In 1969, I went to see John Wayne in a new western film. He was 62 at the time, but looked older and craggier than ever. The film was called ‘True Grit’, and starred Wayne as a grumpy drunken sheriff, Rooster Cogburn. He has a great reputation in the territory, and always brings in the hardest and toughest criminals. When Frank Ross is murdered by his hired hand, Frank’s daughter Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) travels to find Rooster, wishing to hire him to find and arrest her father’s killer, Tom Chaney. She has chosen Rooster, as she believes him to be a man who has ‘true grit’.
Chaney is hiding out with the gang of outlaw Ned Pepper, (Robert Duvall) and Mattie insists on accompanying Rooster on the search. The pair are joined by the affable LaBouef, (Glen Campbell) a Texas Ranger who is also hunting Chaney. They head out to look for the gang, but as they close in on them, Mattie is captured by Ned Pepper, and Rooster and LaBouef must save her.
This was a lot of fun. Wayne doesn’t take himself seriously as Rooster, and we are all in on the jokes. Kim Darby is perfectly cast as the feisty Mattie, prim and proper, and full of fight. Glen Campbell is surprisingly good too, considering he was best known as a country and western singer. Then there is the flawless supporting cast, including the already mentioned Duvall, as well as Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Corey. The ending is not pat and comfortable, and the action is believable. This was an immensely satisfying film, in every respect. And John Wayne won an Oscar for his performance too.
Anyone who reads and writes about films will tell you that you are not allowed to say anything bad about the Coen brothers. They are lauded from ocean to ocean as the modern-day wonders of American cinema. I like a lot of their films, and agree that some are excellent indeed. But I am about to say something bad about them, so look away.
In 2010, they made their version of ‘True Grit’. Not a remake, it was claimed at the time, but a different adaptation of the original book. It starred Jeff Bridges as Rooster, Matt Damon as LaBouef, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Josh Brolin was Tom Chaney, and Barry Pepper played Ned Pepper. (No relation) It is a darker film, with a few slight changes to the original, and a slightly extended end sequence. The cast play their parts well, but much of the humour is lost in the process, and Hailee is no Kim Darby when it comes to playing Mattie Ross, as well as looking too child-like. So, it was a remake, and a pointless one at that.
In my opinion, The Coens should have stuck to what they do best.