Stanley Orr, a University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu English professor, addresses Clint Eastwood’s evocation and subversion of the noir Western in Unforgiven. His article “A Man of Notoriously Vicious and Intemperate Disposition: Western Noir and the Tenderfoot’s Revenge in Unforgiven” appears in New Essays on Clint Eastwood, edited by Leonard Engel.
With recourse to several theorists, Orr provides an overview of the Western as a major “host-genre” for film noir. Analyzing Western noir conventions in mid-twentieth-century films, Orr then examines how Unforgiven reprises the noir Western, concluding with what some critics might term a “postmodernist parody” of the noir worldview.
This argument turns upon the tensions between dime novelist W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) and gunslingers English Bob (Richard Harris), Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), and especially, Will Munny (Eastwood). Defined by violence and vernacular dialogue, these hard-boiled figures—men of “notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” ultimately find themselves contending with Beauchamp’s florid prose, which threatens to subsume the universe of the film.
Orr concludes that Unforgiven, while in many ways an exemplary noir Western, ultimately transcends generic labels to deepen noir’s darkly realistic vision of the self and the world.
Orr’s essay resonates with his book on hard-boiled fiction and film noir, Darkly Perfect World: Colonial Adventure, Postmodernism, and American Noir. The piece also reflects Orr’s interests in Western American literature.
In the spring semester of 2013, Orr will teach a course in literatures of the American West; its reading list includes fictions and films of California, Hawaiʻi, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming and other Western states.