DVD Review: True Grit (Special Collector's Edition)
Release Date: May 22, 2007
· Henry Hathaway
· John Wayne
· Glen Campbell
· Kim Darby
· Jeremy Slate
· Robert Duvall
· IMDb: True Grit
by Paul Schultz
Published: May 23, 2007
John Wayne would have celebrated his 100th birthday on May 26th, but since the Duke won't be featured on Willard Scott's Smucker's jar, we'll have to content ourselves with this Special Collector's Edition of "True Grit". The 1969 Western earned Wayne an Academy Award, but after watching this movie, I have to conclude that it was one of those "career Oscar" things that they give out to outstanding actors a few films after their true crowning cinematic achievement as some sort of longevity prize. I don't mean to say that his performance wasn't worthy -- it most assuredly is -- but I wouldn't consider it his "best". And "True Grit" is certainly not the film I expected it to be, with quirky frontier language delivering frequent humor to the simple Western tale.
Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, "True Grit" begins on a post-Civil War Arkansas ranch with Frank Ross (John Pickard) embarking on a business trip to buy breeding horses. His young daughter Mattie (Kim Darby) -- an aspiring accountant -- sends her father off with the necessary spending money. Ranch hand Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) is along for the journey and upon arrival in Fort Smith, he gets into gambling trouble at the local saloon. Frank tries to diffuse the situation and in the heat of the moment Chaney shoots him dead. Then robs him.
Mattie soon shows up to retrieve her father's body, and to see what's being done about finding his murderer. The overwhelming answer is, "not much," so young Mattie looks for a man with "true grit" to track Chaney down and encounters federal marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn (John Wayne). The overweight, alcoholic lawman with an eye patch is downright ornery, but has a reputation as the meanest, most determined marshal in the state. Mattie learns that Chaney is hiding in Indian Territory with "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and his gang. She "hires" Cogburn to bring him to justice.
In the twilight of his career, John Wayne
was finally awarded a much-deserved
Oscar for his portrayal of the drunken,
slovenly, and merciless one-eyed federal
marshal Rooster Cogburn.
Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) comes on the scene just before the enterprise commences, with the news that he's also on the trail of Chaney, who's wanted in Texas for the murder of a state senator (and his dog). He naturally thinks a joint venture will do the job, but Mattie's not about to let her money go to waste on such a proposition. Their first encounter is a beautiful example of how very funny "True Grit" can be (La Boeuf: "I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt." Mattie: "One would be as bad as the other.").
When La Boeuf mentions to Cogburn that there's a reward for Chaney's capture, the two do join forces. Young Ms. Ross tries to tag along, but the men ditch her. Mattie follows them into Indian Territory, where her persistence is rewarded by inclusion in the group.
Seeking shelter in a ramshackle cabin by a river, the new trio stumbles upon two of Ned's gang holed up there. Here is where the film's "G" rating is really called into question (though the included theatrical trailer gives it a mature rating). The wily marshal gets the two bandits to turn on each other, and Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) whacks off Moon's (Dennis Hopper) fingers, and I swear you see them fly across the room. Before the "did-I-see-what-I-think-I-just-saw" feeling wears off, Moon violently stabs Quincy to death before succumbing to his own injuries.
The inevitable showdown with "Lucky" Ned Pepper's gang has tragic results for one of our heroes, and climaxes with the iconic scene of Cogburn bellowing, "Fill your hands, you sons'a bitches!" as he charges them with a rifle in one hand, a pistol in the other, and the horse's reins in his mouth.
Though he still fills the screen with his presence, Wayne comes across as much a character actor as a larger-than-life gunslinger. He brings just the right blend of bravado and farce. It took me a while to appreciate Darby's portrayal of the headstrong Mattie, but her spirited performance leavens Wayne's stoicism. And then there's Glen Campbell. This was his first screen appearance and, boy, you could really tell it by his awkward acting. It wasn't so bad as to ruin the story, but you sure had that, "First time in front of the camera, mate?" thought running through your head as you watched him.
"True Grit" was on the cusp of Westerns mixing traditional tales with modern themes, and sports a unique cast chemistry. Fans of the Duke will appreciate this new transfer and audio mix of his award-winning performance. Wayne donned the eye patch again to reprise his role in 1975's "Rooster Cogburn (...and the Lady)" co-starring the irrepressible Katherine Hepburn.
This re-release contains bonus content not found when it originally debuted on DVD back in 2000. Included is Commentary by Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Boze Bell and J. Stuart Rosebrook which is loaded to the gills with information from these film historians with experience within the western genre. They seems to be a tad bit in awe of the film and expound significance to it that is not readily apparent to this reviewer. True Writing (4:30) discusses the transition from book to film and concerns about "Communist" Marguerite Roberts writing the screenplay. Working With The Duke (10:00) reminisces with cast members who aren't named Dennis Hopper or Robert Duvall. Aspen Gold: The Locations of True Grit (10:00) points out areas in and around Ridgeway, Colorado that were utilized for filming (and haven't changed much in over 35 years). The Law And The Lawless (5:45) is an amusing educational piece on the hierarchy of law in the Old West and the importance of picking a cool name if you're going to be a bad guy. Rounding out the extras are the original theatrical trailer and a preview of The John Wayne DVD Collection.