Movie Name: True Grit
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date(s): June 11, 1969
MPAA Rating: PG
Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) has grit…or so the people say. When Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) learns her father has been murdered by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), she hires Rooster to head into Indian Territory to retrieve Chaney to hang. Rooster agrees to take on the case but gets more than he planned for with Mattie. In addition to the determined Mattie, Rooster is joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) who also wants Chaney for murder. Rooster, Mattie, and La Boeuf all want Chaney but capturing Chaney could be more difficult than they thought since Chaney is running with “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and his wanted criminal gang.
Directed by Henry Hathaway, True Grit was based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. The movie won John Wayne an Oscar for Best Actor in his role as Rooster Cogburn and also received a nomination for Best Original Song (“True Grit” performed by Glen Campbell for the film). True Grit was also adapted in 2010 by the Coen Brothers.
I didn’t see the original True Grit until after the 2010 adaptation. Though I liked the Coen Brothers film better, the original True Grit does have merit and looks fantastic. I like the story, but the style of the film leaves something to be desired.
The story is a more modern Western. It has strong characters and unusual plot directions. The idea that the story really revolves around a headstrong young girl feels very different. Even the “villains” of the film are a bit more rounded. “Lucky” has some honor (he’s still a bad man), and he gives his word. Chaney isn’t the out and out coldblooded killer and blames the world for his actions. Even La Boeuf, who seems he should be a comic character, is actually pretty admirable and serves a purpose. The movie also really thrives on the relationship between Rooster and Mattie since they both possess the “grit” that the title implies.
It looks fantastic as well. The movie was shot in and around Ooray, Colorado and was one of the biggest films shot in the area. The story was actually set in Oklahoma and the decision to move it to the mountains does amplify the visuals and helps give more weight to the story.
The problem with the film lies in the acting. I am not a John Wayne fan, but he really is the best actor in this movie (most see his Academy Award win as a lifetime achievement award). Wayne and Darby did not get along (Wayne actually suggested his daughter and even Karen Carpenter for the role), but the two work together well. Darby is rather wooden, but she also has a very difficult role by trying to be likable but also kind of pigheaded. Wayne also did not get along with Duvall who plays the villain (who actually has a very small role). Dennis Hopper also appears in the movie as a small part. The worst actor in the movie is Glen Campbell as La Boeuf who the director later admitted casting for the purpose of getting a hit song for the film.
True Grit is a good movie, but it has problems. It is a modern Western, but with Wayne’s casting it still has an older feel. Those who like Wayne will love True Grit; those who don’t like Wayne still can enjoy the film, but probably could stick to Coen Brothers version. The movie is one of those odd cases where both movies can enjoyed for different reasons. Check out True Grit and check it out twice…it is worth the trip.