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True Grit (1969)

 
 
 

John Wayne Shows the Meaning of True Grit

Mr. Rat, I have a writ here says you're to stop eating Chin Lee's cornmeal forthwith. Now it's a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of the same. - Rooster Cogburn

John Wayne and Kim Darby in True Grit

Great movies are those whose individual components all work from the acting, the story, cinematography, soundtrack and so on but more importantly they work together. That is the reason why "True Grit" starring John Wayne is a great movie, every single component works from John Wayne as the amusingly cantankerous Marshall Rooster Cogburn through to Lucien Ballard's cinematography and Elmer Bernstein's musical score. But being a western the storyline to "True Grit" is a simple one and it doesn't need to be anything more because combined with everything else it is pure good old fashioned entertainment at its best.

When her father is murdered whilst away on business young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby - Teen Wolf Too) heads to Fort Smith not only to collect her father's belongings but also to seek justice for his murder. Pointed in the direction of hard drinking and cantankerous Marshall Reuben J. 'Rooster' Cogburn (John Wayne - Hellfighters) the head strong young Mattie hires him to go with her into Indian Territory in search of her father's murderer. With inexperienced Texas lawman La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) also joining them in search of the murderer the mismatched trio head off in search of justice.

Kim Darby and Robert Duvall in True Grit

Like with any good western the storyline to "True Grit" is not a complex one and basically revolves around someone seeking justice for a wrong doing which in this case means we have young Mattie Ross looking to bring Tom Chaney in for the murder of her father. There is in fact little else to the basic storyline other than this and little sub stories such as the surprising friendship which forms between Mattie and Rooster add embellishment making it seem much more. But then "True Grit" or any western for that matter doesn't need to be any more because all we want is the good guys going after bad guys and along the way allow the expected scenes such as gunfights and deaths to deliver drama and tension. Director Henry Hathaway who gave us "The Sons of Katie Elder" knows this and doesn't try to make "True Grit" anymore than what it is and it is better for being so.

But what Henry Hathaway does is give "True Grit" a big, almost epic feeling through the wonderful way he captures the wide expanses of the mountains and meadows but also the hustle and bustle of Fort Smith. It's wonderful cinematography and combined with Elmer Bernstein's musical score gives it a really big feeling of something very special, which it is.

What makes "True Grit" work is that it is full of memorable moments and unforgettable scenes and I am not just talking about those big gunfight scenes such as when John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn riding through a meadow with his horses reins clenched between teeth firing a pistol with one had and cocking a rifle by twirling it in the other. Nope it's also the smaller scenes such as when Mattie argues her case with the owner of some horses over the trading of them, wearing him down to get her own way. These scenes, these memorable moments are so beautifully worked whether it's to make a big impact or deliver a moment of subtle amusement that you can't but help becoming engrossed in the movie.

"True Grit" is also helped by having some memorable characters who have been brilliantly cast. Kim Darby who prior to appearing in "True Grit" had mainly appeared in a variety of TV shows is brilliant as the bossy, head strong Mattie Ross giving as good as she gets with her feistiness yet at the same time playing a young girl gives her that naivety and innocence. Glen Campbell as Texas lawman La Boeuf is equally as good and the almost sarcasm he shows towards Mattie makes for many humorous interactions.

But of course "True Grit" is very much John Wayne's movie and the character of Rooster Cogburn feels like it's an extension of Wayne himself as if he's no longer acting as the heroic cowboy but he is in-fact just playing himself, being who he is in real life. It means that it all feels very natural from the sarcasm, the bullish nature, the heroics and the protective friendship he forges with Mattie. Some may say that John Wayne always played John Wayne in his westerns and to some extent he does but in "True Grit" it feels like he gives more of who he is over to the role and the interactions with Kim Darby are just brilliant. In fact I would say they are even better than the antagonistic relationship he had with Katharine Hepburn in the sequel "Rooster Cogburn ... and the Lady".

Aside from John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glenn Campbell there are various other recognizable faces which turn up in "True Grit" including the late great Dennis Hopper as Moon and Robert Duvall as bad guy Ned Pepper plus of course Strother Martin as Colonel G. Stonehill. Even in some of the almost unseen roles there are some well known names such as Wilford Brimley and Hank Worden.

What this all boils down to is that the original "True Grit" is without doubt one of the best westerns ever made and it is not down to some amazingly clever storyline but because all of the components come together beautifully. From the music, the camera work, locations, dialogue, action and of course the performances from John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glenn Campbell everything is spot on. It delivers tension and drama, gunfights and action all with a subtle touch of humour to make it entertaining to watch on numerous levels.

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