Filmsite Movie Review
Unforgiven (1992)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

As the trio of gunfighters approach town, it begins raining hard, and Will is offered a swig from Ned's bottle of whiskey, but he declines: "I don't touch that stuff no more," affirming again: "I ain't like that no more, Ned. I ain't no crazy killin' fool."

After his sojourn in jail, English Bob is cuffed and driven back to the Northwest Railroad station and run out of town permanently. His pistols are returned to him with bent barrels. His fickle companion/biographer Beauchamp is "staying on his own account," after transferring his loyalties and interests to the exploits of Little Bill Daggett. Bob screams from the back of the wagon at the leader of the lawless town:

A plague on you! A plague on the whole stinking lot of ya, without morals or laws! And all you whores got no laws! You got no honor! It's no wonder you all emigrated to America, because they wouldn't have you in England! You're a lot of savages, that's what you all are. A bunch of bloody savages! A plague on you! I'll be back!

As Munny approaches closer to the town and his rendezvous with a resumption of his murderous career, the first signs of feverish cough and sickness rack his body. Newly arrived in Big Whiskey, the "randy" Kid partakes of sex with Strawberry Alice in the upstairs brothel. Meanwhile, in the leaky interior of his ill-constructed home, Little Bill - who is oblivious to his own shortcomings as a carpenter, narrates his own mythic feelings to Beauchamp about weak, cowardly characters without souls: just makes me see a man carryin' two pistols and a Henry rifle and cryin' like a damned baby...I can't abide them kind. You see them in the tavern, you know, tramps and drunk teamsters and crazed miners...sportin' their pistols and actin' like they was bad men but without any sand or character. Not even any bad character. I do not like assassins...or men of low character..

He receives word about three newly-arrived strangers in town.

Before Ned joins the Kid upstairs at Greely's brothel, the tortured and feverish Will is hunched over at a table in the bar - shivering and hallucinating about past gunned-down victims: "You remember Eagle Hendershot?...I saw him, Ned. His head was all broke open. You could see inside of it...Worms were coming out." Daggett and his deputies approach, asking Will to surrender his pistol. When Will lies that he isn't carrying a gun ("I ain't armed"), like English Bob before him, he is mercilessly pistol-whipped as an example of "the kind of trash" the Sheriff was speaking about eradicating: "You find this kind in all your saloons and all your prosperous communities. Wichita, over in, uh, Cheyenne, Abilene! But you won't find them in the town of Big Whiskey!"

As Will is beaten, he crawls over to the bar to pick up a liquor bottle to strike back, another Western cliche, but he is knocked to the floor. Upstairs, Ned and the Kid hurriedly dress to escape from the lawman's wrath. They're told to find refuge at a hideout marked by a lone pine. Will is roughed up so badly that he can't stand - he painfully drags himself out of the saloon and down the steps into the muddy, rain-soaked street:

He's desirin' to leave the hospitality of Big Whiskey behind him.

Will's pals lead him to the secluded hideout marked by a lone pine. In a wooden shack, Ned stitches up the cuts on Will's face by the light of a dim candle. The prostitutes assist them with food supplies and whiskey, sketches of the two cowboys from the Bar T ranch, and sexual favors or "free ones" (or "advances") on their payment of the reward money for the killings.

Will regains consciousness, but remains delirious and close to death as he calls out his deceased wife's name to his partner. He fears the visions he sees beyond the grave: "I seen the angel of death. I see the river, Ned. He's got snake eyes...Oh Ned, I'm scared of dyin'...I seen Claudia, too...Her face was all covered with worms." Delilah, with her freshly-healed scars still visible on her face, comforts and helps Will to recuperate - first appearing to him in his delirium as an angel or as Claudia herself. After the beating, he sympathetically remarks: "I must look kinda like you now." His fever breaks after three days and the scarred prostitute asks if Will would like a "free one." In one of the film's poignant and tender moments, he declines the offer of intimacy due to his faithfulness to his wife - as he compassionately restores the cut-up whore's self-respect and dignity:

Delilah: Would you like a free one?
Will: No, I-I guess not.
Delilah: I, uh, I didn't mean with me. I meant, uh, Alice and Silky would be happy to give you a free one if you wanted one. That's, that's all I meant.
Will: Oh, I didn't mean I didn't want a free one on account of you bein' cut up and all. What I said the other day about you lookin' like me, that ain't true. You ain't ugly like me. It's just that we've both got scars. But you're a beautiful woman, and if I was to want a free one, I'd want it with you, I guess, more than them other two. It's just that I...I can't on account of my wife.
Delilah: Your wife?
Will: Yeah, you see...
Delilah: I admire you for that, for bein' true to your wife and all. I've known a lot of men who weren't.

