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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

True Grit (1969) - Western

True Grit (1969) - There is no doubt that for baby boomers there is not a star bigger than John Wayne. An icon of THE American genre of film, The Western, Wanye appeared in dozens of them. When not doing a western he was a soldier in some of the most pro military films in history. One can not review the film True Grit without recognizing that Wayne was bigger than the film. He was aging and a bit fat but still able to command the screen like no other cowboy star of his generation. That is why it was so surprising to see how little Kim Darby as Mattie Ross carried this film. She was strong and determined and holds her own with Wayne in every scene. Along for the ride is singer Glenn Campbell as La Beouf a Texas Ranger with a similar goal, he is there for tension reasons.
The script by Marguerite Roberts a blacklisted writer who saw his script made because of the pull John Wayne had at the time. He could get the script made he could not get Karen Carpenter cast as Mattie Ross, instead Kim Darby who he did not like got to over act the part. Its funny because Wayne probably did not get an Oscar for this role because critics saw him as over the top and over acting. Still the film got made and was a pretty big box office success.
The story is that Mattie's father while away on business is shot dead by his hired help Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), then Chaney heads out into Indian Territory to get away from the law. Mattie arrives in the town a determined young women to settle her father's affairs and get the law to go after Chaney and bring him to justice. We really get to see her character developed as a too young girl with determination beyond her years. She handles her interactions as an adult would, and when the local Sheriff makes it clear he can't touch Chaney in the territories she finds Cogburn to be her hunter.
He is a Federal Marshall in the area a drunk and a mean bastard. He initially declines to help but after she offers reward money he agrees to go. The tension between then is that he doesn't like this young filly being so pushy and insisting she can go along. It is made clear she wants to see Chaney hanged and does not want to leave it to others to do it without her. La Beouf comes into the picture trying to join them because he is looking for Chaney for another crime, shooting a Senator in Texas. Cogburn allows him along but not without a bit of banter with him for being a Texan.
The dynamic between Mattie and La Beouf is interesting. In the rooming house she was staying , she wakes to find him in her room and he mentions almost stealing a kiss while she slept but that she may be too young. Definitely a bit of sexual innuendo that did not go unnoticed. A second incident when he spanks her only to be stopped by Cogburn saying "You look like you're enjoying that too much." confirmed the idea, even to the MPAA who originally rated the film "M" only to later change it to PG.
So the dynamics are set with the main tensions between the triangle of character driving the somewhat boring riding scenes. Cut into that are conflicts with outlaws here and there in which Cogburn and La Beouf have no qualms about killing with little reason. In the days of this film Eastwood had yet to push his cowboy with a conscience (Unforgiven) Here the bad guys are bad and dead or alive usually means dead. The story of revenge never gets past that and you can guess the outcome but I am sure not how they get there.
Chaney is hold up doing crime with a local scum bag Ned Pepper (wonderfully underplayed by Robert Duvall), and when they get there hands on Mattie, completely through bad luck on her part it is up to Rooster and the Texan to save her. Not to ruin this review with spoilers or that of the remake I will not go on about how they get it done or who gets who. Instead I will say that it is a shame they did not get past the revenge theme to show how it changes those involved. The other drawback I saw was the annoying dynamic mentioned earlier. I loved the epic scene with Wayne doing what he did so many times in these type of movies.
Rating (5.0) 5.0 and up are recommended, In the Zombiegrrlz system I say RENT IT!

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