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True Grit (1969)

December 23, 2010

6/10 Dead-Eye Dukes

Not quite the badass manhunt I thought it would be, but a decent Western all the same.

True Grit is about a feisty teenage girl who hires an alcoholic, one-eyed marshal to help her track down the low-down, dirty sonofabitch who killed her father in cold blood. After scrounging up the necessary fee and adding a second marshal to the hunt who’s also eyeing that reward money for the said daddy killer, the unlikely trio sets off into the countryside with rifles loaded and justice on their mind.

Not gonna lie, my experience with John Wayne’s body of work is pretty limited. Big fan of The Searchers, seen bits and pieces of Stagecoach, and I’m pretty sure I saw The Quiet Man when I was a kid…pretty sure it put me to sleep, too. Truth be told, even being the Western fan I am, if it weren’t for the Coen Brothers remake, I don’t know when I would have gotten around to this. And while it ain’t bad for what it is, I’m still stickin’ with Eastwood.

So with an awesome title like True Grit to work with, one would expect a cinematic experience filled with the meanest, mangiest, morally warped mother effers this side of the border just raising hell and killing chumps left and right. Gritty stuff, that’s what I’m looking for. Seems like a legitimate expectation, right? Anyway, with the exception of an unfortunate guy who gets his fingers chopped by his best friend, this ended up being as gritty as yogurt.

It’s a pretty standard Western with pretty standard characters on a pretty standard mission. The double-edged sword of this situation is that the standard Western formula is a pretty effective formula to begin with, but when there’s not much else to make it stand out from the herd, it makes for a pretty forgettable ride. The exception here is Kim Darby’s character, Matty, our headstrong little girl with a serious thirst for vengeance.  Darby’s performance didn’t do a whole lot for me, but it’s pretty unusual to see a tough gal like her in a Western like this and I dig the way she continually holds her own against the likes of professional killers. Everyone else though? You’ve seen ’em before.

But the biggest problem here isn’t the performances or the plot, it really boils down to the ho-hum dialogue and strangely cheery score that plays throughout. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Red Dead Redemption as of late, but no one here is talking like they’re from the old West, they’re all talking like they drink their tea with their pinky out. It’s way too formal, way too prim and proper, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every time John Wayne called Kim Darby his “Baby Sister”. I mean, this is a movie about dudes killing dudes, why are they talking like honorary members of The Babysitter’s Club? And like I said, the “Yee-haw!” score playing throughout doesn’t do much to take away from this upbeat and unwanted tone either.

So this is the part of the review where I’m supposed to turn things around and say, “But John Wayne, man…dude blew my knickers clear off with this performance. The role of a lifetime, singlehandedly redeems everything else that holds this movie back.” But alas, it ain’t gonna happen. Wayne plays our renegade marshal, “Rooster” Cogburn, and I hadn’t even gotten to Act two when I realized that what they gave him was a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. He’s not much of a drunk, he’s not much of an asshole, he’s got a pretty weak character arc to boot, and I couldn’t help but be disappointed since the biggest reason folks remember this movie is because of the Oscar that Wayne nabbed for it. My knowledge of Wayne might be limited, but he was unreal in The Searchers and this is a far cry from what he brought to the table in that movie. Cogburn ultimately works because it’s John Wayne being John Wayne, but for a guy that’s proven he can do better, I expected more.

Cool name though.

As for the rest of ’em, Glen Campbell isn’t all too memorable as the other pretty boy marshal tagging along for the bounty, La Boeuf; Dennis Hopper makes a really good cameo as the said bandit who loses his knuckles; and Robert Duvall ain’t too shabby as gang leader Ned Pepper, either.

Word on the street is that the Coen Brothers are using the novel rather than this as their source material, and even though I haven’t read it, I’m glad that’s the road they’re taking. I feel like this has been a pretty harsh review, but True Grit isn’t a bad movie, it’s just surprisingly underwhelming considering the Oscar-winning reputation around it. Worth seeing as a comparison piece, it’s still a fine Western and John Wayne is still pretty legit even if this isn’t the best he’s ever been, but if I were you, I think I’d hit up the book instead.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2010 2:11 am

    Dope review.
    “He was unreal in The Searchers” — heard that.
    “Unreal name though” — couldn’t agree more.

    Aiden, at the risk of coming across as that-guy-who-plugs-his-own-blog, you should know I just posted my top westerns of all time, and judging by your banner, you may like what you see.

    • December 23, 2010 1:54 pm

      Thanks, man. Hopping over your way right now. Sounds right up my alley.

  2. Eddie permalink
    December 23, 2010 7:54 am

    Lame review but what can you expect from someone who slept through the Quiet Man. Saw the new one. Because I didn’t expect it to comparet to the original I was able to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it was. True Glen Campbell pretty much sucked but hey who wouldn’t next to the Duke. Clint Eastwood is great at what he does but he couldn’t be the Duke anymore than John Wayne could be Clint. If your going to compare something compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

    • December 23, 2010 12:53 pm

      Dude. Harsh.

      Granted, I do need to give The Quiet Man a fair shot, and I’m not saying it’s a snoozefest, just that I was too young to appreciate it when I saw it. And I think the Clint/Duke comparison is a pretty common one. Not that they’re playing the same characters or trying to be carbon copies of each other, but being the most iconic cowboys in movie history brings about a connection.

