Tuesday, July 19, 2011

True Grit (1969)

An Oscar for the Duke

- We all know the story told in True Grit (1969), right? Young Mattie Ross hires the toughest US Marshal around, Rooster Cogburn, and, together with Texas Ranger La Boeuf, they trek through Indian country in search of her father's killer.... Simple, classic, and engaging, the story of True Grit is told well in the 1969 screen adaptation of Clinton Portis' novel by director Henry Hathaway. For some, True Grit is a classic portrait of the western genre and John Wayne. For me, 1969's True Grit is a fine film but not a staple picture for the western genre or John Wayne's filmography; entertaining but not necessarily brilliantly shot, written, or acted.

I think True Grit is well known because of John Wayne's Oscar-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn. Wayne is very good in this film as the bottle-swigging, gun-toting, teeth-steering Cogburn but, let's be honest: the Oscar awarded to him was an honorary one. Wayne's performance in True Grit simply came at the right time and encompassed enough of what we love about the Duke for the Hollywood community to solute his long and illustrious career with a bald golden statue. Make no mistake, Wayne's unforgettable screen presence is in full swing here as Rooster Cogburn. However, Wayne's performance in True Grit, as entertaining as it is, was neither the best male lead performance of 1969 nor was it the best performance of John Wayne's career. Personaly, I would take a number of John Wayne performances over his in True Grit such as Rio Bravo (1959), The Quiet Man (1952), and especially The Searchers (1956) which is the performance that should have won Wayne an Oscar.

While Wayne got an undeserved Oscar for his performance, I thought a different performer stole the show. Kim Darby impressed me the most in the film as Mattie Ross, the film's real main character. She is often criticized as one of (if not the absolute) worst performer(s) in the film but I could not be in deeper disagreement. Darby really held her own against one of cinema's greatest icons and was utterly convincing as the strong-willed, 14-going-on-40 Mattie Ross. When Darby is not wrongly being called the worst performer of the film, Glen Campbell is unfairly claimed as such. While perhaps not the best choice available, I found Campbell to be a slick supporter in the film, full of energy and charm. But the best supporters in the film were future A-listers Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper in small but memorable roles – so keep an eye out for them.

True Grit is, in my mind, an undoubtedly entertaining and well put together film but, at the same time, it is not a Casablanca of westerns. Henry Hathaway created a fun John Wayne-centered western adventure here but left plenty of room for the Coen Brothers to improve upon in 2010.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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