Grit, true or otherwise…
This week’s comic features the long-awaited return of Zeke, or at least what’s left of him. No, we didn’t feed him into a wood chipper, but hey, we figured a little suspense never hurts. Wood chippers hurt, though. I mean, not that I would know from personal experience, I’m just guessing. I think it’s a good guess.
Mentioning wood chippers actually serves as a roundabout tie-in to the western I was going to talk of this week, True Grit. True Grit is another John Wayne headlined film that originally premiered July 4, 1969. Funky timing, eh? Just over two weeks later Neil Armstrong would be getting moon dust on his boots, and less than a month after that half a million people would pack themselves into a little outdoor arts & music festival called Woodstock. Some at the time held True Grit up as a voice of simpler, conservative mores in the face of upheaval and change, especially with their patron saint The Duke at the helm, but I don’t think the filmmakers ever meant it to be. They were just making a movie. As a matter of fact, the script (adapted from a novel of the same name) was typed up by a lady named Marguerite Roberts who had been blacklisted by HUAC during the McCarthy era. Someone who used to be a card carrying member of the American Communist Party had her name attached to a western, which years later still made studios reluctant to touch it.
Who got the movie greenlit? John Wayne himself. And yes, he knew about Marguerite’s past, but after looking over the screenplay he declared it the best he’d ever read, and wrangled the film into production. There was quite an ensemble together by the end, including a young Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall (Duvall still squinted, though), and Wayne’s character was not exactly a shining hero archetype, unless an aging, greedy, alcoholic bounty hunter (okay, Deputy U.S. Marshal, to-may-to to-mah-to) with an eyepatch is your idea of shiny.
Whether or not that’s the case, it was the Academy’s idea of an Oscar performance, and Wayne received his one and only Best Actor award for his performance as Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Frankly, I think some of his other roles were much stronger (*cough*The Searchers*cough*), so it probably was a case of them wanting to honor him before he stopped being able to make movies. Even at the time it was fairly incredible that he was making movies, particularly ones with any kind of physical activity required, since the man had an entire damn lung removed in 1964 as part of cancer surgery. After that, who knew how long he might have had left? Sort of like how Return of the King wasn’t really better than Fellowship of the Ring, but the Academy waited until the end to give the nods… well, except that Peter Jackson wasn’t suffering lung cancer.
The person who really steals the show in True Grit, in my opinion, is Kim Darby as the young, obsessed heroine Mattie Ross who sets everything in motion in order to track down her father’s killer. At times she’s the naive girl who really is in as much danger as the men with her insist, but at other times she’s a complete force of nature, to the point where if she didn’t have the training and experience gap she’d probably be the scariest, most relentless bounty hunter of all.
It’s not a movie that held me riveted from start to finish the way The Searchers or Red River did, but it’s worth a look, including the famous exchange at the end:
Mattie Ross: You are too old and fat to be jumping horses.
Rooster Cogburn: Well, come see a fat old man some time!
And he waves his hat with a smile, and jumps the fence on his horse. Never mind that in actuality a stuntman had to do the actual fence jumping, it’s still a fitting milestone in the career of The Duke.
Oh, and that wood chipper tie-in? While checking out IMDB for this blog I discovered that the Coen brothers are doing a remake of True Grit, scheduled for release in December of this year! If you don’t know, the Coen brothers are the guys behind Miller’s Crossing, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, and a host of other memorable films. One, Fargo, being particularly memorable for feeding a body into a wood chipper. There you go, full circle.
I’m actually really excited about this. If you watch the original film, it pulls a lot of quirky, stylized dialog directly out of the novel, and the Coen brothers love their quirky, stylized dialog. Plus, No Country For Old Men had some western motifs to it, but I really want to see what they’ll do with a full on period piece. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin are already in the cast and should do admirable jobs with the material, all that remains to be seen is if their Mattie can tie it together with the same verve Miss Darby did.