Wednesday, 2 January 2019

True Grit (1969)

 Director: Henry Hathaway

If you are going to make a Western called "True Grit" it seems impossible you would cast anyone other than John Wayne in the lead role. Perseverance, or stubbornness, is a trait shared by many of the characters he played: Ethan Edwards in The Searchers immediately springs to mind. Here he plays "Rooster" Cogburn, hired by Mattie Ross to avenge the murder of her father by one of his workers. As with many of Wayne's roles, his steeliness of resolve is contrasted with the tender feelings he develops towards Mattie, becoming a father-figure for the fatherless teenager.

The film as a whole is entertaining and really well acted. Wayne is clearly enjoying the material, and he reportedly loved the script for the film. It is certainly a meaty role for him. Kim Darby is energetic in her portrayal of Mattie; one could argue she has the most "grit" of any of the characters. The scene where she haggles of the buying and selling of horses is good fun. The cinematography is lovely, along with the Colorado geography, despite it being set in Arkansas and Oklahoma (though being Australian I didn't notice the difference).

The only glaring flaw in the film is its pacing. It takes a long time for Cogburn, Mattie and La Boeuf to set out on their journey, with much discussion about who will and will not go. This doesn't really build tension, as you know who the three people going will be, and it just delays the inevitable. I imagine the remake is more economical in its first act.

While there is nothing ground-breaking in True Grit, it is a solid, well-made Western that has a rather sweet ending. It is hard not to enjoy a film where all the elements - writing, acting, directing, cinematography - are so good. It will be interesting to compare to the Coen Brothers' version.


  1. It's a fine movie, tailor-made for Wayne to win the Oscar he should have for The Searchers or possible The Quiet Man.

    Still, it's one of those rare cases where I like the sequel better.

    1. I'll definitely see the remake at some point. While this is good, I can see how it could be improved, particularly in the pacing of the story.

      It sometimes feels like the Academy is a couple of years behind everyone else when it comes to recognising great films and performances. It is not always their fault, and sometimes they do see it (hello Casablanca), but so much of it is based on who is best at wining and dining voters.

  2. I've still only seen the 2010 remake. I wonder if I'll be able to enjoy the original, because most people seem to claim that the remake is better.