“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
“Fill your hands you son of a bitch!”
“True Grit” is quite simply just a heck of a fun movie to watch. It was released only one year after Charles Portis’ book by the same name and close to the end of John Wayne’s long career.
Mattie Ross, a sheltered but extremely bright and self-confident 14-year-old, hires a crotchety, old, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), to help track down her father’s killer, Tom Chaney. Cogburn is said to have “true grit,” but the same can be said about Mattie. They hook up with a Texas Ranger, La Boeuf, who is tracking the same killer, and the three of them venture into Indian territory.
Cogburn and La Boeuf are forced to kill several outlaws and horse thieves, something Cogburn has been doing with regularity for years. Cogburn and La Boeuf grow to have a grudging respect for each other and both come to love “baby sister” Mattie.
The climactic gun battle, when Cogburn stands alone in an open meadow against Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang, has become a Western movie icon.
John Wayne won an Academy Award (his only one) for best actor in a leading role as Rooster Cogburn (a role he played again in the 1975 movie “Rooster Cogburn”). Glen Campbell made his acting debut as La Boeuf (we never do learn his first name). Kim Darby, in her best-known role, played Mattie Ross, and Robert Duvall was Ned Pepper, a role that launched his movie career. Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin also had memorable roles.
Marguerite Roberts wrote what Wayne called the best script he had ever read, and the movie was directed by the cantankerous Henry Hathaway. Hal B. Wallis produced “True Grit.”
When the 2010 remake of “True Grit” came out, there was, not surprisingly, a renewed interest in the 1969 original. I was fortunate enough to attend a special screening of the original where Kim Darby spoke with the audience before the showing and met with us afterward. Darby was 21 years old when she played 14-year-old Mattie Ross and explained that filming the movie was tough, since she had an infant daughter she was nursing in between takes and filed for divorce from James Stacy during the making of the film.
She shared some off-camera stories about the struggles between the various personalities involved in making “True Grit” and pointed out some mistakes that showed up in the movie, her favorite being when she rides out of the river while following Rooster and La Boeuf into Indian territory and emerges with her clothes bone dry.
John Wayne did none of the riding as his character races across the meadow to take on Ned Pepper and his gang in what is probably the most famous scene in the movie. The close-up of Wayne is him riding a trailer, not a horse.
However, at the end of the movie, after Mattie (lovingly) tells him he’s too old and too fat to be jumping, Wayne, without a stuntman, waves his hat, says, “Well, come see a fat old man sometime” and jumps a four-rail fence.