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|
|Edited by||Warren Low|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$31.1 million|
True Grit is a 1969 American Western film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Kim Darby as Mattie Ross and John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. It is the first film adaptation of Charles Portis‘ 1968 novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Marguerite Roberts. Wayne won his only Oscar for his performance in the film and reprised his role for the 1975 sequel Rooster Cogburn.
Historians believe Cogburn was based on Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas, who brought in some of the toughest outlaws. The cast also features Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey, and Strother Martin. The title song, sung by Campbell, was also Oscar-nominated.
Frank Ross (John Pickard) is murdered by his hired hand, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Ross’s young daughter, Mattie (Kim Darby), travels to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she hires aging U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” J. Cogburn (John Wayne) to bring Chaney in, because Mattie’s heard that Cogburn has “true grit”. Mattie earns the money to pay his fee by shrewdly horse trading with Colonel Stonehill (Strother Martin). She gives him a payment to track and capture Chaney, who has taken up with outlaw “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma).
A young Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), is also pursuing Chaney and joins forces with Cogburn, despite Mattie’s protest. The two try to ditch Mattie, but she catches up and is permitted to ride along.
After several days, the three discover horse thieves Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper), who are waiting for Ned Pepper at a remote dugout cabin. Cogburn captures and interrogates the two men. Moon’s leg is injured and Cogburn uses the injury as leverage to get information about Lucky Ned. In terrible pain and about to talk, Moon is stabbed by Quincy, who is then killed by Cogburn. In the remaining minute before Moon dies, he reveals that Pepper and his gang are due at the cabin that night to get fresh mounts.
Rooster and La Boeuf lay a trap. Upon arriving, Pepper is suspicious and succeeds in drawing La Boeuf’s fire, who blows their planned ambush by shooting and killing Pepper’s horse. A firefight ensues, during which Cogburn and La Boeuf kill two of the gang, but Pepper and the rest of his men escape unharmed. Cogburn, La Boeuf, and Mattie make their way to McAlester’s store (owned by J.J. McAlester, played by Stuart Randall) with the dead bodies. Cogburn tries to persuade Mattie to stay at McAlester’s, but she refuses.
The three resume their pursuit. Fetching water one morning, Mattie finds herself face-to-face with Chaney in a stream. When he comes toward her menacingly, she shoots Chaney with her father’s Colt Dragoon, injuring him and calling out to her partners. Pepper and his gang get there first, capturing her. Lucky Ned then forces Cogburn and La Boeuf to abandon the girl and ride away. Pepper decides to leave Mattie in the care of Chaney, who has lost his horse. He promises he will send a horse back for Chaney, vowing to kill him if any harm comes to the girl.
Cogburn doubles back and attacks Pepper and his gang single-handedly. La Boeuf, meantime, finds Mattie. They watch from a high bluff as a mounted Cogburn confronts Pepper’s gang. Cogburn gives Pepper a choice between being killed right there or surrendering and being hanged in Fort Smith. Calling this “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man,” Pepper enrages Cogburn, who charges the four outlaws, guns blazing. He kills two of the gang and hits Pepper repeatedly. In the fight, Ned shoots Rooster’s horse, trapping Rooster’s leg under him as he goes down. As a last act, the mortally wounded Pepper prepares to kill Rooster, until La Boeuf makes a long shot with his Sharps rifle, blowing Ned out of the saddle and killing him.
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, fracturing his skull and knocking him unconscious. Mattie is able to shoot Chaney and wound him, but driven back by the recoil, falls into a snake pit and breaks her arm. Chaney begins to taunt Mattie about the snakes; Cogburn appears and shoots and kills Chaney, who falls into the pit, as well. With great difficulty, Cogburn descends into the pit on a rope to retrieve Mattie, who is bitten by a rattlesnake before Cogburn can kill it. The mortally injured La Boeuf helps them out of the pit, saving their lives. La Boeuf dies from the effort.
Cogburn is forced to leave La Boeuf’s body behind as they race to get help for Mattie at McAlester’s on Mattie’s pony, which dies while carrying them. After stealing a buckboard, they arrive at their destination. There, an Indian doctor treats Mattie’s snakebite and broken arm.
Some time later, Mattie’s attorney, J. Noble Daggett, (John Fiedler) meets Cogburn in Fort Smith. On Mattie’s behalf, Daggett pays Cogburn for his part in Chaney’s capture, plus a bonus for saving her life. Cogburn offers to wager the money on a bet that Mattie will recover just fine, a bet Daggett declines.
In the epilogue, Mattie, her arm in a sling, is back at home recovering from her injuries. She promises Cogburn he will be buried next to her in the Ross family plot after his death. Cogburn reluctantly accepts her offer and leaves, jumping over a fence on his new horse to disprove her good-natured jab that he was too old and fat to clear a four-rail fence, and rides off into the valley below, ending the movie.
