Tuesday, December 14, 2010

True Grit (1969)

Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby
Directed by Henry Hathaway

The Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" will be coming out in theaters shortly and I hope to be able to see it (and possibly review it for this site). In the meantime, since I try to make it a habit to see the original films first, I decided to check out 1969's "True Grit", starring the legendary John Wayne. So how does this classic hold up? Well, let's just say that the Coens should feel free to make improvements on it, because that is what this film badly needs.

Based upon the novel of the same name by Charles Portis (no, I am not reading the book as well; there is all some much I can do to judge one story), the movie starts off at the home of a young girl named Mattie Ross, played by Kim Darby. Mattie is the main reason why I ultimately did not like this film. First of all, take a look at her:
[Insert lesbian/Justin Bieber haircut joke here]

Okay, looks aside, her character is awful! All she does is complain and boss people around, not so much in a bitchy way, but in a way that comes across as really uptight and overly precocious, like a little kid who thinks that she is always in the right and that anyone who disagrees with her is somehow not thinking properly and is uncivilized. To make matters worse, Darby simply cannot act; she reads her lines (keyword being "reads") in a monotone voice that has no conviction in it at all. Well, at least she got better as her career progressed and she did not end up playing a put-upon mother in a crappy "Halloween" squeal, right?.....right? (http://docuniverse.blogspot.com/2010/05/review-halloween-curse-of-michael-myers.html)

Anyway, she soon learns that her father has been killed by a man named Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) whom the family was looking out for (no, he is not related to Dick Cheney, though that would be fun, wouldn't it?). She travels into town, acting overly precocious to everyone she meets, before she eventually converses with the Duke himself. And guess what?! He plays a cowboy in this movie! But this is not like the other cowboys that Wayne has played in the past. This one has an eyepatch. Don't you love diversity?! Okay, to be technical about it, he actually plays a deputy U.S. Marshall named Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn, an abrasive alcoholic who has a tendency to kill the fugitives he hunts. Hey, I am starting to like this movie now! Mattie decides that he is the right man for the job to track down Chaney. Cogburn is uninterested at first, but after getting some compensation and the promise to settle an old score with another outlaw, he agrees. They are joined by a Texas Ranger named Le Boeuf (singer Glen Campbell), and no, he has no connection to Shia LaBeouf...thank god. Granted, Le Boeuf is mildly annoying at the beginning, but he ends up getting really pissed off with Mattie, so I found a soft spot for him, even though that is a little unfair given that every character gets rightfully pissed off with Mattie at some point or another.

Besides Mattie, my other problem with this movie is that nothing really happens in it. There are these scenes of Mattie arguing with a guy (Strother Martin) in order to get him to pay her money which could have been done off-screen. Along with this, the first half of the film mostly consists of the three main characters negotiating prices with one another, Mattie acting annoying, and Cogburn and La Boeuf butting heads with one another, though Cogburn seems to dismiss his younger traveling companion for the most part. I can't really blame him; it's not really a contest when you have the official "Man" of cinema going against a country music singer who looks and talks less like Chuck Norris and more like Jon Voight's Joe Buck character from "Midnight Cowboy" (strangely, both this movie and "Grit" were released in the same year; coincidence?). My point being is that there is little action and the dialogue between the characters is for the most part disengaging.

The second half of the film improves a little bit, but not much. They finally find Chaney (shock, he is annoying as well), along with the posse that he was seeking refuge with, lead by the outlaw that Cogburn was looking for named Ned Pepper, played by a young Robert Duvall. I...don't get Duvall's character in this movie. He is built up as this really dangerous outlaw, but when we see him, he seems more like a negotiator than a deadly enemy. God damn, why does everyone keep negotiating in this film! It's a John Wayne movie, somebody shoot someone! Eventually, there actually is a big shootout between Cogburn and Pepper's posse. I admit that it is pretty fun...it also comes across as illogical and recklessly dangerous, but still fun. The rest of the film deals with plot holes and a rattlesnake and some other stuff that I will not bother going into.

There were some parts of the film I liked. The visuals are nice-looking and Elmer Bernstein's main theme is reminiscent of his earlier work in The Magnificent Seven, which if you have ever heard will know that it is awesome. And despite everything I have already mentioned, I also liked John Wayne. True, Cogburn is not that much different from some of the other characters he has played in the past, but this one somehow appears to be more charming and upbeat. It might be perhaps that Wayne was at the point in his career where he knew what the audience had come to expect from him, and he had learned enough to know how to do it. I also like his last scene in the movie...mmm I will keep quite about it in case you still want to see it for some reason. It is therefore unfortunate that this good performance has to be pigeonholed into this disappointment of a movie.

So is this a bad movie? I wouldn't go that far. I would just say that it is a mediocre one. There are some elements that work, but the lame supporting characters and a slow plot combine to make it so that even the Duke cannot save the picture. Obviously, this is a supposed to be a classic and a lot of people have a great deal of respect for it or are interested in seeing it, which is fine, but if you are only a causal film fan, I do not recommend it. Coen Brothers, your turn. You already disappointed me with your own "classic" (I recently watched the overrated "Miller's Crossing"), so you better make this new version of "Grit" a more enjoyable experience than the original was able to offer.

P.S. By the way, for those of you who are frequent visitors of this site, you will be horrified to know that Dennis Hopper is in this film as well. Wow, he really did used to show up everywhere! That being said, he is only on screen for about five minutes or so, during which he complains about being shot in the leg and rats out Ned and his posse before he gets his fingers chopped off and stabbed, dying from his wounds not long afterward. Was he the real reason the picture failed? Sure, why not? Better than having to complain about Mattie all the freakin' time!