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
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
One of the strongest
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
The movie is wonderfully faithful to
the source novel. Not just the plot (though it mostly is), but more
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)
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 22, 2007.