US Release Date: 06-11-1969
Directed by: Henry Hathaway
- John Wayne, as
- Marshall Reuben J. Rooster Cogburn
- Glen Campbell, as
- La Boeuf
- Kim Darby, as
- Mattie Ross
- Jeremy Slate, as
- Emmett Quincy
- Robert Duvall, as
- Ned Pepper
- Dennis Hopper, as
- Alfred Ryder, as
- Mr. Goudy
- Strother Martin, as
- Colonel G. Stonehill
- Jeff Corey, as
- Tom Chaney
- Ron Soble, as
- Capt. Boots Finch
- John Fiedler, as
- Lawyer Daggett
- James Westerfield, as
- Judge Parker
- Connie Sawyer as
- Talkative woman at hanging
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn right before his famous shootout on horseback.
True Grit was the movie where John Wayne introduced his most famous fictional screen character. The role of the grizzled, one-eyed, Marshall Reuben J. Cogburn earned Wayne his one and only Academy Award. He reprised the character and went toe to toe with Katharine Hepburn a few years later in Rooster Cogburn. Wayne plays the part with relish. His Rooster is a cantankerous, drunken slob who is also a larger-than-life hero and one tough sum-bitch. In a cast that includes Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, the Duke towers over everyone and shows them what a star looks like.
Kim Darby plays Mattie Ross, the spunky teenaged daughter of a wealthy man who gets murdered. She hires Rooster Cogburn to help her track down the killer. They are joined by a Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell) in pursuit of the same man for another crime. Along the way the three of them develop an unusual but genuine camaraderie.
The climax involves Mattie falling into a snake pit and Rooster Cogburn single-handedly taking on several members of Ned Pepper's gang on horseback. This is the movies’ most famous scene. Wayne shouts “Fill your hands you son of a bitch!” then puts the reins between his teeth and gallops toward the enemy with guns blazing from both hands. Not exactly believable but it’s the stuff of legend.
Barbra Streisand presented John Wayne with his Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970. She had won the previous year for her very first movie role in Funny Girl. It took Wayne a bit longer. True Grit was his 135th movie. Appropriately enough he purportedly whispered “beginners luck” to Barbra as they exited the stage together.
One reason for Wayne’s longevity as a hugely popular movie star was the fact that he changed with the times. In terms of graphic violence and gore True Grit falls on the modern side of the Hollywood mountain. We see plenty of the red stuff and in one particularly gruesome scene Dennis Hopper gets his fingers cut off with a knife.
True Grit is what a great western should be; a fast-paced action story set in the great American outdoors with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Oh yeah, and John Wayne never hurt.
John Wayne and Kim Darby in True Grit.
John Wayne is good as Rooster Cogburn. Hell, he's great in the part. It's practically written for him and it suits him right down to the ground. However, clearly the Oscar he received was for his lengthy and prolific career and not exclusively for this role. I mean, I loved him in this part, but I'd have given the Oscar to Dustin Hoffman for Midnight Cowboy over him, if we're basing the award on just their individual performances and not their careers to that point.
As good as Wayne is and as tall as he towers, little Kim Darby manages to avoid standing in his shadow and nearly steals the movie as Mattie, particularly in the first half. She has spunk and gumption to spare. Some of the best scenes are her getting her way and demanding her rights, all backed up by mention of her high-powered lawyer, J. Noble Daggett. She deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance as much as Wayne did for his. What's even more surprising to me is that her career never really went anywhere after this movie, just a few small appearances here and there. The other thing that struck me about her (although it was my wife who first noticed it), is just how much Justin Beiber stole his look from her.
Although Wayne is good and Darby is good, in their scenes together they are both fantastic. He refers to her as "little sister" and they do share a familial bond. They have a great and often comic chemistry together. Her fiery indignation is tempered by his drunken humor.
Campbell is the weak link of the cast. He's not that good of an actor and some of his scenes with Mattie are a bit awkward. While Darby was 21, she's playing a 14 year old and he talks about stealing a kiss from her and later spanks her with a twig, which causes Rooster Cogburn to comment that it looked like he was enjoying it too much.
Actually Patrick, part of what makes Rooster Cogburn such a good character is that he's not a clear cut good guy. It's implied that he was a part of Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War. He's a drunkard. He's a mercenary who's willing to sell his services for money. And when it's time to capture some of the bad guys, his plan involves shooting them in the back as they walk into a house. He is a good guy, but he's no saint.
This is a great Western with a couple of superb performances, some good action and a lot of humor. Hell, maybe Wayne did deserve the Oscar after all. If you base it on pure entertainment, he certainly did.
Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!
Patrick mentioned the violence and gore. When True Grit was first submitted for rating, the MPAA gave it an "M" for mature. It had to be re-edited to get a "G" rating. I wonder if the "M" scenes still exist somewhere?
Scott wrote that Wayne and Darby are good together and I agree. Supposedly Wayne could not stand Darby, stating, "She was the goddamn lousiest actress I ever worked with." The real life friction may have helped, as their characters are often at odds. After Rooster tells her he spent her money she yells, "You sorry piece of trash!" Later he yells at her, "I ought to paddle your rump!"
The casting of Mattie was not easy. After initially reading the script, Wayne wanted his daughter to play the part. Sally Fields actively campaigned for the role. Tuesday Welds, Sandra Locke and Mia Farrow all turned it down. The oddest choice came when Wayne met Karen Carpenter at a college show and asked her to read for the role. She was not the only singer considered for a part. Colonel Tom Parker reportedly had Elvis Presley turn down the part of Le Boeuf as it was not the starring role.
Darby was 22 years old playing a 14 year old. She has a hairstyle that no girl or woman would have had when this film takes place. She comes across as a young boy some of the time and a young lady in others, but never did I think of her as 14.
The film wants it both ways, having Mattie be a precocious child and a love interest. When she and Le Boeuf first see each other she stares at him and he asks her name. Moments later a woman comments to Mattie that Le Boeuf is good looking. The film makers have her made up to be a-sexual but Le Boeuf flirts with her none-the-less, "A little earlier I gave some thought to Stealing a kiss from you." The film hits a real question mark when Le Boeuf spanks a 14 year old girl he finds attractive.
The movie belongs to Wayne and he makes it all that it is. He has the greatest lines, "Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?" He describes his whiskey as, "Genuine, double-rectified bust head. Aged in the keg." Sure Dustin Hoffman may have played a more dramatic role in Midnight Cowboy, but Rooster Cogburn has become the stuff of legend.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1969)