John Huston directs Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Lillian Gish in this western set in the Texas wilderness in which a stranger rides into town and manages to begin a small war within the community when he reveals a secret. The Zachary family is overseen by mother Matilda (Gish), and consists of three brothers (Lancaster, Audie Murphy and Doug McClure) and an adopted sister Rachel (Hepburn). However, the stranger claims that Rachel is a member of the Kiowa tribe of Indians and the fragile peace within the community is shattered; with the Zachary's having to confront their own feelings of racism and loyalty and some of the inhabitants of the town turning against the family.
No relation to the 1992 Clint Eastwood film of almost the same name, 1959's The Unforgiven
is based--like John Ford's The Searchers
--on a novel by Alan LeMay. Again the story focuses on a frontier family divided by racism. But instead of the complex, endlessly resonant demonology of the Ford picture, here John Huston aims for a pat, civil-rights-era allegory of loving solidarity triumphing over societal prejudice--and, to be sure, some noble but dangerous Kiowas. Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn costar as, respectively, the eldest son of a ranching family and the beloved sister who's not his sister at all, but an Indian. However, the film's dark heart belongs to Joseph Wiseman as an avenging ghost who materialises out of the wind and Lillian Gish as the matriarch who will do whatever she must to protect her clan. --Richard T Jameson