In Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, when William Munny tries to get his old friend Ned Logan to partner up with him for a hired killing, Logan is uninterested. Like Munny, he’s left his outlaw days behind, and can’t see the point in killing a man unless it involves a personal grudge — certainly not for the usual crimes, rustling or cheating at cards or insolence.
But when Munny says the men he’s been hired to kill cut up a woman, Logan’s attitude changes — he’s shocked and outraged. “Well then, ” he says, “I guess they got it coming.” He signs on for the job with Munny, who seems to feel the same about the deed they’ve been hired to avenge, although Munny himself has the lives of innocent women on his conscience from his days as a drunken thug. Clearly something in him has changed.
They’re doing it for the money, at bottom, but the horror of cutting up a woman takes the moral sting out of it for both of them.
I like to think that if they were told a scumbag like Pike Bishop, leader of The Wild Bunch, ordered the murder of an unarmed woman during the robbery of a railroad office, they’d feel the same. They wouldn’t ride off to avenge the murder for the sake of justice alone — they’re not knights errant — but they’d feel entitled to take money to kill Bishop, because he’s got it coming.
This is the difference between real men, however damaged they may be, and frontier scum like Bishop — an innate sense of gallantry and decency towards women that years on the wrong side of the law can’t erase.
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