Rooster Cogburn (film)
|Directed by||Stuart Millar|
|Written by||Martha Hyer|
|Based on||Rooster Cogburn|
by Charles McColl Portis
|Music by||Laurence Rosenthal|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling, Jr.|
|Edited by||Robert Swink|
Hal Wallis Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Budget||$10 million|
|Box office||$17.6 million|
Rooster Cogburn is a 1975 American adventure Western film directed by Stuart Millar and starring John Wayne reprising his role as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and Katharine Hepburn. Written by Martha Hyer, based on the character Rooster Cogburn created by Charles McColl Portis in his 1968 Western novel True Grit, the film is about an aging one-eyed lawman whose badge was recently suspended for a string of routine arrests that ended in bloodshed. To earn back his badge, he is tasked with bringing down bank robbers who have hijacked a wagon shipment of nitroglycerin. He is helped by a spinster searching for her father's killer. Rooster Cogburn is a sequel to the 1969 film True Grit.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2018)
Because of his drunkenness and questionable use of firearms, aging one-eyed (wearing a distinctive black eye patch) U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) has been stripped of his badge by Judge Parker (John McIntire) at the territorial capital of Fort Smith, Arkansas, for excessive violence, fatness, and drunkenness, complaining he had "gone to seed". He is given a chance to redeem himself, though, after a shipment of highly explosive nitroglycerine is stolen from a transporting troop of United States Army cavalry. Rooster agrees and eventually tracks the outlaws, led by Hawk (Richard Jordan) and his gang, along with Rooster's former scout Breed (Anthony Zerbe - who had earlier betrayed the cavalry troop escort to be ambushed at a creek crossing by Hawk's cutthroats), to a church mission at the remote settlement of Fort Ruby in the Indian Territory. The village had been overrun earlier by the gang, who camped overnight plying the Indians with liquor and gambling, who then killed an elderly missionary preacher who protested, Rev. George Goodnight (Jon Lormer) and a number of the local Indians. The reverend's spinster daughter, Miss Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn), wants to join Marshal Cogburn to track the criminals down, becoming his unwilling partner along with her student Wolf, the son of one of the deceased Indians, who aspires to be one of the first Indian lawmen and United States marshal.
Meanwhile, in a scuffle between two bandit men, one of them is stabbed. The heavily loaded wagon's wheels also hit a rock, but the men manage to fix it, while gang leader Hawk goes ahead to scout out their next crime target. Getting ahead of Hawk's gang, Rooster, Wolf, and Eula stake out a crossing of a gully in the woods, barricading the path with logs. The bandits are stopped, and Rooster threatens to blow up the wagon and its high-explosive contents unless the men dismount, which they do. A man attempts to shoot Rooster in the back, but Miss Eula makes the perfect shot from across the ravine and kills him, revealing herself to be an excellent sharpshooter. Another man tries the same, but is killed instantly by a bullet to the chest. Rooster cries out "Posse!" and his two partners fire into the air, causing the men to actually think he has overwhelming superior numbers in his posse, which they flee. Rooster captures the wagon, the wooden boxes of the unstable volatile "nitro", and the new revolutionary repeater Gatling gun, an early machine gun on board.
The men carry on back to their leader, Hawk. He orders Breed to investigate the tracks back at the ravine, when he finds out not much of a posse existed, much to Hawk's disdain. Hawk, Breed, and the bandit who got stabbed ride on to town, where they had planned on using the nitro to rob a bank of its gold shipment, while the other men attempt to fix the axle, which they eventually do. The stabbed man cannot make it, causing Hawk to shoot him, saying "Let the buzzards have him" to Breed. That night, the outlaw men kidnap Wolf, saying they will let him go if Cogburn gives back the wagon, the boxes of explosives, and the Gatling gun, but are actually planning to get the wagon back, and to kill the three heroes, anyway. Wolf shoots the man who is holding him with a small, five-shot pepperbox handgun/derringer that Rooster previously had given to him to protect himself and Miss Eula if need be. He escapes and returns to Cogburn's camp safely. Rooster has Eula hitch up the wagon horses, while Wolf scatters the outlaws' horses. The bandits retreat from the torrent of Gatling gun fire, allowing the heroes to escape.
The next day, Rooster "borrows" a raft from an old ferryboat man (Strother Martin) by wagging his pistol in the complaining old-timer's face, stashing as many boxes of bottles with nitroglycerine as possible on board, and heads down the mountainous river facing narrow, rocky rapids and waterfalls. The "bad men" attempt to ambush the three, but they fire the rapid-fire Gatling gun up at them on the rocky cliffs, and they manage to escape around the corner bend in the stream. Breed and another bandit set up a trap across a broader, slower part of the river downstream with an underwater rope to snare Marshal Cogburn and his party. As the bandit hidden behind the shore rocks is about to kill Rooster in cold blood as he bends over and tries to free the raft from the snag, Breed shoots him in the back from behind, then standing up showing himself to Rooster and reminding him that it was in return for Rooster saving his life years prior. That night, Breed returns to the outlaws' camp, informing Hawk that the other bandit died in a shootout with Rooster. Hawk, checking Breed's gun, sees only one expended bullet. Hawk now knows that Breed had to have killed the other outlaw himself, so launches himself at Breed in a furious, violent rage, and kicking the betraying scout down into a rocky ravine, killing him. The three heroes encounter massive whitewater rapids the following morning. They manage to get through safely, though at the cost of the Gatling gun falling overboard. They hear horses up ahead and realize Hawk is planning to encounter them downriver at the wide, shallow, slow-floating waters, so they dump the explosives boxes overboard to float ahead of the damaged raft. Miss Eula and Wolf pretend to surrender, saying Marshal Cogburn is injured. He jumps up from being hidden behind the remaining boxes and shoots the several explosives boxes floating ahead with his sharpshooter rifle, blowing up Hawk and the several remaining bandits mounted on their horses.
