Saturday, February 12, 2011
In 1969, Wayne won his only Oscar, for trying to portray someone other that the Duke, and failing in the most spectacularly entertaining fashion. The character was Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and the film, directed by Henry Hathaway, was called "True Grit".
Cogburn is a deputy federal marshal attached to the court of Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas. One of two hundred such men, charged with returning thieves, murderers and other assorted miscreants from the wild landscape known as the Indian Territory (much later Oklahoma), Cogburn has shot and killed twenty-three men in the course of his four years' employment. Once more, Wayne portrays a morally-upright curmudgeon with a hard fist and a fast gun. This time, he wears an eyepatch.
After farmer Frank Ross is murdered and robbed by his hired man while on a horse-buying trip to Fort Smith, his fourteen year-old daughter, Mattie (Kim Darby), travels to town to settle her father's affairs, and to find justice or revenge for his killing. When she finds that the killer, Tom Chaney, has fled to the Indian Territory to escape that justice, she seeks the aid of the toughest and most merciless man-hunter she can find. The mercenary Rooster Cogburn suits her needs exactly.
Mattie outlines her plan for the capture of Chaney and even reveals Cogburn's role. Too late she realises that she does not hold LaBoeuf's manner or his abilities in very high esteem, and tries to veto his presence on the hunt.
Lucky Ned is not as lucky in his choice of followers, who, while they are vicious and savage enough, don't seem especially bright or capable.
When Mattie attempts his arrest - on her own - at the point of her father's old dragoon Colt, Chaney believes that he once again has the advantage of a less able opponent. This time, he is wrong.
The scene all of us recall best is the one where Cogburn rides casually toward Pepper and his three cohorts, informing the outlaw that he means to kill him in about one minute.
"I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," says Pepper.
"Fill your hand, you son-of-a-bitch!" replies Rooster, taking his reins in his teeth, his Peacemaker in one hand and his Winchester in the other.
It would be nice if all of us had aged as well as this movie.