Rooster Cogburn, no grit? Not much!
Of course the 2010 True Grit the Coen brothers did was splendid but as far as inclusion in the list of the greatest Westerns of all time goes, it has to be the version Henry Hathaway directed for Paramount in 1969.
I've reviewed both before, so by clicking on the links above you can read about the two movies if you want.
I've also talked about the fine novel (and I might do some posts later on some of the finest Western novels) and you can read about that here.
1) It is not always that an outstandingly good book makes an outstandingly good film but it was certainly the case with Charles Portis’s novel ‘True Grit’ and the movie True Grit. Both have marvelous dialogue with one great line succeeding another, conversation with a Mark Twain or Bret Harte twang. Both have a gripping, adventurous chase plot and memorable characters. The Marguerite Roberts screenplay for the '69 movie was stupendously good.
2) The movie was one of John Wayne’s greatest performances; only The Searchers,
Red River and The Shootist can match it and it
won him his only Oscar. He seemed to have made a conscious decision by the late
60s to play ageing Western dinosaurs. The role suited his age and paunch.
(Rooster Cogburn was only in his forties in the book so this was a conscious change). Yet
underneath he was still .
The movie works because in the last resort you still believe that “a one-eyed
fat man” really could face down four mounted gunmen in a clearing and win out. Wayne
3) The support acting. Wayne’s daughter Aissa, Tuesday Weld, Sondra Locke and Mia Farrow were all possibles for the role of Mattie Ross but the part went to Kim Darby and she was terrific. Although 22 and a mother, she caught the feisty young daughter of the book perfectly. Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper do very good jobs as the heavies but probably the best minor part is Strother Martin, magnificent as the horse trader bested by Mattie. HW Gim as Chen Lee and General Sterling Price as himself were also particularly memorable. Only Glen Campbell is weak. As an actor, he made a good singer.
4) Visually the film is very fine. Lucien Ballard (who did The Wild Bunch the same year) photographed it in
and the Colorado
in the fall and it shines. Inyo
5) The Elmer Bernstein music was also, rightly, nominated for an Oscar (pity about the cheesy title song crooned by
6) Henry Hathaway, 71-year-old veteran of countless films, directs magisterially without a hint of sentimentalism. It’s all action and humor and straight down the line Western grit. A truly great cowboy film.