True Grit (1969 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Hathaway|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis|
|Written by||Marguerite Roberts|
|Based on||True Grit
by Charles Portis
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Editing by||Warren Low|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||128 minutes|
True Grit is a 1969 American western film written by Marguerite Roberts and directed by Henry Hathaway. The picture is the first adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel True Grit. John Wayne stars as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and won his only Academy Award for his performance in this film. Wayne reprised his role as Cogburn in the 1975 sequel Rooster Cogburn. Historians believe Rooster was based on deputy U.S. marshal Heck Thomas, who brought in some of the toughest outlaws. The supporting cast features Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Strother Martin.
After Frank Ross (John Pickard) is murdered in 1878 (though at the end of film, the date October 1880 is engraved on his tombstone, but that may be the mistake the engraver made that Mattie mentions to Rooster) by his hired hand, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Ross' 14-year-old daughter Mattie (Kim Darby) travels to Fort Smith and hires the aging U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn (John Wayne). Mattie has heard that, despite his vices and missing eye, Cogburn has "true grit". She gives Rooster a down payment to track down Chaney, who has taken up with "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), a gang leader whom Rooster once shot in a gunfight.
The pair must head into Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Mattie buys a horse for this, after collecting money from a horse trader (Strother Martin). They are joined by a young Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who hopes to collect a $1,500 reward for capturing Chaney, much more than Mattie is offering Cogburn. The ranger says Chaney also killed a Texas state senator named Bibbs, and Bibbs' dog. Mattie dislikes the boastful La Boeuf and refuses his assistance, but the ranger joins forces with Cogburn, who agrees to split the reward with him. The two try to abandon Mattie, but they learn that she is determined to join their posse.
After several days, the three plan to spend the night at a cabin which Cogburn had said would be empty. At the cabin, they discover Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper), two horse thieves waiting for Pepper. Moon's leg is badly injured and Cogburn uses the injury as leverage to get information about Pepper from them. To prevent Moon from telling too much, Quincy fatally stabs Moon with a knife, and Cogburn kills Quincy. Before Moon dies, he tells Cogburn that Pepper and his gang are due at the hideout that night; the posse lays a trap.
The following morning, Pepper and his men arrive at the hideout. La Boeuf mistakenly fires and a shootout ensues, during which Cogburn and La Boeuf kill two of the gang, but Pepper and the rest escape. Cogburn, La Boeuf and Mattie make their way to McAlester's store, where the marshal arranges for the four dead men to be buried.
The three continue their pursuit. After a few days, Mattie slips down a steep hill one morning on her way to bathe in a river and finds herself face-to-face with Chaney. She shoots and wounds him, calling out to her partners. Pepper and his gang capture her, and he forces Cogburn and La Boeuf to abandon the girl.
Cogburn doubles back and attacks Pepper and his gang. La Boeuf finds Mattie and moves Chaney to an area he thinks is secure. La Boeuf and Mattie move to an outcropping and watch as a mounted Cogburn confronts Ned and his three gang members. Cogburn tells Pepper he has a choice of getting killed or surrendering and being hanged at Judge Isaac Parker's convenience. Pepper replies that, based on the 4 to 1 odds, his claim is "bold talk for a one-eyed fat man." Cogburn recoils in anger and shouts "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!" drawing his Winchester and .45 revolver, and then charging the four gunmen firing a rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other -- holding the horse's reins in his mouth. Rooster shoots down three of the gang and wounds Pepper, but Rooster is trapped under his fallen horse which has been shot by Ned. As Pepper prepares to finish off a helpless Rooster, La Boeuf shoots Pepper from the outcropping located about 400 yards away with a single shot from his Sharps carbine, killing him instantly.
As La Boeuf and Mattie return to Pepper's camp, Chaney comes out from behind a tree and strikes La Boeuf in the head with a rock, immediately knocking him unconscious and causing an ultimately fatal wound. Mattie shoots and wounds Chaney in the arm but, driven back from the recoil, falls into a pit breaking her arm. Cogburn arrives and fatally shoots Chaney, sending him into the pit. As Cogburn descends into the pit on a rope to retrieve Mattie, she is bitten by a rattlesnake, which he shoots and kills. La Boeuf, thought to be dead, peers over the pit and helps them get out by tying the rope to his horse and riding it slowly away from the pit. After Mattie and Cogburn are safely out of the pit, La Boeuf collapses and dies.