      Sounds like apples to apples to me.

  3. HermioneO permalink
    December 28, 2010 3:01 pm

    ok, you need to rewatch The Quiet Man with your fiance. Whole different movie. And no, it ain’t a western. Put your ideas of John Wayne away. It was a damn good film.

    I loved Kin Darby in her turn on Star Trek playing a young woman with the hots for Captian Kirk. You know the one … where the kids have taken over? Bonk Bonk!

    • January 3, 2011 12:42 pm

      Haha. I will, I will. I know it’s a good movie, just need to give it the shot it deserves.

      And if I was more of a Trekkie, I’m sure I’d be on the level.

  4. Diamond Tim permalink
    June 24, 2011 2:49 pm

    LOLOL..still laughing at this ridiculous review of a very iconic movie with an amazing cast & grand scale soundtrack! REMEMBER, It was 1969!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jesus.
    I can’t stand reviews given to movies by people who weren’t even alive in the “times” the movie was made…just shakin’ my head from side to side.

    • June 24, 2011 3:19 pm

      Well hey there, Diamond Tim! Thanks for stopping by! Glad to hear you liked the movie so much, so sorry that we can’t see eye-to-eye on this one. And wouldn’t you know, I did remember that this was from 1969, and if I’m not mistaken, there were a good deal of great movies that came out that year like The Wild Bunch, Army of Shadows, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid amongst others. It was a fantastic year for movies in my opinion, one I wish I had been alive for, but alas, this was not one of the high points. Anywho, sorry again, it’s an unfair world when everyone can’t like the same movie. Thanks for the comment!

      • Diamond Tim permalink
        June 24, 2011 7:30 pm

        Well it was my pleasure & thank you good sir. 😉
        …Army of Shadows??? lol.
        btw…the biggest problem you got with the review is :YOU CAN’T COMPARE BOTH TRUE GRITS!!! 2 totally different takes on a book. I thought Glen Campbell was great for a non-actor…I mean most singers doing movies for the first time don’t do as well. John Wayne hand-picked Glen for the role & Glen was the biggest star in the world at the time. Good move by the Duke.
        “True Grit” is much better than “The Wild Bunch” & as an equal to “Butch & Sundance”…speaking of “strangely cheery scores”, have you ever listened to that soundtrack? lol. One even greater aspect about TG & BC&SK is that they boast my favorite character actor of all-time, Strother Martin!
        I think you’ll find that the original True Grit will stand the test of time for alot longer than the remake my friend & thats what it comes down to.
        Aiden, check out “The Cowboys” & “The Shootist” for more classic John Wayne. You might like those as you have nothing to compare them too. 😉

      • June 26, 2011 3:10 pm

        Dude, Army of Shadows is out of sight. Well, technically it wasn’t really released until a few years ago, but regardless, check it out, it’s on Netflix Instant.

        But idk, man. It’s kind of easy to compare the two movies considering they’re pretty darn similar in terms of the story and plot (not including the ending). Didn’t know Glen Campbell was a singer and that was his first role, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so hard on the guy. And Strother Marin is awesome! “Now what we have here…is failure to communicate!”

        Who knows, maybe I’ll revisit this movie down the line and find myself singing a different tune. Just ain’t too crazy about it or the remake right this moment is all.

        I do need to see The Cowboy and The Shootist. Always heard good things about the latter.

  5. Diamond Tim permalink
    June 26, 2011 11:51 pm

    Good deal Aiden…I think I like this site. 😉

  6. Diamond Tim permalink
    June 27, 2011 3:09 pm

    Did you just say you didn’t realize Glen Campbell was a singer????
    Who do you think sings the TITLE TRACK of “True Grit”!? That was up for an Oscar itself!
    From 1967 to 1977 Glen Campbell had more hit songs than you can fit on a 2 record set bro! “Gentle On My Mind”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Southern Nights” & on & on & on…LOL…Not only that, Glen Campbell is arguably the greatest guitar player in music history, especially session work!! Glen “IS” Phil Spectors “wall of sound” dude! Its Glen’s guitar on “California Dreamin'” by The Mama’s & The Papa’s, it’s Glen’s guitar on The Monkee’s “Valleri” & “Last Train To Clarksville”, it’s Glen’s guitar on Elvis Presleys “Viva Las Vegas”, it’s Glen’s guitar on Simon & Garfunkles “Mrs. Robinson”….it’s Glen’s guitar on the entire Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” album! It’s Glen guitar on the “Munsters” theme, “Hawaii 5-0”, Pee-Wees big shoe dance on “Tequilla!”….omg, my man, you need a history lesson on this dude!!!
    Join my facebook group: Glen Campbell Should Be In The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame!!! Also check out the My space page I run at You’ll learn alot more from that info!
    Remember this great line from “True Grit”~
    “A little earlier I gave some thought of stealin’ a kiss from you, although you are very young…and unattractive to boot! But now I have a mind of givin you 5 or 6 good licks with my belt!!” 😉

    • July 10, 2011 8:57 pm

      Jesus H Murphy, I do need to do my homework. Forgive me, I’ll be hitting up Grooveshark in a big way at work tomorrow.

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