February 27th, 2011: True Grit (1969)

Cast and Crew:  Charles Portis (Original Novel); Elmer Bernstein

What It’s About: When Mattie Ross’s (Kim Darby) father is murdered by his farm hand Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), Mattie goes to town to settle his affairs.  When she finds that the sheriff  cannot chase Chaney into Indian Country, she looks for a U.S. Marshall to bring him in. She settles on Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Wayne), a one-eyed, whiskey swilling, ornery old over-the-hill Marshall with a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later because he has “true grit”. After some negotiation (and the sudden appearance of a full-of-himself Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) who is also after Chaney for shooting a Texas Senator) Mattie convinces Rooster not only to take her case, but to take her along. Rooster and La Boeuf do their best to leave Mattie behind, but her determination makes them change their mind, and soon the trio are on the trailer of “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and his gang, believing that Chaney is with them.

Why Watch it Today?: The Academy Awards air tonight (the remake of this film, as you may have heard, is up for a few itself), and there is no greater quote about the value of the award as a measure of a performance than John Wayne’s famous line about winning the Oscar for this film:  “If I’d known this was all it would take, I’d have put that eyepatch on 40 years ago.”  While it is true that Wayne gives a better-than-usual performance here, and is quite enjoyable to watch, it can hardly be called his best work, which was undoubtedly in his films with John Ford (The Searchers, Fort Apache, Stagecoach) and Howard Hawks (Red River).  Wayne’s Academy Award was the classic nod to an old hand who did something notable at the end of his career but had not yet won an Oscar (that John Voight and Dustin Hoffman were both up for Midnight Cowboy that year, splitting votes, probably didn’t hurt either).  As to the movie itself, director Henry Hathaway makes excellent use of beautiful Colorado locations, and delivers solid action scenes.  John Wayne sells his over-the-top character and the excellent supporting cast includes Dennis Hopper as one Ned Pepper’s men and Strother Martin in a scene stealing turn as a chiseling horse trader whom Mattie runs rings around.  True Grit is an enjoyably quirky Western with some great characters and scenery, and a must see for Wayne fans.

Where to Get ItLibraries, Netflix, iTunes, or Amazon

The trailer:

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