In a hurry to get help for Mattie's snakebite, they have to leave La Boeuf's body. They both must ride Mattie’s horse, but the overloaded horse collapses and succumbs before they reach their destination. Undaunted, Cogburn gathers Mattie in his arms and carries her until they encounter some horsemen with a wagon. Cogburn steals the wagon and they ride it the rest of the way to McAlester's. There, an Indian doctor treats Mattie's snakebite and splints her broken arm.
Days later, Mattie's attorney, J. Noble Daggett (John Fiedler) arrives. Throughout the plot, Mattie has frequently used his name as a legal threat on occasions when she fails to get her way. He pays Cogburn a $75 reward for Chaney's capture, plus (at Mattie's direction) an additional $200 for saving her life. Mattie is still ill from the snakebite and Cogburn offers to bet the attorney the $275 that Mattie will make it back to her home, but Daggett declines to bet against her.
Weeks later, Mattie, arm in a sling, is recovered and at home. She shows a visiting Cogburn her family burial plot on the land. Cogburn was there to receive all the reward money offered for Chaney in Texas. She promises that he can be buried next to her family after his death. Cogburn reluctantly accepts, hoping his burial will not be too soon. She offers him her father's pistol which he reluctantly accepts, stating that it misfired once. He leaves, jumping over a fence with his new horse to disprove her claim that he was too old and fat. He heads off into the valley below as the film ends.
- John Wayne as Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn
- Kim Darby as Mattie Ross
- Glen Campbell as La Boeuf
- Jeremy Slate as Emmett Quincy
- Robert Duvall as Lucky Ned Pepper
- Dennis Hopper as Moon
- Strother Martin as Col. G. Stonehill
- Jeff Corey as Tom Chaney
- Donald Woods as Barlow
- John Fiedler as Lawyer Daggett
- James Westerfield as Judge Parker
- Jay Silverheels as Condemned Man at Hanging
- Hank Worden as Undertaker
Filming took place mainly in Ouray County, Colorado, in the vicinity of Ridgway (now the home of the True Grit Cafe), around the town of Montrose (Montrose County), and the town of Ouray. (The script maintains the novel's references to place names in Arkansas and Oklahoma, in dramatic contrast to the Colorado topography.) The courtroom scenes were filmed at Ouray County Courthouse in Ouray.
The scenes that take place at the "dugout" and along the creek where Pierce and Moon are killed, as well as the scene where Rooster carries Mattie on her horse Little Blackie after the snakebite, were filmed at Hot Creek on the east side of the Sierra Nevada near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain form the backdrop above the creek. This location was also used in North to Alaska. Filming was done from September to December 1968.
Mia Farrow was originally cast as Mattie and was keen on the role. However, prior to filming she made a film in England with Robert Mitchum, who advised her not to work with director Henry Hathaway because he was "cantankerous." Farrow asked producer Hal B. Wallis to replace Hathaway with Roman Polanski, who had directed Farrow in Rosemary's Baby, but Wallis refused. Farrow quit the role, which went to Kim Darby.
Wayne called Marguerite Roberts' script "the best script he had ever read." He particularly liked the scene with Darby where Rooster tells Mattie about his life in Illinois (where he has a restaurant, his wife Nola leaves him because of his degenerate friends, and has a clumsy son named Horace), calling it "about the best scene I ever did." Garry Wills notes in his book, John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity, that Wayne's performance as Rooster Cogburn bears close similarities to the way Wallace Beery portrayed characters in the 1930s and 1940s, an inspired if surprising choice on Wayne's part. Wills comments that it's difficult for one actor to imitate another for the entire length of a movie and that the Beery mannerisms temporarily recede during the aforementioned scene in which Cogburn discusses his wife and child.
Veteran John Wayne stunt-double Chuck Hayward does the stunt in the meadow, where "Bo" goes down, on his long time horse Twinkle Toes. In the last scene, Mattie gives Rooster her father's gun. She comments that he's gotten a tall horse, as she expected he would. He notes that his new horse can jump a four-rail fence. Then she admonishes him, "You're too old and fat to be jumping horses." Rooster responds with a smile, saying, "Well, come see a fat old man sometime," and jumps his new horse over a fence. Although many of Wayne's stunts over the years were done by Hayward and Chuck Roberson, it is Wayne on Twinkle Toes going over the fence. Darby's stunts were done by Polly Burson.
The horse shown during the final scene (before he jumps the fence on Twinkle Toes) of True Grit was Dollor, a two-year-old (in 1969) chestnut Quarter horse gelding, Dollor ('Ole Dollor) had been Wayne's favorite horse for 10 years. Wayne fell in love with the horse, which would carry him through several more Westerns, including his final movie, The Shootist. Wayne had Dollor written into the script of The Shootist because of his love for the horse; it was a condition for him working on the project. Wayne would not let anyone else ride the horse, the lone exception being Robert Wagner, who rode the horse in a segment of the Hart to Hart television show, after Wayne's death.