- 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
- Alfred Ryder as Goudy
- Strother Martin as Col. G. Stonehill
- Jeff Corey as Tom Chaney
- Ron Soble as Captain Boots Finch
- John Fiedler as Lawyer Daggett
- James Westerfield as Judge Parker
- John Doucette as Sheriff
- Donald Woods as Barlow
- Edith Atwater as Mrs. Floyd
- Carlos Rivas as Dirty Bob
- Isabel Boniface as Mrs. Bagby
- H.W. Gim as Chen Lee
- Ginger Cat as General Sterling Price (uncredited)
- John Pickard as Frank Ross
- Elizabeth Harrower as Mrs. Ross
- Ken Renard as Yarnell
- Hank Worden as R. Ryan, the undertaker at Fort Smith
- Jay Ripley as Harold Parmalee
- Kenneth Becker as Farrell Parmalee
- Wilford Brimley as Minor Role (uncredited)
- Leo Alton as Boarding House Guest (uncredited)
- Forrest Burns as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
- Gene Coogan as Boarding House Guest (uncredited)
- Myron Healey as Deputy at Prisoner Unloading (uncredited)
- Boyd “Red” Morgan as Red (Ferryman) (uncredited)
- James McEachin as Judge Parker’s Bailiff (uncredited)
- Dennis McMullen as Bailiff (uncredited)
- Robin Morse as Bit Part (uncredited)
- Stuart Randall as McAlester (uncredited)
- Connie Sawyer as Talkative Woman at Hanging (uncredited)
- Jeffrey Sayre as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
- Jay Silverheels as Condemned Man at Hanging (uncredited)
- Dean Smith as Minor Role (uncredited)
- Vince St. Cyr as Gaspargoo (uncredited)
- Max Wagner as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
- Guy Wilkerson as the Hangman (uncredited)
- Chalky Williams as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
- Tom Gosnell as John Wayne stunt double (uncredited)
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 (in 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 Quincy 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 film, which was then offered to Sondra Locke and Tuesday Weld, both of whom turned it down. John Wayne met Karen Carpenter at a talent show he was hosting and recommended her for the part, though the producers decided against it because she had no acting experience. Wayne had also lobbied for his daughter Aissa to win the part. After also considering Sally Field, the role went to Kim Darby.
Elvis Presley was the original choice for LaBoeuf, but the producers turned him down when his agent demanded top billing over both Wayne and Darby. Glen Campbell was then cast, instead. Wayne began lobbying for the part of Rooster Cogburn after reading the novel by Charles Portis.
Wayne called Marguerite Roberts‘ script “the best script he had ever read,” and was instrumental in getting her script approved and credited to her name after Roberts had been blacklisted for alleged leftist affiliations years before. This came in spite of Wayne’s own conservative ideals.He par ticularly 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 resemblance to the way Wallace Beery portrayed similar characters in the 1930s and 1940s, an inspired if surprising choice on Wayne’s part. Wills comments that it is 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 Tom Gosnell does the stunt in the meadow, where “Bo” goes down, on his longtime horse Twinkle Toes. In the last scene, Mattie gives Rooster her father’s gun. She comments that he has 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 four-rail fence. Although many of Wayne’s stunts over the years were done by Hayward and Chuck Roberson, Wayne is on Twinkle Toes going over the fence. This stunt had been left to the last shot as Wayne wanted to do it himself, and following his lung surgery in 1965, neither Hathaway nor Wayne was sure he could make the jump over the fence. Darby’s stunts were done by Polly Burson.
The horse shown during the final scene of True Grit (before he jumps the fence on Twinkle Toes) was Dollor, a two-year-old (in 1969) chestnut Quarter Horse gelding. Dollor (‘Ol Dollor) was 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.
After reading True Grit by Charles Portis, John Wayne was enthusiastic about playing the part of Rooster Cogburn, but as production got closer, Wayne got jumpy—he did not have a handle on how to play Rooster Cogburn. He was, of course, nervous because the part was out of his comfort zone and had not been specifically tailored to his screen character by one of his in-house screenwriters. Henry Hathaway, who directed the film, was able to calm Wayne’s doubts, most notably concerning the eye patch which was made of gauze, allowing Wayne to see. John Wayne thought the picture had been edited too tightly by Hathaway. Nevertheless, in May 1969, a few weeks before the picture was released, Wayne wrote to Marguerite Roberts thanking her for her “magnificent” screenplay, especially for the beautiful ending in the cemetery that she had devised in Portis’s style. Wayne and Kim Darby worked very well together, but Henry Hathaway disliked her, stating: “My problem with her was simple, she’s not particularly attractive, so her book of tricks consisted mostly [of] being a little cute. All through the film, I had to stop her from acting funny, doing bits of business and so forth.”
By the time the picture got back to the studio interiors, Kim Darby was telling Hal Wallis she would never work for Hathaway again. John Wayne was another matter. “He was wonderful to work with, he really was”, said Darby. “When you work with someone who’s a big star as he is… there’s an unspoken thing that they sort of set the environment for the working conditions on the set and the feeling on the set. And he creates an environment that is very safe to work in. He’s very supportive of the people around him and the people he works with, very supportive. He’s really a reflection, an honest reflection, of what he really is. I mean that’s what you see on the screen. He’s simple and direct, and I love that in his work.” Surrounded by an angry director, a nervous actress, and the inexperienced Glen Campbell, Wayne took the reins between his teeth the same way Rooster Cogburn does in the climax of the film. “He was there on the set before anyone else and knew every line perfectly”, said Kim Darby. Both Wayne and Hathaway had difficulties with Robert Duvall, with the director having constant shouting matches with his supporting actor and Duvall and Wayne nearly coming to blows.
The film earned an estimated $11.5 million in rentals at the United States and Canada box office during its first year of release. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 52 reviews to give the film an approval rating of 88%, with an average rating of 7.9/10.
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.
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 titled True Grit: A Further Adventure appeared in 1978, starring Warren Oates as Rooster Cogburn and Lisa Pelikan as Mattie Ross and featuring subsequent adventures of the valiant pair.
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 plays Rooster Cogburn, and the cast also includes Matt Damon as La Boeuf and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney.
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