Sunday, December 26, 2010

True Grit (1969)

I swore an oath at the Temple of Apollo, the Cinema Godling, that I'd finally screen the original "True Grit
" before I'd see the Coen Brother's reimagining of the same.
Is it a good film?
But for Glen Campbell and a few blood packs though, there is little of anything to mark it of it's time, it could have easily been made in 1959 or 1949 for that matter.
Well what of it?, it is a superlative performance by John Wayne as the boozy frontier Marshal Cogburn shanghai'd by Kim Darby (21 playing 14 if you can believe it) into annihilating her father's killer.
The problem with Wayne by this time was nearly geographic in it's scope, the man was a human mountain range, coming up with challenges equal to his immutable solidity were nigh impossible. So of course, the gag is, that a mere 14 year old girl is the goad that gets Cogburn out into Indian country to slay the malefactors, as P.T. Barnum teaches us the only thing bigger than a big thing, is a very small thing.
And that is Kim Darby's performance in a nutshell, priggish, tightly wound she pursues her father's killers like they owed her money or something. The whole thing makes a right and necessary contrast to Wayne's crusty scenery chewing.
All this is very important, because the mook they are all chasing down is battered, wasted and whiny Jeff Corey, known as an acting coach of no small ability and his refusal to Name Names before HUAC.
That got Corey blacklisted for ten years...this was before Glen Campbell and John Wayne metaphorically finished him off in the High Country.
In a perfect universe, John Ford would have husbanded some strength for a last elegiac collaboration with Wayne, however the olde master was a broken man by 1969 thus dependable Henry Hathaway was brought in to make what amounts to the last Classic Adult Western with "Made in the USA" stamped on the credits.
Hathaway does Wayne proud for the most part, the Colorado countryside makes a suitable noble background for one of US Cinema's exemplars of the Herocracy.
Time though, time is the real enemy here, already the Italians and their spaghetti westerns had seized the high ground in the movie houses, Wayne was past sixty years of age here and his best directors were human shipwrecks, you can practically hear Wagner's "Twilight of the Gods" on the Colorado breeze.
They had to give Wayne the best actor Oscar for this one, incredibly they'd never given it to him before for any of his iconic cowboy roles, a notable failure on the Academy's part in my opinion.
Like the mythic US cavalry, they got there just in time....

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