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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > True Grit

MOVIE REVIEWS

TRUE GRIT (1969)

Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin, Alfred Ryder, Jeff Corey, Ron Soble, John Fiedler, James Westerfield and Dennis Hopper.

Screenplay by Marguerite Roberts.

Directed by Henry Hathaway.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  127 minutes.  Rated G.

   

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True Grit

When you are of a certain age, there are only two kinds of people in the world -- people who worship John Wayne and people who just don't get him.  (People under -- oh, 30, I guess -- probably don't really know who he is...) 

A good friend of mine, even though he was just a child when Wayne died in 1977, owns and regularly watches every single one of his movies. 

I always fell in the other group.  I don't like westerns.  Wayne has an old-school overacting style which doesn't translate too well to modern times.  The co-opting of his image as a paragon for red-state values always seemed disingenuous to me.  His movies just seem like anachronisms.

There is one huge exception to that rule for me.  True Grit.

This film is literally one of my favorite movies ever -- maybe not top 10 but definitely top 50, and when you've seen as many movies as I have that is saying something.  (The novel by Charles Portis is even better.  If you ever come across it, it's definitely worth picking up.) 

Wayne won his only Best Actor Oscar playing Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, a heavy, aging, one-eyed deputy with a bit of a drinking problem.  Rooster was not the traditional square-jawed Wayne hero, he was a scoundrel, selfish, often angry and starting to get rather broken down.  However, it was this very sense of being past his prime, being willing to use any means necessary to uphold the law, which made Cogburn such an iconic character.  He was not above shooting bad guys in the back.  He was drunk half the time.  He had lost an eye.  His only friends were a Chinaman and a cat named General Sterling Price.

What Cogburn did have though, was "grit."  Courage.  Bravery.  Tenacity.  (And what other synonyms you can think of.)  Grit was needed by Maddie (Kim Darby) -- a teen bookkeeper on her family's ranch.  When her father was murdered by a ranch-hand (that great old character actor Jeff Corey), Maddie was determined to bring him back to hang.  So she bought a gun and offered Cogburn the (then) princely fee of $100 to help her track the killer down with his new gang.

The man had already killed a senator as well, and thus was being tracked by a Texas lawman named LaBoeuf (the impressive acting debut of then-music superstar Glen Campbell.  Campbell also sings the gorgeous title track -- not one of his biggest hit songs, but it really should have been.).  LaBoeuf (using the Texan pronunciation La-Beef) hitched up with the two and the group bickered and fought and adventured their ways across the truly spectacular Colorado Rocky Mountain scenery.

One of the strongest selling points is the well constructed cast.  Next to Western legends like Wayne and Strother Martin, they pulled together an impressive cast of young bucks like Darby and Campbell.  There were also some stars on the rise who have since gone on to even more impressive heights.  Most recognizable now were two of the outlaws. 

The lead bad guy is played by a very young Robert Duvall (two years before his supposed breakout role in The Godfather) -- though already bald and surprisingly not looking too much different than he does now, almost 40 years later.  (That is a compliment to how well he has grown older, not a slam on how he looked back then.)  There is also a fine supporting role of a gang member played by Dennis Hopper -- blending in on a big budget studio western less than two years after he changed Hollywood independent filmmaking with Easy Rider.

The movie is wonderfully faithful to the source novel.  Not just the plot (though it mostly is), but more importantly for Portis' distinctive writing style and wonderful dialogue.  Wayne probably never had such a literate script and you could see he relished the lines he was given.  The action scenes, though nearly 40 years old now, don't really look that dated.  In fact, very little of the movie does, which is always a good sign of a classic.

The film is being re-released on DVD to honor what would have been Wayne's 100th birthday.  Honestly, I don't know how different this version of the disk is from past DVD releases.  However, surprisingly, as much as I've always loved this movie, this is the first time I've owned it, in the past I'd just try to catch it on TV.  I know I'm not necessarily in the majority for that.  This film has been available in so many formats for so long (in fact, it helped spark the video revolution as one of the first major motion pictures to be released on Betamax) that I can't tell you if this version is worth the money to replace older copies.  It is a very crisp copy of the film, letterboxed and with several interesting new shorts and also commentary by a few western and film historians.  If you have an older version, then you have to decide if those extras are worth the sale price.  If you don't have it, then what are you waiting for?  (5/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 22, 2007.

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Copyright 2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 22, 2007.