True Grit (1969)

True Grit (1969), directed by Henry Hathaway.

When her father is murdered by a ranch hand, his 14-year old daughter hires the toughest marshal she can find to hunt down the killer. Further: she's going with him into the Indian Territory to bring the man back so he can be properly hung.

"Grit" is supposed to apply to the marshal, but it suits them both. Fascinating, funny dialogue throughout.

This made a big splash and earned John Wayne his only Oscar. In some ways he is playing off himself but never so much as to make the drunken and none-too-scrupulous lawman ridiculous or unbelievable. He returns in Rooster Cogburn (1975).

Kim Darby lights up the screen as the determined Mattie Ross, simultaneously innocent and ruthless. Mia Farrow was intended for the role but backed out. Wayne wanted Karen Carpenter, which I would have liked to have seen. She had no acting experience but could have sung the theme song instead of Glen Campbell.

Campbell is an unfortunate bit of stunt casting. He has only a couple of expressions, both sneering.

Robert Duvall is excellent as the outlaw leader. Called "Lucky Ned Pepper" is more than lucky: he's smart. He and Rooster Cogburn seem to know each other well. In fact, everyone knows everyone: the community of lawmen and criminals and the gray area between.

He has only one scene but I want to make special mention of Dennis Hopper as poor "Moon", wounded by Cogburn, confused by Mattie, then killed by his own partner.

A selection of other familiar faces:

Was giving a young woman such an active part considered a new type of realism at the time? The Wild Bunch (1969) came out the same year; was that more "realistic"?

Movies are all fantasies. "Realism" is a game played with the audience: give them something new, suppress the old. For a while, but everything old is new again. Decades later, each attempt seems "dated" in its own way.

In this case the perfectly clean, expertly coiffed hair care just kills me. The clothes are all pretty neat too. The film was for a time when audiences wanted it that way.

It is instructive to compare this film with the fine Cohen Bros remake True Grit (2010):

Score by the great Elmer Bernstein, photographed by the great Lucien Ballard.

Available on Blu-ray. In a commentary track three western scholars tend to overwork the revolutionary development of giving a young woman such a good role.