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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TRUE GRIT (1969)

The standard critical line on this first adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel (about an over-the-hill one-eyed marshal & a revenge-seeking 14 year-old girl) holds the film up as a tired remnant of the old Hollywood studio system, and John Wayne’s Oscar’d perf as an entertaining parody on his better self. Well, nuts to that. It was, and remains, a rich entertainment, not that far removed from the recently released Coen Brothers version, though brighter & more buoyant, a sort of Y.A. edition. Made as the old Hollywood guard was rapidly disintegrating, the professional sheen achieved here is nothing to sneer at. The story’s been simplified & reorganized, with clean ‘readable’ action sequences from vet helmer Henry Hathaway who seems charged up in general after making a couple of stinkers. The perfectly staged & edited climactic shootout is a particular treat, and all handsomely shot by the great Lucien Ballard without the ‘tasteful’ desaturated tones that have become a modern default clichĂ©. The supporting cast nicely mixes New Hollywood types like Dennis Hopper & Robert Duvall with old-hands like Strother Martin (rarely hilarious), John Fiedler & an unbilled Hank Worden. Glen Campbell may be nothing to write home about as a Texas lawman (Matt Damon’s role in the remake), but the habitually underrated Kim Darby is very fine as the bluntly stubborn Mattie, played without the Coens’ glint of modern ironic neuroticism. Wayne is often deeply funny here, Hathaway preferred Wayne in slightly comic mode (see NORTH TO ALASKA/’60; SONS OF KATIE ELDER/’65), but his showboating never fully hides the lone wolf who shares a bit of his personal history with this odd young girl who’s hired him to avenge her slain father and suddenly become family.

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