After scouting after the Bar T cowboys (Davey and Quick Mike) who cut up Delilah, Ned, the Kid, and Will trail after them. They ambush Davey as he rides in pursuit of a wayward, stray calf during branding. When Davey's horse falls out from under him - wounded by Ned's Spencer rifle, Davey's leg is broken. He inches his way toward cover by crawling on the ground toward some nearby rocks. When Ned points the rifle again but humanely realizes that he can't fire a fatal shot, and the Kid is impotently blind and can't aim, Will takes the rifle and fires three shots - his last bullet strikes Davey in the gut. As Davey slowly dies behind a rock, he piteously begs: "I'm dyin' boys!...Jesus, I'm so thirsty!" Will is exasperated by the dying man's horrible, drawn-out pleading and sympathetically yells out: "Give him a drink of water, god-damn it!...Will you give him a drink of water for Christ's sake? We ain't gonna shoot." Following the killing, Ned decides he doesn't have the stomach for any more shootouts and decides to head back down to Kansas, irregardless of the share he will forfeit. Will ignores the mercenary sassy-ness of the Kid: "Me and the Kid will head over to that ranch and when we find him, we'll shoot him...Don't pay no attention to what the Kid said about the money and all. I'll bring your share. Kid's full of s--t."

As Ned rides home, he is captured out by Cow Creek while heading south. His hands are tied behind his back and he is brought before Little Bill and an assembled mob of deputies and cowboys in Big Whiskey. Charged with the murderous assassination of Davey, Ned refuses to identify his "two villainous friends." Not knowing of Ned's predicament, the Kid and Will stealthily wait for their opportunity to kill the second cowboy. They locate Quick Mike in the Bar-T bunkhouse, where he is being 'protected' by Andy and Fatty, Little Bill's deputies.

To soften him up for questioning, Little Bill bull-whips Ned's bare back after tying his outstretched arms to the jail cell bars, but Ned won't cooperate. The Sheriff threatens to compare Ned's lies to those of Strawberry Alice and Silky - "them whores that f--ked these guys the night of the storm." He whispers menacingly and seductively in the black man's ear:

Now, Ned, them whores are gonna tell different lies than you. And when their lies ain't the same as your lies, well, I ain't gonna hurt no woman, but I'm gonna hurt you, and not gentle like before, but bad.

At the Bar T, Quick Mike doesn't fear getting "bushwhacked," and challenges his would-be assassins: "I'll fart on them," he asserts, as he marches out to the outhouse ("s--thouse") to "take a dump." When Mike is spotted by sharp-eyed Will, the Kid is commissioned to kill him: "All right, Kid. Go get him, he's all yours." After sneaking up to the outhouse, the Kid opens the first stall - but it's empty. While spotted from the bunkhouse as being one of the "assassins", the Kid hurriedly opens the second stall and shoots Mike dead - three times point-blank in the chest and forehead. The pair ride off under heavy gunfire.

Under a lone tree on the outskirts of town, the two wait - the older man and the youth - as one of the prostitutes rides out from town with their reward money. Will is unable to compare his latest escapade with "the old days" - with "everybody ridin' out shootin'...smoke all over the place, folks yellin', bullets whizzin' by." The Kid, heavily drinking whiskey, confesses that it was actually his first killing - an ignominous one at that:

The Kid: ...I thought they was gonna get us. I was even scared a little...just for a minute. Was you ever scared in them days?
Will: I can't remember. I was drunk most of the time.
The Kid: I shot that f--ker three times. He was takin' a s--t an' he went for his pistol an' I blazed away. First shot--I got him right in the chest. Say, Will...
Will: Yeah?
The Kid: That was the first one...First one I ever killed...You know how I said I shot five men? It weren't true. That Mexican that come at me with a knife, I just busted his leg with a shovel. I didn't kill him or nothing, neither.
Will: Well, you sure killed the hell outta that fella today.
The Kid: Hell, yeah. I killed the hell outta him, didn't I? Three shots an' he was takin' a s--t.
Will: Take a drink, Kid.

Disturbed and re-educated by the murder, the Kid is on the verge of tears. Will, who knows more about the harsh reality of killing and violence, reminds him that everyone, in one way or another, has it coming, and that killing has its heavy psychological price - the film's most quoted clip:

The Kid: Jesus Christ. It don't seem real. How he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever. How he's dead. An' the other one, too. All on account of pullin' a trigger.
Will: It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got an' all he's ever gonna have.
The Kid: Yeah. Well, I guess they had it comin'.
Will: We all have it comin', Kid.

From Crow Creek Kate (Josie Smith), the two learn that their innocent pal, Ned, who didn't kill anyone, has been murdered: "The Bar T boys caught him and Little Bill, he beat him up. He was making him answer questions and beating him up and then Ned just died. They got a sign on him says he was a killer...In front of Greely's." Will realizes that in reprisal for the second cowboy's murder, "Little Bill killed him for what we done." During the tortuous questioning, the Sheriff found out about the notorious William Munny from Missouri, who killed a U.S. Marshal in '70 and was:

...the same William Munny that dynamited the Rock Island and Pacific in '69 killing women and children and all.

