!