Saturday, January 8, 2011

True Grit (1969)

Director: Henry Hathaway

Starring: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The strangest trio ever to track a killer.

Plot: A drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger help a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer in Indian territory.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yeah.

Having watched the 2010 remake a few days ago, I was in the mood to check out the original that's been on my "to watch" list for more than twenty years. I was very surprised at how much the remake retained from this (and I presume the novel). The biggest difference was just the tone. Being a John Wayne horse opera, this isn't going to be as gritty as a Spaghetti Western but that doesn't mean it's going to be a kiddie matinee, either. The remake is darker but I was surprised at the places the original was allowed to go like the scene where the trio come upon Moon (played wonderfully by Hopper) and Emmett (Slate) at the cabin. The remake has a grisly scene involving someone losing some fingers before being stabbed to death. I thought for sure there was no way that was in the original but I was completely wrong. It's cringe-inducing watching it now. I can just imagine how audiences took to it forty years ago.

Strother Martin was delightful as Col. Stonehill, the man Mattie (Darby) does some horsetrading with. I prefer his scenes to the remake's equivalent. Kim Darby did a wonderful job as Mattie and I was taken aback when someone pointed out she was John Cusack's mom in BETTER OFF DEAD (1985). I felt silly for not spotting it sooner. John Wayne was great as always and it made me realize that he was a better actor than most naysayers give him credit for. Did he deserve an Oscar for this role? I'm not too sure about that but he was very good, especially during the scenes where he was drunk. But that's like saying Courtney Love was really good at playing a crack whore in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996). You'd be good at playing a crack whore, too, if you had years of practice at it. Same with Wayne. I'm not trying to discount his performance but the man did like to hit the sauce.

The weakest role was Campbell. He wasn't bad but he wasn't particularly good, at least consistently. Some of his, and others', line readings didn't feel natural. You could tell they were acting if that makes any sense to anyone but me. Elmer Bernstein's fine score was more lively and adventurous than I would have hoped for, especially when it harkened back to his rousing score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960). Overall, though, I really enjoyed this one even though the remake edges it out as a more consistent film and true to the overall theme. Great. Now I can't get THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme out of my head. Damn, you Elmer Bernstein!

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