PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
After Frank Ross (John Pickard) is murdered in October 1880 by his hired hand, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Ross’ 14-year-old daughter Mattie (Kim Darby) travels to Fort Smith and hires the aging U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” J. Cogburn (John Wayne). Mattie has heard that, despite his vices and missing eye, Cogburn has “true grit”. She gives Rooster a down payment to track down Chaney, who has taken up with “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), a gang leader whom Rooster once shot in a gunfight.
The pair must head into Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Mattie buys a horse for this, after collecting money from a horse trader. They are joined by a young Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who hopes to collect a $1,500 reward for capturing Chaney, much more than Mattie is offering Cogburn. The ranger says Chaney also killed a Texas Senator named Bibbs, and Bibbs’ dog. Mattie dislikes the boastful La Boeuf and refuses his assistance, but the ranger joins forces with Cogburn, who agrees to split the reward with him. The two try to abandon Mattie, but they learn that she is determined to join their posse.
After several days, the three plan to spend the night at a cabin which Cogburn had said would be empty. At the cabin, they discover Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper), two horse thieves waiting for Pepper. Moon’s leg is badly injured and Cogburn uses the injury as leverage to get information about Pepper from them. To prevent Moon from telling too much, Quincy fatally stabs Moon with a knife, and Cogburn kills Quincy. Before Moon dies, he tells Cogburn that Pepper and his gang are due at the hideout that night; the posse lays a trap.
The following morning, Pepper and his men arrive at the hideout. La Boeuf mistakenly fires and a shootout ensues, during which Cogburn and La Boeuf kill two of the gang, but Pepper and the rest escape. Cogburn, La Boeuf and Mattie make their way to McAlester’s store, where the marshal arranges for the four dead men to be buried.
The three continue their pursuit. After a few days, Mattie slips down a steep hill one morning on her way to bathe in a river and finds herself face-to-face with Chaney. She shoots and wounds him, calling out to her partners. Pepper and his gang capture her, and he forces Cogburn and La Boeuf to abandon the girl.
Cogburn doubles back and attacks Pepper and his gang. La Boeuf finds Mattie and moves Chaney to an area he thinks is secure. La Boeuf and Mattie move to an outcropping and watch as a mounted Cogburn confronts Ned and his three gang members. Cogburn tells Pepper he has a choice of getting killed or surrendering and being hanged at Judge Isaac Parker’s convenience. Pepper replies that is “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.” Cogburn shouts “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” just as he begins charging the four gunmen shooting a rifle in one hand, a pistol in the other and the horse’s reins in his mouth. Rooster shoots down three of the gang and wounds Pepper, but Rooster is trapped under his fallen horse which has been shot by Ned. As Pepper prepares to shoot Rooster, La Boeuf kills Pepper from the outcropping located a great distance away.
As La Boeuf and Mattie return to Pepper’s camp, Chaney comes out from behind a tree and smashes a rock over La Boeuf’s head, knocking him unconscious and fatally wounding him. Mattie shoots and wounds Chaney in the arm, but is driven back from the recoil, falls into a pit and breaks her arm. Cogburn arrives and fatally shoots Chaney, sending him into the pit. In the pit, Mattie is bitten by a rattlesnake, which Cogburn shoots dead as he descends into the pit on a rope. La Boeuf, thought to be dead, peers over the pit and helps them get out by pulling them out with a rope tied to his horse. After Mattie and Cogburn are safely out of the pit, La Boeuf falls off his horse and dies.
In a hurry to get help for Mattie’s snakebite, they have to leave La Boeuf’s body. They both must ride Mattie’s horse, but the overloaded horse collapses and dies before they reach their destination. Undaunted, Cogburn gathers Mattie in his arms and carries her until they encounter some horsemen with a wagon. Cogburn steals the wagon and they ride it the rest of the way to McAlester’s. There, an Indian doctor treats Mattie’s snakebite and splints her broken arm.
Days later, Mattie’s attorney, J. Noble Daggett (John Fiedler) arrives. Throughout the plot, Mattie has frequently used his name as a legal threat on occasions when she fails to get her way. He pays Cogburn a $75 reward for Chaney’s capture, plus an additional $200 for saving Mattie (at her request). Mattie is still ill from the snakebite and Cogburn offers to bet the attorney the $275 that Mattie will make it back to her home, but Daggett declines to bet against her.
Weeks later, we find Mattie, arm in a sling, recovered and at home. She shows a visiting Cogburn her family burial plot on the land. Cogburn was there to receive all the reward money offered for Chaney in Texas, which was apparently more than the $75 he initially received. She promises that he can be buried next to her family after his death. Cogburn reluctantly accepts, hoping his burial will not be too soon. She offers him her father’s pistol which he reluctantly accepts, stating that it misfired once. He leaves, jumping over a fence with his horse to disprove her claim that he was too old and fat. He heads off into the valley below as the film ends.
For those of you who can’t tell by that poster up there, this is a review of the original True Grit, and not that bastardized version that was released a few months ago.
The past few westerns I’ve watched have been on the disappointing side, so it was good to watch one that actually was worth watching.
The story revolves around 14 yr old Mattie Ross who has just lost her father and is out to find someone to dish out some justice and avenge him for her. The sheriff of Ft. Smith gives her the name of Rooster Cogburn, whom she immediately tracks down and insists he track down her father’s killer. After he reluctantly agrees, they are joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf and they set out into Indian territory in search of the killer.
The pacing of this film is one of the best things about it. I’ve seen all too many westerns that seem to take forever to get to the climax, leaving the audience half asleep by the time they get there. True Grit doesn’t do that, but instead moves along at a steady enough pace that the audience is interested in everything that happens from the opening credits to the fade to black at the film’s end.
Some people have derided this film for not being gritty enough for a film that has grit in the title. Well, if you want to see a dark, gritty version of this, then read the book or waste your time with the remake.
I actually loved the tone of this film. The lighthearted comedic moments added a little something extra to the film that wasn’t necessarily needed, but presented an extra bit of flavor, if you will.
This is a western, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the gunplay and action. I’m not so sure it is the true highlight of the film. In the same vein as How the West Was Won, True Grit seems to focus more on the plot and drama, rather than the final shootout. Not a thing wrong with that, but for some reason I expected the opposite.
Having said that, I have to mention the impressiveness of John Wayne (or his stunt double) at 61 yrs old able to ride his horse (with the reins in his mouth) and shoot a rifle and a six-shooter. It was quite the impressive site…dare i say that it was a truly badass moment!
Speaking of Wayne, I’m not sure what to say about his performance as Rooster. I mean, he’s played some great and memorable characters in his career, yet this, one of his final roles, is the one that won him an Academy Award. Watching his performance, it is no surprise, though.
I’m actually a little surprised that Kim Darby didn’t go on to have a better career, but then again, I’ve read how some people have called her performance the worst thing about this film, so it all depends on how you look at things. For me, she came off as a bit annoying, but given the nature of her character, it was acceptable.
Glen Campbell started off as an interesting character…the hero to Wayne’s anti-hero, if you will. After they head off on the search, though, he seems to just become the generic lawman until his act of bravery during the film’s climax.
True Grit is one of the better westerns I’ve seen. With its mixture of action, drama, and comedy, plus the immortal John Wayne starring in it, how can you go wrong with this picture? This hands down one of the films you should see before you die, without a doubt! If you are just hell-bent on seeing the remake, then I implore you check out this, the ORIGINAL True Grit first.
5 out of 5 stars