BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – True Grit (1969)

Fill your hand, you 3.5 sons of bitches.

BQB here with a review of John Wayne’s best movie.

Ahh, corona. I’ve watched a lot of flicks during you that I otherwise would not have, and I have spent more time than usual with a particular old person, who has wanted to watch John Wayne non-stop after learning it is possible to do a John Wayne search on your TV now and have his whole catalog pop up.

As a film buff, my feelings on Wayne have always been mixed. I like him, and I know he was Hollywood’s first action movie star.  I watch old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies like this old person watches old John Wayne movies, and I know that without Wayne there would have been no Arnie.

That being said, to me, Wayne always came across as stiff and wooden. Maybe that was the point. He played stiff and wooden tough guys. Men who ate nails and shit iron bricks and didn’t flinch in the face of danger.

Still, maybe most of his flicks are lost on me because I’m not from that generation.

At any rate, I gave True Grit a chance and found it to be way above and beyond anything Wayne ever did and it is no surprise this film earned him his only Oscar, a surprise because he was the king of the Western genre, and for the first 50 years of Hollywood, the industry was carried by the Western.

So, what put Wayne over the top with this one?  Simple. He shows his soft underbelly here.

Wayne, I want to guess would be 60 something in this movie, is an old, curmudgeonly, one-eyed U.S. Marshall by the name of Rooster Cogburn. He lives in a Chinese shopkeeper’s spare room, the shopkeep and cat that he names General Sterling Price being his only friends.  He has no family and when he isn’t shooting at bad hombres, he crashes on a backroom bed, gets drunk and sleeps all day – a far cry from the typical white hat that Wayne usually played.

One fateful day, a teenage girl named Mattie (Kim Darby) tracks Rooster down, seeking his help in bringing villain Tom Chaney to justice. Chaney was taken in by her father as a field hand on his property only for Chaney to shoot him in a drunken stupor.

Mattie hires Cogburn to chase after the scoundrel, who has fled to “Indian Territory” or what came to be known as Oklahoma.  Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Pronounced in the film as La Beef, played by Glenn Campbell) joins forces with Cogburn, for he has also been hunting Chaney because he shot a Texas state senator prior to taking employment with Mattie’s father.

You’ve heard of an odd couple but this is an odd trio, as they are constantly at odds. Mattie is young and headstrong, long on smarts but low on experience. She backseat drives the law men, insisting on tagging along to make sure the job is done, but doesn’t know the first thing about hunting down ne’er-do-wells.  Meanwhile, LaBeouf and Cogburn trade constant jibes, a major point of animosity between them being that they served on opposite sides of the Civil War.

Young Robert Duvall plays the uber villain of the film, gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper who has taken Chaney under his protection, and a young Dennis Hopper also has a small role as a gang member.

I don’t claim to be a Wayne expert and there are people who could blow me out of the water with their Wayne knowledge, but there is a scene toward the end (SPOILER) that really humanizes both Cogburn and Wayne.

In that scene, Cogburn and Pepper are on horseback, on opposite sides of a field. Pepper has three goons with him while Cogburn is on his lonesome. Cogburn advises the hoodlums to give up, while Ned’s reply is something to the effect that he isn’t scared of a fat one-eyed marshal.  The look on Wayne’s face, that he isn’t taking that bullshit and then he says, “Fill your hand you son of a bitch!” i.e. here’s your warning to grab your gun because I’m charging.

Charge he does and I’ll leave it to you to watch it on your own for the results.

As other reviewers have noted, 1969 was a transition year for Hollywood.  Hell, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was basically an ode or lamentation about that time.  The 1960’s saw political assassinations, riots, civil rights struggles and a seemingly endless quagmire in Vietnam and Americans, as a result, were feeling less than willing to accept hokey, put a smile on your face drek from Hollywood.

This film does have its hokeyness, for sure, but it does tip a toe into that “grittiness” (pun intended) in that Wayne plays an anti-hero, someone you probably wouldn’t want to trust or invite into your home yet you need to pat him on the back because the job called for an SOB and he won against Pepper using his SOB skills.

And he got a much deserved Oscar for it, for going out of his comfort zone. Cogburn isn’t one of the vast array of squeaky clean heroes that Wayne has played. He’s a chubby, booze swilling, falling down drunk who seems rather annoyed that anyone ask him to do his job unless extra reward money is offered above and beyond his salary.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  The 2010 remake isn’t bad either, but as a film buff, it is cool to watch Wayne play against type and seemingly have fun do it.

SIDENOTE: Obviously, there is stuff that wouldn’t hold up today. There’s a part that creeps me out, where La Beouf tells Mattie that he had been thinking about stealing a kiss from Mattie even though she’s young and not pretty but now he wants to spank her.  A grown ass man telling an underage girl that a) he wants to kiss her but b) he wants to kiss her without her consent c) he is withholding the forced kiss as a punishment for her backsass as if his unwanted kiss would have been some kind of treat d) that she should be thrilled that anyone would kiss her because she isn’t pretty, like he’d be doing her a favor, e) that he wants to spank her i.e. perform corporal punishment on her….I mean, holy crap, that whole line is just gross. So gross.  I know it takes place in 1880 but holy shit, even then I think someone might have told La Beouf that he’s an effing pervert.

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