The film earned an estimated $11.5 million in rentals at the North American box office during its first year of release. 
Awards and nominations
John Wayne won a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. Upon accepting his Oscar, Wayne said, "Wow! If I'd known that, I'd have put that patch on 35 years earlier." The title song, by composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black, and sung by Glen Campbell, who co-starred in the movie, received nominations for both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Golden Globe.
Differences from the novel
Unlike the book, the movie doesn’t introduce Mattie as an old woman telling a story of her childhood, but instead begins and ends in early 1878, when Mattie is 14. In the book, Mattie remains the central character throughout; in the movie Rooster Cogburn gets an equal share of the limelight. The film also downplays the novel's biblical tone and adds a hint of romance between Mattie and La Boeuf. La Boeuf also does not die in the novel, but survives his head injury. Another significant difference from Portis' tale is that Mattie has her arm amputated as a result of the rattlesnake attack, in contrast to the final scene in the film where Mattie is seen with only a sling on her arm—indicating that she is recovering from the snake bites and intact physically. The novel's conclusion makes the reader aware that the story has been recounted by Mattie as an elderly, one-armed woman who never married. Also in the book, Mattie shoots Chaney in the head with her dragoon but he survives until Rooster hits him with the butt of his rifle and he falls into the pit. In the movie, Rooster shoots Chaney.
In the book and both this movie and the 2010 film version, Mattie's Colt Dragoon misfires at a critical moment. The book explains this as, while drunk, Rooster used it to shoot a rat. Mattie insisted he re-load the two chambers fired, which he did, while still drunk, using defective old caps from a box under his bed. In the 1969 film, Rooster shoots the rat with his own Peacemaker, removing the reloading scene. Thus, during the scene where the Dragoon misfires it is unfairly portrayed as an unreliable weapon. However, during the graveyard scene at the end of the movie, when Mattie presents Rooster with the Dragoon as a gift, he states "It almost got you killed when it misfired once." to which she responds "That is because you loaded it wrong when you were in a state of drunkenness." When or why he reloaded it is not explained, but the misfire itself is.
In the book, Tom Chaney was a young man; Mattie guessed his age to be around 25. Jeff Corey, who played Chaney in the movie, was 55 at the time. In the movie, La Boeuf claims to have a girl in Texas who would "look with favor" on his capture of Tom Chaney. In the book, La Boeuf made no mention of a girlfriend; his motive for capturing Chaney was purely financial.
In the book the store Rooster goes to regularly is called Bagby's. In the movie it's called McAllister's.
In the book, Rooster Cogburn had a mustache and did not wear an eye patch, though he had only one eye. In his fight with Ned Pepper, he wielded two Navy six-shooters. In the movie, Wayne carried a six-shooter in his left hand and his trademark large-loop rifle in the other. The character of Rooster was supposed to be around 40 in the novel; in the film, he was played by 61-year-old Wayne.
In the book, Mattie has her arm amputated due to the snakebite and break. Rooster pays her a visit while she is recovering from the procedure, but she is too sedated to remember. She tries to meet him 25 years later while he is traveling in a wild west show but he passes away a few days before they can meet. She has his remains exhumed and re-interred in her family plot.
Also, the film's Colorado location and mountain scenery are in sharp contrast to the script's references to place names in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Further, the film is set in autumn, while the book clearly sets the story in winter, with snow on the ground outside the dugout where Quincy and Moon awaited Pepper's gang. In the book, when Mattie falls into the snake pit she faces a ball of snakes and disturbs them in their winter quarters. In the film Mattie faces a single rattlesnake.
Sequels and other film versions
A film sequel, Rooster Cogburn, was made in 1975, with Wayne reprising his role and Katharine Hepburn as an elderly spinster, Eula Goodnight, who teams up with him. The plot has been described as a rehash of the original True Grit with elements of the Bogart-Hepburn film The African Queen. A further made-for-television sequel entitled True Grit: A Further Adventure, appeared in 1978, starring Warren Oates and Lisa Pelikan, and featured the further adventures of Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross.
In 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen directed another adaptation of the novel. Their adaptation focuses more on Mattie's point-of-view, as in the novel, and is more faithful to its Oklahoma setting. Hailee Steinfeld portrays Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges portrays Rooster Cogburn, and the cast also includes Matt Damon as La Boeuf and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney.
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- "The Real Story True Grit". Smithsonian Channel.com.