Thursday, 22 November 2012

True Grit (1969)

John Wayne. He was the ultimate macho man to many people and could always be relied upon to show the very best assets of being a man completely in line with the will of Uncle Sam. I have never been a fan but that's just because I've never seen any clips of his acting in which he wasn't just the swaggering bull of a man that he so often portrayed. Finally seeing the original True Grit after I'd enjoyed the remake so much, I realise that I should make an effort to watch the films of someone who made such a big impact on cinema audiences. He's an icon and icons are usually icons for good reason.

True Grit is a wonderful film with some fine performances in there and the turn from Wayne, as grizzled and oft-drunk Rooster Cogburn, is the highlight of the film. In fact, it gave him his only Oscar win. There may have been worthier candidates that year but it's hard to begrudge him the win after he gave audiences so much pleasure over the years.

The story here is all about young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) looking to hire someone who will hunt down the murderer of her father. She gets Rooster Cogburn and offers him some money to do her bidding. He takes her up on the offer but then tries to get her to stay behind and wait while he heads off with a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) to catch some crooks and collect some rewards. However, young Mattie isn't going to stay put and she wants everything resolved her way. It doesn't take long for anyone who meets this young woman to realise that she often gets what she wants.

Based on the novel by Charles Portis, True Grit has a fine screenplay from Marguerite Roberts and capable direction from Henry Hathaway yet it's hard not to think that the movie is really lifted by all of the performances. Wayne is fantastic, being both a hero and sometimes a drunken ass. Darby is superb as Mattie Ross, a young girl easily able to shame and correct anyone trying to pull a fast one on her, and Glen Campbell is perhaps the weakest of the trio but an essential part of the group dynamic. Jeff Corey is the main man being hunted but film fans will probably get more enjoyment from watching a young-ish Dennis Hopper in a small role and the great Robert Duvall playing the villainous Ned Pepper.

The cinematography and visual style may be indistinguishable from the hundreds of other Westerns made during this decade but that doesn't detract from the fact that so many people hold up True Grit as a classic because it IS one. See, and enjoy, it for yourself.


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