Indian by birth, but secretly adopted by whites, Rachel Zachary (Audrey Hepburn) soon becomes the target of lawless racism and brutality when her true identity is revealed. The Kiowa Natives want her back, the local whites want her dead, and her only hope for survival is Ben (Burt Lancaster), who must face the most terrifying fight of his life to save the woman he loves.
Not to be confused with the later Western film Unforgiven, which tells another story entirely.
The Unforgiven provides examples of:
- As the Good Book Says...: Abe Kelsey talks in a very "biblical" manner.
- Brownface: Audrey Hepburn, of fully European descent, playing a full-blooded Native American (Kiowa). Half-Mexican Carlos Rivas as her Kiowa brother isn't much better. Very slightly (microscopically) justified by the necessity of Hepburn's character being capable of not being immediately identifiable as a Native American.
- Call-Back: In the opening scene Ben brings back a piano that he won on a bet. Towards the end, Mattilda plays the piano in order to counter the psychological profile of the Kiowa flutes. (Then the family kills several Kiowa as they come out into the open to wreck the piano.)
- Chekhov's Gun: The fact that it is easy to get to the roof of the house, even for cattle, is presented in the first scene when Rachel notices a cow on the roof. This fact becomes important during the climax, when the Indians drive the herd on the roof to bring the house down.
- Desert Skull: What looks like the bulk of a cow's skeleton, including the skull and a spine with ribs, is seen in the opening credits to demonstrate how arid the setting is.
- Doorstop Baby: Rachel is described as a "foundling". It turns out that she is a Kiowa, and was rescued by Will Zachary, Ben's father and Mattilda's wife, after a raid by whites which killed most of her tribe.
- Fake Shemp: While Audrey Hepburn was in hospital recovering from an injury, John Huston filmed scenes using a double.
- Fiery Redhead: Georgia Rawlins, who demands that Cash marry her and whacks him on the head with a broom when he hesitates.
- Hand Signals: Ben adds gestures to his words when talking to the Kiowas.
- Happily Adopted: Rachel was adopted by the Zachary family and happily grew up among them.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Everybody, including Mattilda, has to take a swig from the family moonshine jug after Rachel reveals she has gotten engaged to Charlie Rawlins.
- Injun Country: The film takes place near the West border of Texa, next a Kiowa reservation. Will Zachary was killed by a Kiowa tribe, and that tribes later comes to the Zachary family to reclaim Rachel.
- Mobile Shrubbery: The Kiowa disguise themselves as shrubs to approach the cabin, which the Zachary family figures out when Ben's little brother notices that there are more bushes outside than there used to be.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits: Ben gets very angry when Johnny Portugal flirts with Rachel, and he doesn't particularly like it when she gets engaged to Charlie. Of course, as events make clear, the Ben-Rachel relationship is a lot creepier than brother-sister.
- Not Afraid to Die: The Natives coming to seek Rachel are not afraid one bit by the shot Ben fires with his Winchester to scare them away. Not even after said shot destroyed a skull scepter of theirs with deadly accuracy.
- Not Blood Siblings: Rachel is in the dark about where she comes from but she knows she was adopted, which is why she says "we're not even relatives!" when shamelessly flirting with Ben. This is also why everybody's OK with it when Ben and Rachel hook up in the end, even though she was raised in the Zachary family from infancy and she and Ben have always called each other brother and sister.
- You Killed My Father: Cash recognizes a Native as one of those who killed his father Will, takes a Winchester and vainly tries to shoot at him from a distance.
- You No Take Candle: How the Natives talk.