True Grit

"True Grit" on Blu-ray

Just in time to cash in on the Coen Brothers' remake starring Jeff Bridges comes the Blu-ray release of this John Wayne classic.

Wayne won a single "Best Actor" Oscar during his long career, and it was for the 1969 "True Grit", in a performance that caricatured his tough guy image.

Based on the novel by Charles Portis, from an intelligent but with some stilted dialogue screenplay by Marguerite Roberts, "Grit" is the story of plucky teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) who hires boozin' deputy US Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Wayne) to help her hunt down and bring back to "hangin' justice" the man who killed her father.

They're joined on their odyssey by the eloquent but incompetent Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell, who was obviously hired because he was "hot" at the time and not because of his skills as a thespian).

The "marriage of convenience" between Darby, Wayne and Campbell is a cat-and-or-dogfight just waiting to break out as the tough little Mattie tries bringing her male compadres to heel - and they go about their sometimes nasty business in the best manner they can.

You can't help but like Kim Darby as Mattie (and you may remember her as "Miri" from the "Star Trek" original TV series episode of the same name). The spirited Mattie brooks no nonsense and aims to get what she wants whatever it takes. She can out-dicker the best man, aided by the threat of unleashing the family lawyer on her adversary, she doesn't fall apart when the going gets tough, and she keeps her eye focused firmly on her goal.

John Wayne's Oscar-winning performance is fine, but it seems more like he's John Wayne playing the stereotyped John Wayne. But he - and Cogburn - definitely has "True Grit," and that's what Mattie needs.

Wayne almost seems to be winking at the audience throughout, but it doesn't get in the way of the story. His Oscar, however, must have been awarded either for his body of work (this reviewer thinks he was much better in other movies, for example, "Rio Grande", than he is here) or because there were slim acting pickings in the Oscar race that year (though, with such names as Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in the running, that seems unlikely).

Then again, next to Glen Campbell a chimpanzee would come off like Lord Olivier, so this probably didn't hurt Wayne's chances with the Academy, either. Campbell should never have been put into this movie. His acting is so juvenile it's embarrassing, especially in a film with a powerhouse supporting cast like Robert Duvall, Strother Martin, Jeremy Slate, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper and others.

The above-mentioned actors, in comparatively minor roles, wipe the floor with Campbell. It's too bad; his character is eloquent (most of the characters in this movie are very eloquent for a "Western" - a nice change, though at times the dialogue comes off as a tad stilted) and driven (well, by money), and would be quite likable if you weren't always tempted to reach into the TV screen to slap his face for his high school-level thespian skills.

Still, director Henry Hathaway may have known with what the production was saddled, because even Campbell can't come close to ruining "True Grit."

The film isn't really a comedy, but it's definitely a "light" drama with many humorous moments.

It's also a film shot gloriously on location in Colorado, which is exploited nicely in the supplementary materials. The backgrounds are spectacular and make you wish the widescreen film had been shot at the wider 2.35:1 aspect ratio than the 1.85:1 in which it was actually lensed so you could see more of the magnficent vistas of the locations.

Paramount's 1080p Blu-ray looks very good, too, with a nice and crisp presentation with excellent color and detail. It isn't reference quality, but it's still darn watchable.

The audio quality is pretty good, too. Presented in dts-HD Master audio, it's front centric, which isn't surprising since it wasn't mixed in surround originally anyway, but the music swells across all three channels nicely and the dialogue occupies the center channel well. It's reasonably dynamic, too, which comes in handy when the guns start shooting.

You also get a decent selection of extras, though they were also available on the Special Edition DVD Paramount released a few years back. First up is a running commentary featuring Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Boze Bell and J. Stuart Rosebrook. There's also a featurette on the screenplay translation from the novel (screenwriter Roberts was apparently blacklisted back then; Hollywood always makes that out to mean "couldn't work" which makes it sound like there's nothing outside of screenwriting that could be considered "work" - typical Hollywood elitism), another featurette on what it was like to work with The Duke, one on the gorgeous Colorado locations, and a quickie on "Law" and "Lawless" legends of the old west. You also get the trailer which, at least, is in HD.

True Grit, from Paramount Home Video
127 minutes, 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), dts-HD Master Audio
Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin
a Hal Wallis Production,
written by Marguerite Roberts, directed by Henry Hathaway

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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