True Grit, 1969.
Directed by Henry Hathaway.
Starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey and Dennis Hopper.
After her father is murdered a young girl hires an aging U.S. Marshal to track the killer through hostile Indian territory.
True Grit has just been through a contemporary revival at the capable hands of the Coen brothers and is due in UK cinemas next week. So it was only fair to take a look at the original 1969 version before casting my eyes on the latest incarnation.
Henry Hathaway’s imagining of the Charles Portis novel of 1968 saw John Wayne win his only Oscar as the drunk and cold-hearted US Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Cogburn has a reputation for drink and other vices, but more importantly for getting a job done. It’s for this reason that 14 year-old Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), daughter of a murdered father, seeks his assistance in tracking down her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Initially turning down the offer Cogburn changes his mind once Texas Ranger Le Beouf (Glen Campbell) offers to split the large reward being offered for catching Chaney in relation to another crime.
Despite Le Beouf and Cogburn’s attempts to set off alone Mattie tags along with them and insists on being a part of the posse. As the unlikely trio set out into the dangerous Indian territory in search of Chaney and the gang of crooks he has joined with they find they all have their differences in morals, why they want Chaney and what they plan to do with him once caught. In a final battle with Chaney and the gang Le Beouf is fatally wounded and Mattie bitten by a rattlesnake. Cogburn finishes off the gang by riding directly into them with his rifle and handgun before he gets Mattie back to town in time to save her life.
True Grit is hailed as a classic Western with Wayne receiving his one and only Oscar for Best Male for his role as Cogburn and Campbell is slick and cocky as Le Beouf. However, it was Darby as Mattie Ross that stood out for me with her portrayal of the plucky 14 year old seeking the justice her father deserves no matter how dangerous it becomes, even though she does become a little annoying with her insistence on talking non-stop. In fact, everyone seemed to talk a little too much and a little too frequently as well as all over-acting. The film has a definite melodramatic feel to it at times, but perhaps that’s a product of the time and the genre.
True Grit also felt a little slow and drawn out compared to contemporary cinema and the journey seems to take it’s time getting going. There did also seem to be quite a lot of sitting around talking and arguing between Cogburn, Le Beouf, Mattie and almost everyone else they come across collectively or alone. Considering the trio were tracking a murderer through dangerous Indian territory and one of them was a 14 year old girl there didn’t seem to be much danger and little or no threat.
Perhaps I’m being a little harsh. The moral within the story, Mattie’s seeking of justice through the correct means and Cogburn’s own journey towards being a less selfish and cold man, were all admirable. The locations at times were stunning with beautiful vista views across mountains and rugged terrain, although usually perforated by conversations on horseback.
True Grit on the whole is a decent watch and not a bad film as long as you can take into consideration that it is a film of a different era and therefore not as complex or pacey as contemporary cinema. In hindsight I’m glad to have seen it in relation to the latest incarnation reaching cinemas next week, but doubt I would sit down to watch it again without being paid to do so.
Personally I cant wait to see what the Coen brothers can do with their imagining of True Grit and Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Cogburn. Hopefully Mattie Ross won’t talk quite as often, as extensively or as dramatically. It was beginning to truly grit me.
True Grit is released on DVD on Monday 7th February
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