Skip to main content

He loves to pull a cork, I know that!

True Grit

(SPOILERS) In the wake of the Coen Brothers’ version, there isn’t really much need to see this first cinematic go round of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel again. Unless you adore John Wayne. It won him his Best Actor Oscar, of course, but if you came to True Grit cold, with zero knowledge of the background to his receiving the statuette, you’d reasonably be mystified quite how that came to pass.

Rooster: I never shot nobody I didn’t have to.

It wasn’t after all, as if Wayne was popular amongst his Hollywood liberal peers. And he was outright anathema to the burgeoning New Hollywood that could be seen all over his fellow nominees that year – he couldn’t have received much more of a kick in the nuts than the top award going to a movie appropriating the iconography of his esteemed western genre and riddling it with rape, male prostitution and homosexuality! But as Anthony Holden tells it in The Secret History of Hollywood’s Academy Awards, the town’s “sentiment will always favour a local man who has made a very public recovery from apparently terminal cancer”.

Boarder: Watch out for the chicken and dumplings. They’ll hurt your eyes.
LaBouef: How’s that?
Boarder: They’ll hurt your eyes lookin’ for the chicken.

And Wayne isn’t much of anything special in the movie. Sure, he can offer “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”; there’s an abundance of choice dialogue, much straight from the novel, it seems (above); lines like “I always go backward when I’m backing away” are fodder for his easy drawl. But he vaunted this as a character part, rather than playing himself, and the parts where the character are foregrounded tend not to travel so well. His drunk acting isn’t so great (his demijohns are clearly empty, his stuntman doesn’t fall of his horse with aplomb, and he never seems remotely pished).

True Grit has all the style of a ’50s western; unsurprising, since Henry Hathaway was very much of the old-school Hollywood tradition. There’s the occasional observational colour (the old woman smiling merrily to herself at the hanging), but little has much evidence of care or rigour. I doubt very much the picture would have been significantly different had Mia Farrow played Mattie, rather than Kim Darby – Farrow was warned off Hathaway by Robert Mitchum – or had Elvis played La Boeuf instead of Glen Campbell (the King would surely have been a distraction).

There are several new-gen actors in the mix, including Dennis Hopper (who had history with Waynes, John in The Sons of Katie Elder and Patrick in The Young Land) and Robert Duvall (who butted heads with both director and star). They’re villains of course, the latter getting a death scene (“Your partner’s killed you, and I’ve done for him”) after helpfully providing Rooster with all the lowdown he needs. That sequence, had it not been filmed so sloppily by Hathaway, would be quite grisly, featuring as if does stabbing and dismemberment (Hopper’s buddy brings a blade down on his fingers).

Darby is fine, if a little on the performative side; she’s obviously intended to be stroppy, prissy, proper, stubborn and wilful, but she manages to leave out the endearing above all part (Wayne reputedly wasn’t keen on her acting, although she has nothing but nice things to say about him). Her delivery of “And I don’t like the way you’re cutting up that turkey”, aimed at Hopper and his associate, made me smile, though. Campbell wasn’t favoured by Hathaway, who considered him wooden, and it seems Campbell wouldn’t disagree (“I’d never acted in a movie before, and every time I see True Grit, I think my record’s still clean”).

Captain Finch: They’re dead?
Rooster: Well, I wouldn’t want you to bury them if they wasn’t.

I honestly can’t remember if I’d seen this previously – while I’d taken in many of Wayne’s westerns in my formative years, they tend to blur into one. Consequently, I took note of how similar both versions were, a testament to the source material, I guess, but also making Ethan Coen’s justifications for the remake seem a little less robust (the 2010 remake is superior in every respect, barring that the Coens fail to include Rooster’s cat General Sterling Price; they, of course, have experience with less-than-appealing appreciations of the feline – Inside Lewyn Davis – so perhaps it’s as well the General is absent). I was particularly surprised that the chicken man – Harold Parmalee – is a feature of both versions, as I’d have taken him to be an inimitable Coens invention, as much as the bear man.

Hopper and Wayne were both at the Oscars that year (he was nominated for the Easy Rider screenplay, a source of some contention in itself); As Peter Biskind tells it, deranged Dennis was Wayne’s “in-house communist”, whom he would rail at whenever anti-Nam protesting was occurring; Hopper went over to congratulate the screen titan, who had whispered “Beginner’s luck” to Babs Streisand on winning. Wayne also apparently accosted Richard Burton and told him “You should have won”; Burton was a man’s man of, course; I couldn’t see Wayne having suggested the same to louche lush Peter O’Toole or either of the Midnight Cowboys. Apparently, Burton and Wayne then caroused the night away.

Mattie: They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit.

He’d return to Rooster Cogburn in the movie of the same name five years later. The most notable part is that there was still an appetite for such a picture(s); Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid may have been the hit of the year, but True Grit was also in the Top Ten, while other nu-westerns (the previous years’ Once Upon a Time in the West; The Wild Bunch was in the Top Twenty) didn’t make nearly the same waves with audiences, however justifiably legendary their status is now.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

There is a war raging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur.

The X-Files 5.14: The Red and the Black The most noteworthy aspect of this two parter is that it almost – but not quite – causes me to reassess my previous position that the best arc episodes are those that avoid tackling the greater narrative head-on, attempting to advance the resistant behemoth. It may be less than scintillating as far as concepts go, but the alien resistance plot is set out quite clearly here, as are the responses to it from the main players.