A few days later, Judge Parker, at the insistent demands of Miss Eula, gives Rooster his job back, especially when she compares him to the warrior Gideon in the Biblical Scriptures and mistakenly reveals Cogburn's true first name of "Reuben" to the old judge's amazement. Miss Eula and Wolf say goodbye to Rooster as they, along with a number of settlers, return to rebuild Fort Ruby, but jerks her horse back returning, and saying teary-eyed that he is a credit to the whole male species and that she was proud to be his friend. Old Cogburn rears back in his saddle saying, "She got the last word in again!"
- John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn
- Katharine Hepburn as Miss Eula Goodnight
- Anthony Zerbe as Breed
- Richard Jordan as Hawk
- John McIntire as Federal Judge Parker
- Richard Romancito as Wolf
- Paul Koslo as Luke
- Strother Martin as Shanghai McCoy
- Tommy Lee as Chen Lee
- Jack Colvin as Red
- Jon Lormer as Rev. George Goodnight
- Lane Smith as Leroy
- Warren Vanders as Bagby
- Jerry Gatlin as Nose
- Mickey Gilbert as Hambone (uncredited)
- Chuck Hayward as Jerry (uncredited)
- Gary McLarty as Emmett (uncredited)
- Andrew Prine as Fiona's Husband (uncredited)
- John Howard Hamilton as U.S. Cavalry Lieutenant (uncredited)
The screenplay was written by actress Martha Hyer, the wife of producer Hal B. Wallis, under the pen name Martin Julien. Director Stuart Millar, a longtime Hollywood producer, had directed only one film, When Legends Die based on the classic novel by Hal Borland, prior to helming Rooster Cogburn.
The film was shot in Oregon in autumn 1974, in Deschutes County west of Bend, Oregon (for the mountain scenes), on the Deschutes River for the whitewater rapids, and on the Rogue River in the counties of Josephine and Curry in Oregon, west of Grants Pass, Oregon (for the river scenes). Smith Rock State Park, northeast of Redmond, Oregon, was a setting, as well; the Rockhard/Smith Rock Climbing Guides building at the park entrance was originally built as a set for the movie, where it was portrayed as Kate's Saloon.
John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were both born in May 1907 (Hepburn the elder by two weeks), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together in a film. Although it was promoted as Rooster Cogburn (...and the Lady), the opening credits of the film give the title as simply Rooster Cogburn. During filming, both 67-year-old stars stayed in Sunriver, Oregon; Governor Tom McCall flew in for a brief visit with them in early October.
Noted character actor Strother Martin portrayed Shanghai McCoy; he also appeared in True Grit, but as the horse trader Colonel G. Stonehill.
It was the final film from producer Wallis, and the cinematography was by Harry Stradling Jr.
In his review in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called the film "a high-class example of the low Hollywood art of recycling" and praised the performances by the two leads—Wayne for his continuation of his Oscar-winning role as Cogburn, and Hepburn for a performance that recalls her "marvelous characterization opposite Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen". Canby concluded that the film is "a cheerful, throwaway Western, featuring two stars of the grand tradition who respond to each other with verve that makes the years disappear." Roger Ebert gave the film 1 star out of 4, and wrote, "the chemistry's there at times. But when it does work, it's largely because of the sheer acting craft of [Wayne and Hepburn]. The dialog they're given is so consciously arch, so filled with subtle little recognitions of who the two actors are, that we never care about the story and it never gets told. And without a narrative to help us along, we finally have to wonder why the movie was made." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote, "It's a stupid story riddled with plot-holes. All that it cares about is providing Hepburn and Wayne with a half-dozen 'big scenes' together ... What few pleasures are contained in 'Rooster Cogburn' occur when Hepburn and Wayne simply and silently look at each other with affection. We sense they like each other from the beginning, so their put-down material comes across as phony theatricality." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote that the film had "an embarrassingly prefab script, along with much forced and strident acting, all badly coordinated by the numb and ragged direction of Stuart Miller." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film a "slow and rattletrap" star vehicle for Wayne and Hepburn, whose pairing was "not so much a relationship as a very good-natured contest in scene larceny. Despite some of the most tongue-numbing dialogue in a long while, Hepburn wins every time with her sweetly devastating underplaying." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a patchwork conception that might have worked if the script had been considerably more ingenious and the direction considerably more adroit ... Screenwriter Martin Julien hasn't discovered how to develop a relationship between hero and heroine that runs on the same track with the chase story, and Stuart Millar's direction is as heavy as lead and slow as molasses."
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