In the early days of Hollywood, the Western reined supreme. From the late ’40s to the 1960s, there was no such thing as too many tales of handsome, rugged gunslingers defeating dastardly enemies in heroic battles. And though that general concept has remained true in the decades since, the Golden Age of the Western ended over half a century ago.
With that in mind, it makes sense that when Clint Eastwood‘s Unforgiven hit theaters in 1992, fans and critics were uncertain at best. But the Man With No Name doesn’t miss. And despite the film missing the peak of Westerns by a solid twenty years, it soared to the top of the list of the best Westerns in cinema history.
Unforgiven was such a hit, in fact, that it earned Clint Eastwood his first Oscar Award in his decades-long career. The film won Best Director (who was, of course, Eastwood himself) and Best Picture. This was a particularly impressive feat, as it marked only the third Western in history to earn such an accolade.
Clint Eastwood and his crew began work on the film in Alberta, Canada, late in the summer of 1991. Production then stretched well into fall, as planned – the colors of fall lend particularly well to the atmosphere of a Western.
Now, Unforgiven took only 39 days to film. However, it wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid the early days of the harsh Canadian winter. And as the weather turned frigid, the Western hit a major roadblock.
Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ Broke Labor Laws to Avoid a Snowstorm
With only a few days left before filming was complete, the Unforgiven crew received some terrible news. A huge snowstorm was on the horizon. In the following days, Alberta was expected to get 12 inches of snow followed by a deluge of freezing rain.
Clint Eastwood had planned to give his actors and crew members a day off to prepare for the crucial outdoor scene in which Little Sue (Tara Frederick) reveals that the sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), is the one responsible for the death of Ned (Morgan Freeman), William Munny’s (Clint Eastwood) close friend and partner.
For the soon-to-be award-winning director, it was imperative that Big Whiskey, the fictional village built in Alberta, Canada, be visible in the background. As such, filming the scene in the warmer climate of the States was out of the question. Filming with snow on the ground, however, would also ruin the shot.
So, Clint Eastwood and his EP David Valdes were left with only one option – film the scene early. Unfortunately, that meant filming until well past midnight. The crew would then get a few hours of sleep and continue – without the previously promised day off.
Throwing caution to the wind, the cast and crew of Unforgiven committed to working 21 hours straight. They had no breaks, and as they were in “bumf–k Alberta,” there was nothing to eat, either. It broke a wide variety of labor laws, but they were determined to finish before the snow.
Everyone (including the horses) nearly developed hypothermia from the freezing water spouting from the rain machine used to create the iconic scene. The plan, however, was a success. By the morning the snowstorm was set to arrive, Clint Eastwood and his Unforgiven team were already on their way back to California.