Film Review: True Grit (1969)
In 1969, Henry Hathaway released True Grit, based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis . Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin and John Fiedler, the film grossed $31 million at the box office.
After Tom Chaney murder’s Frank Ross, Ross’ daughter Mattie hires Marshal Rooster Cogburn to bring him in. Along the way, they are joined by Texas Ranger, La Boeuf.
One of those westerns that comes to mind when thinking of films from the genre, True Grit is a good and entertaining film, especially in how it treats its characters. Mattie herself is quite an interesting character as she’s a young girl who really shouldn’t be after revenge, which is something Rooster knows and tries to get her to see before allowing Mattie to come along. However, this just shows how determined Mattie is to find and bring Chaney in as she knows that Rooster disapproves and knows the dangers she'll be facing by going with him, but ignores decides to face them in order to avenge her father. Throughout the film, she’s overcoming her fears and growing as a person, even finding that Rooster isn’t as brash as he initially came across. At the same time though, she’s still a kid and that shines through at points, like when she suggests the trio play a game to pass the time or cheering Rooster on. One notable moment when Mattie's innocence and lack of experience are displayed is when she comes face to face with Chaney. She's unthinking and headstrong when the two discover each other and acts more capable than she actually is, demonstrated in the surprise seen when the gun goes off. Her innocence, and the loss thereof as the film plays out is quite believable and Darby’s acting helped make it believable.
Then there’s everyone’s favorite drunk marshal: Rooster. It’s been said that John Wayne is always recognizable character because John Wayne always plays himself and here, he's really no different as the authority figure with a gruff exterior and checkered past considering his reputation as a marshal and what he did before becoming one. This helps to bolster his reputation as the "meanest" marshal available, which is why Mattie sought him out in the first place. Still though, as the film plays out, it's shown that he may act like a jerk and has more than a few edges about him, but deep down, he's really and truly good. At first, his good side comes off pretty mean as he states that he doesn't want Mattie to tag along because he knows that she’d be a bit of a load and that bringing Chaney in would be quite dangerous. Yet, this is the first instance of the film showing that he cares about her well-being. Throughout the film, he’s shown as actually caring about her and warming up to her, going to great lengths to get her help after she’s bitten by a snake, even stealing a makeshift carriage, and bets Mattie’s lawyer that she actually would recover from the snakebite.
As the villain, Tom Chaney is very unlike many western villains. He’s just a stupid drunk that’s going through life with no real plan other than going along with Ned Pepper, who’s actually more intelligent and charismatic, though that doesn't stop them from getting shot by Rooster. Corey also has some good acting that really makes the character pathetic and funny at times, especially in his reaction to Mattie shooting him.
Speaking of Pepper, it's notable that he's just an outlaw that's been dragged into Chaney's problems. He may be an infamous gang leader who's had history with Rooster, but none of the film's events are his doing. Rather, Pepper is seen as being pretty upset that Chaney got him involved in the film's manhunt.
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Awards & Recognitions
bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Wayne)
- Best Music, Original Song ("True Grit")
- Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Kim Darby)
Golden Globe Awards
- Best Actor - Drama (John Wayne)
- Most Promising Newcomer - Male (Glen Campbell)
- Best Original Song ("True Grit")
- General Entertainment
- Action Performance
- Third Place - Male New Face (Glen Campbell)
- Third Palce - Female New Face (Kim Darby)
National Board of Review, USA Awards
- Top Ten Films
Western Heritage Bronze Wrangler Awards
- Theatrical Motion Picture
Writers Guild of America, USA Awards
- Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium