Flashback Review: True Grit

true grit 1969 one sheetWIth the impending release of the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit (starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld), it seemed like a good time to go back and watch the original 1969 True Grit, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell.

The wrinkle: I am not a fan of John Wayne and find that he played the same gruff bully in just about every film I’ve seen of his. Further, while I always think that I should like Westerns, with their stark morality and simplistic stories, I can’t say it’s one of my favorite genres. Still, I think that to appreciate a remake it’s important to be familiar with the original work, and so I slipped the Academy Award winning film into the DVD player and pushed play.
To my surprise, I really liked the story, the actors, and the film.
True Grit is about teen Mattie Ross (an appealing, tough Kim Darby) who is determined to see justice for the murder of her father by ne’er do well ranch hand Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). When the sheriff proves unwilling to venture into Indian territory to pursue him, she hires tough-as-nails marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to track him down and bring him back for justice. Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) tags along with his own motives: he’s been promised a lucrative reward for bringing Chaney to justice for an earlier crime back in Texas.
The three of them make an unlikely band of bounty hunters, and when they find that Chaney has taken up with the Pepper gang (Robert Duvall in an early role), the situation gets considerably more tense: Chaney’s a simpleton but Pepper is wily and well aware of the dangers and opportunities that the Indian territory presents. Also keep an eye out for Dennis Hopper as the gawky outlaw Moon.
What most appealed to me about True Grit was that the characters were believable and sympathetic, even as each wrestled with their own demons and limitations. In particular, Darby is a standout as the tough, logical and mature girl Mattie, who stands down ruffians and shows no fear, at least outward. It’s also clear why Wayne won the Academy for Best Actor for his role in this film: he’s brilliant as the rough, aggressive, antisocial Cogburn who gradually warms up to Mattie and becomes her champion on the quest for justice.
If you haven’t seen the original True Grit, I’ll recommend it to you: it’s well worth a viewing, whether or not you’re planning on seeing the Coen Brothers remake. Now to catch some of John Wayne’s other works…

4 thoughts on “Flashback Review: True Grit

  1. Steve Oatney

    Wow, I feel the same way about Wayne, and have yet to see one of his films, in its entirety. Your review may actually sway me to add a John Wayne flick, or two, to my Netflix queue! Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Warren

    Try “The Searchers,” in which Wayne plays a racist tracker whose seven-year mission to rescue a kidnapped white girl (a very young Natalie Wood) from Indians makes him confront his own demons. After shooting the film, John Ford remarked, “I didn’t know he could act!” He’s absolutely great in the film.

    Reply
  3. Paul Chaney

    I am a devout John Wayne fan, so I was as drawn to True Grit as I was to any of his other films. Like you, Dave, I recommend to anyone planning on seeing the Coen Brother’s version see the 1969 edition first. It will make for a richer experience and, I think, add context.

    Reply
  4. Cinema Dave

    Glad you are finding value in John Wayne movies, better late than never!

    The reason why John Wayne movies endure is because, despite the violence, there are so life affirming.

    If one looks at the subtext of “The Shootist,” it is the story of a dying man. In author Glendon Swarthout’s novel, “The Shootist” is gloom and doom. With the Duke’s involvement, “The Shootist” presents valuable life lessons to a new generation, symbolized by young Ronny Howard.

    Reply

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