True Grit and Lonesome Dove. Charles Portis and Larry McMurty. John Wayne and Jeff Bridges. John Books and John Wayne. Left eye or right eye? The parallels with other books and Western stories in this 2010 version of True Grit are staggering.
John Wayne starred in the original version in 1969. He won his only Oscar for his portrayal of crusty, aging lawman Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. He wore an eye patch on his left eye. The new version with Jeff Bridges playing the role, has moved the black patch to the right eye.
Charles Portis’ novel was a forerunner of the more famous and prolific writings of Larry McMurty. His most famous novel, Lonesome Dove, resulted in a made for TV movie that was the best ever done for the small screen. It provided Robert Duvall with a career best role as cattleman partner to Tommy Lee Jones.
RD is also one of the two main bad guys in True Grit 1969 version. Both Portis and McMurty wrote realistic and gritty novels in which the Old West was seen as a harsh place, tough on the characters, where anyone and everyone could be maimed or killed in the story.
In The Shootist, John Wayne had a chance to play a character dying of cancer when this was what was happening to him in real life. In the original True Grit the ending varied from the book in two significant ways that are restored in the new version. The changes gave John Wayne a chance to finish the film with a scene that shows an aging man defying his age and state in life. The final scene, accompanied by the rousing Elmer Bernstein score, brought the film to a perfect John Wayne finish. The 2010 version brings the story to its original, harsher and more realistic conclusion. Jeff Bridges would probably not have done the John Wayne stunt anyway.
The Coen Bros. deserve a lot of credit for bringing back a classic and Jeff Bridges has a lot of spunk for taking on a role that is a John Wayne signature part. The CB boys, known for violent films and kinky characters, keep themselves in check and stick to making a Western that is true to the original film while being in sync with the novel at the same time.
Matt Damon steps into the role of the haughty Texas Ranger, LeBoeuf, also on the trail of the bad guys. Singer Glen Campbell did a fine job in this role and Glen also got to sing the title song in the 69 version. Fortunately MD does no singing in the new version.
The actual lead role in the story is that of 14 year old Mattie Ross. She is a headstrong, determined young lady who is out to avenge the murder of her father. In the 69 version the part was played by 21-year-old Kim Darby. Now it ends up in the capable hands of 13 year old Hailee Steinfeld. Both do great jobs as the spunky youngster who had plenty of True Grit of her own.
Much of the script in the new version is lifted line for line from the original and in many cases the film seems like a scene for scene remake.
he low-key score by Carter Burwell (composer of the most recent remake of The Alamo) opted for a lower profile since the score for the original by Elmer Bernstein was robust and operatic.
Both versions of the film are highly recommended. One is on DVD and one is in the theaters. A tidbit of trivia: John Wayne returned to the role of Marshal Cogburn in the 1975 film Rooster Cogburn. It was his next to last film before The Shootist and the only film he made with another screen legend Katherine Hepburn. While not up to the original, it’s fun to watch these two on screen for their only get together.
New Version rated 4.0 out of 4.0 Marshal Badges
Old Version Ditto
Lonesome Dove also 4.0
The Shootist ditto
You could say all of the above films have True Grit. But that would be ludicrous. Call me ludicrous.