True Grit (1969)

Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall

Director: Henry Hathaway
Released: 1969

Mood: If you’re looking for a feel-good Western starring John Wayne but also have only seen the 2010 True Grit and you want to see the OG so you can have opinions when people compare the two.

When I reviewed the 2010 True Grit remake, I vowed to see the original ASAP. 

My dad likes the OG version better, and let’s be real here: it’s rare that a remake tops the original. In fact, usually the remake succeeds only in pissing everyone off. Nobody wants to see a f*cking remake of The Princess Bride, including Carey Elwes! STOP RUINING CLASSIC MOVIES!

Seriously.

With that said, True Grit is one of the rare exceptions – the two films have enough similarities that the reboot honours the original, and doesn’t ruin the story and its themes. And the original is a cowboy boots the house down classic. 

The humour is somehow almost exactly the same, despite being written four decades apart and for audiences with entirely different values and expectations. The writers, director, and actors gave the new version enough of their own personal touches to validate the existence of a remake – it’s not just a lackluster copy with new faces.

If, like me, you’ve only seen the 2010 True Grit reboot – go watch the original right now! It’s a great movie. 

the True Grit 1969 DVD

True Grit opens with Frank Ross gambling and having a good time, then being robbed and murdered by his hired hand, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is a whip-smart and logical teenager who now wears the pants in the family. She travels to Arkansas to get her father’s affairs in order, and to hire someone to capture Chaney. 

The man she picks for the job is U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (John Wayne), because she’s told he has ‘true grit’. Rooster partners up with Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who is also hunting Chaney. They try to ditch Mattie, but she’s determined to keep a close eye on her investment and sticks with them throughout the pursuit and requisite showdown. 

illustration of a fancy moustache

Wayne is f*cking awesome as Rooster Cogburn. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. 

He has a powerful bravado and swagger that belies the old “one-eyed fat man” it’s trapped inside. That trademark monotone made every line sound smirking and sarcastic, and it works. His Cogburn was more affable than Bridges’ in the remake. You get more of a fatherly vibe in his scenes with Mattie. 

Unlike Bridges’ bellowing, incoherent boozehound performance, Wayne’s drinking is almost an afterthought – there are a few shots of him with empties, but only one scene where he seems legit drunk (and it’s made to be kind of cute). The original True Grit had a “PG” rating, while the remake is 14A, which might explain why Bridges was able to topple the character into a full-blown lush. 

Wayne vs. Bridges as Rooster Cogburn is like pancakes and waffles. Or, more appropriately, bourbon and rye. They were both outstanding in totally different ways, and I enjoyed them equally. If you’ve seen one, you should definitely watch the other.

I LOVED Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie in the remake, so I was expecting a big disappointment in the original. I assumed they’d overhauled and updated the character’s personality to make her stronger.

Kim Darby’s bossy tenacity initially reminded me of Hayley Mills. It does become one-note by the end though, when she’s supposedly suffering a deadly snake bite AND a broken arm and the delivery is still the same. Steinfeld showed more range, but I can still appreciate the awesomeness that this commanding Western role existed for a young woman in the late ‘60s.  

From Glen Campbell’s first moment as La Boeuf, I could see why Matt Damon was the perfect choice for the remake. Campbell has a sweet, earnest face in this role that you can’t help but trust. But without as much conflict between La Boeuf and Cogburn (and Mattie) as in the remake, he had nowhere to go and I didn’t get a lot from him. It wasn’t memorable. 

Robert Duvall is solid as bad guy Ned Pepper. Despite being a wanted man, the character has a hint of that sweetness that Duvall always brings to his roles. The final galloping shootout (spoiler alert: it contains a key plot point) between Cogburn and Pepper’s men has fantastic acting by Wayne and Duvall

illustration of a fancy moustache

The 1969 True Grit has a slightly more feel-good vibe, propelled by upbeat Western songs and music. It’s more family-friendly, which normally would be a buzzkill for my taste – but it’s a brilliant piece of work that somehow showcases Wayne’s machismo while being driven by an uncommonly strong young female. 

Some of the stunts are a bit wonky, like unconvincing deaths and distractingly fake blood. But the scenic cinematography is beautiful, with plenty of those distinctly Western panoramic shots of wide open spaces that make me wish we’d stop paving all the f*cking land. 

Although Wayne had a stunt double for most scenes, he insisted on being the one to jump the four-rail fence on his horse at the end of the movie even though he was still in recovery from a lung surgery a couple of years earlier.

Wayne also lobbied to get the movie made after loving the book, AND fought to give the author credit even though she’d been blacklisted (Wayne was extremely vocal about being all for blacklisting, but he didn’t let that get between him and a great story). 

So, further props to John F*cking Wayne. 

Is this movie worth adding to the collection? Hell yes. Would I choose the remake over the original? Probably. Sorry, but the supporting cast felt stronger in the 2010 True Grit. But this one gave me all the good feels and I get why it’s a classic.

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