True Grit (1969)
Release year: 1969
Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenwriter: Marguerite Roberts, Charles Portis (Novel)
Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Actor (John Wayne). 1 Oscar nomination: Best Song. 1 Golden Globe: Best Picture Drama
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #12, week 35 2014
Strong-willed teenager Mattie Ross’s father is gunned down by the coward Tom Chaney. Bend on bringing her father’s killer to justice, she hires Rooster Cogburn to bring him back, a man said to have true grit. To see that she gets her money’s worth, Mattie follows Rooster, much to his dismay. They are joined by the inexperienced Texas Ranger La Boeuf.
Henry Hathaway’s classic western came fresh off the publication of Charles Portis’s sucessful 1968 source novel and the result is an entertaining and mostly faithful adaptation. The studio brought out the big gun by casting the iconic John Wayne (The Searchers 1956) to play the (in some sense) title character. Wayne was rewarded for his brilliant portrayal of the drunken Rooster Cogburn with his only Oscar. Wayne’s gravelly, slow way of talking, tall stature, and screen charisma makes for an excellent and compelling Rooster, and he steals most scenes he’s in. Mattie Ross is played by Kim Darby (Don’t Be Afraif of the Dark 1973), who at 22 years old was 8 years older than the character she plays. This of course shows, although they have done their best to make her look younger with a (perhaps ill-advised) hair cut. She is feisty, if not particularly amazing. They are supported by the irritating La Boeuf, and the general chemistry between the three of them is somewhat lukewarm. Luckily, Wayne has enough charm to carry the movie on his own broad shoulders. Although set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie is shot in Colarado and the scenery is absolutely stunning, although it benefits little from the score. A young Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now 1979) is the main villain (not Tom Chaney, but Ned Pepper, the gang leader that Chaney travels with) and is as always great. Keep your eyes peeled for a very young and long-haired Dennis Hopper as the young outlaw known as Moon. Despite a few changes to the ending, True Grit is quite faithful to the tone and plot of its source novel, using many of the original (and excellent) lines. True Grit is the sort of western that can be recommended to people who do not normally like westerns. It is as much an adventure story, or a light-hearted historical drama. If nothing else, then watch it for John Wayne.
Elvis Presley was considered for the part of La Boeuf, but did not get the part when his manager insisted that he receive top billing. The part went to the singer Glen Campbell, according to director Henry Hathaway so that he could help promote the film by singing the movie’s title song. Hathaway was very displeased with Campbell’s performance, which he thought was wooden.
The chemistry between Kim Darby and John Wayne was ice cold and they hardly spoke off camera, John Wayne later call her ”the goddamned lousiest actress I ever worked with”. Wayne disliked her because he thought she acted unprofessionally on set and he had wanted the singer Karen Carpenter to play the part.
Other actresses up for the part of Mattie Ross included Sally Fields and Mia Farrow, who turned it down because she had heard the the director Henry Hathaway was impossible to work with. She later called it one of the biggest mistakes of her career.