For the first time in years, Munny puts his lips to a liquor bottle as his crazed, bloody past flashes back before him. Now fearful of the intimidating, hateful look on Munny's face and realizing that violence and killing aren't glamorous, the Kid backs out. He discards his namesake gun, and gives up his share of the 'dirty' money. He recognizes that he "ain't like" Will and accepts his own blindness and limitations. As they part company and Will is left to face his destiny alone, another rainstorm blows in. He assures the Kid that he will not harm him, and instructs his friend about how to distribute the reward money:

The Kid: (referring to his Schofield gun) You go on, keep it. I'm never gonna use it again. I won't kill nobody no more. I ain't like you, Will...(motioning at the money) Go on, keep it. All of it. It's yours.
Will: What about your spectacles and fancy clothes?
The Kid: I guess I'd rather be blind and ragged than dead.
Will: You don't have to worry, Kid. I ain't gonna kill you. You're the only friend I got. Here, take this money and give my half and Ned's half to my kids. Tell 'em if I ain't back in a week, they give half to Sally Two Trees. You keep the rest. You can get them spectacles now.

Riding into town that night to avenge violence with more violence, Will throws his empty whiskey bottle into the ever-growing river of water in the street. Ned's corpse is propped up and mounted inside a coffin on the front porch of Greely's, with a sign reading: "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO ASSASSINS AROUND HERE." Fearlessly, he confronts the Sheriff and his posse who have planned the next early morning to "chase these fellas clear down to Texas...we'll divide up into four parties and we'll hit all the farms and the trails and we'll make a big circle." No one notices that Munny has entered the bar with his raised shotgun, and cocked it at precisely the moment Little Bill says: "We're bound to run into somebody that's seen these skunks."

Following his own code of retribution and redemption, Will first asks: "Who's the fella owns this s--thole?" Skinny speaks up tentatively: "I-I own this establishment. Bought it from Greely for a thousand dollars." The crowd around the proprietor scurries away when cautioned: "You'd better clear out of there." The unarmed Skinny is shot dead: "He should have armed himself if he's gonna decorate his saloon with my friend." Will identifies himself as he has always been remembered, and conforms to his reputation as the meanest and most fearsome killer (the role that he is expected to fulfill):

I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walked or crawled at one time or another, and I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.

Will's grim mission of moral revenge, in loyalty to Ned, metamorphosizes him. In the tense stand-off between the cool-headed Sheriff and the "mangy scoundrel," Will's gun misfires. He tosses his worthless shotgun at the Sheriff to distract him, and then fires at Little Bill and some of his deputies (Clyde, Andy, and Fatty) with the Schofield. He wounds Little Bill and kills five of the others. With his pistol drawn, Will brutally warns the others who cower before him: "Any man don't want to get killed better clear on out the back." Beauchamp, who mistakenly believes that he has been wounded, records and collects historical information for his next book from raspy-voiced William Munny - transferring his allegiance to his next dime-pulp character. The writer discusses the most strategic ploy of an experienced gunfighter - until he is scared off:

Beauchamp: You killed Little Bill...I don't believe it. You killed five men and single-handed...Uh, that's a Spencer rifle, right?...Who, uh, who'd you kill first?...When confronted by superior numbers, an experienced gunfighter will always fire on the best shot first.
Will: Is that so?
Beauchamp: Yeah. Little Bill told me that. You probably killed him first, didn't you?
Will: I was lucky in the order, but I've always been lucky when it comes to killin' folks.
Beauchamp: And so, who was next? It was Clyde, right? You must have killed Clyde, well, it could have been Deputy Andy. (Little Bill moves his arm)
Will: All I can tell you is who's gonna be last.

Believing that he is the next target, Beauchamp heads for the front door. The Sheriff picks up his pistol and loudly cocks it. Will steps on his gun arm, causing the gun to discharge. Entirely at Will's mercy, Little Bill pleads and laments that he won't live long enough to enjoy his dream house in old age:

Little Bill: I don't deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house.
Will: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
Little Bill: I'll see you in hell, William Munny.
Will: Yeah.

After an extended pause with the gun barrel floating above Little Bill's head, Munny blasts him - unforgiven. Striding out of the saloon, he shoots a moaning and wounded Clyde, and then crouches down and yells a further warning to anyone on the street who dares to shoot at him as he leaves town: "Any son-of-a-bitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, I'm gonna kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down. Nobody better shoot." As he rides from town, he commands further frontier justice for the prostitutes:

You better bury Ned right. You better not cut up nor otherwise harm no whores, or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches.

In the final postscript symmetrical to the first image in the film, Will's frontier house is silhouetted on the sun-setting horizon. Laundry dangles and flaps in the breeze on a clothesline. Will walks towards the gravestone of his departed wife, Claudia, and stands above it to pay his respects. [Her presence beyond the grave neatly bookends the film's entire narrative.]

The following block of text scrolls up over the scene, explaining how Claudia's mother later came to pay her respects as well, but found Will and the children long gone. She never knew why her daughter had married an outlaw:

Some years later, Mrs. Ansonia Feathers made the arduous journey to Hodgeman County to visit the last resting place of her only daughter.

William Munny had long since disappeared with the children...some said to San Francisco where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods.

And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.

When the text finishes its crawl, Will's figure disappears.

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