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True Grit

"True Grit" on DVD

Smart, Funny Western

John Wayne won a single "Best Actor" Oscar during his long career, and it was for his role as the boozin' caricature of his tough guy role in the 1969 film "True Grit."

Based on the novel by Charles Portis, from a screen play by Marguerite Roberts, "Grit" is the story of plucky teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) who hires 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 not because of his skills as a thespian but because he was "hot" at the time).

The "marriage of convenience" between Darby, Wayne and Campbell is a cat-and-or-dogfight just waiting to break out as the staid 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). She's no nonsense, spirited, and aims to get what she wants. 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 the goal at hand.

John Wayne's Oscar-winning performance is fine, but it seems more like he's John Wayne playing the stereotyped John Wayne, a task made easier by the obvious "flaws" in Cogburn's character. But he has "True Grit," and that's what Mattie needs.

Wayne almost seems to be winking at the audience throughout "True Grit," 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, for example, "Rio Grande" than he is here) or because there were slim acting pickings in the Oscar race that year.

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. Glen 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 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 quite eloquent for a Western - but that's a nice change) and driven (well, by money), and would be quite likable if you weren't always tempted to reach into the TV monitor screen to slap his face.

Still, director Henry Hathaway may have known with what the production was saddled, because Campbell doesn't even 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 what appears to be the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The settings 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.

The DVD is enhanced for 16x9 TV's, which is nice, and the picture looks very good. It doesn't appear to have been digitally remastered, because you can see the occasional wart, but on the whole it looks great. Audio quality isn't as good, but Paramount has wisely used Dolby Digital mono to make the sounds emanate from the center channel, where they should. This means the audio will come from the direction of the screen regardless of where in the home theater you sit, and that's good.

Some mono movies are released on DVD in Dolby Digital 2 channel mono, which means they pump the mono signal out of the main stereo speakers. This has the advantage of using what are probably the best quality speakers in the home theater setup, but at the cost of using a "ghost image" to position the sound - and that isn't as firmly directional as using the center channel.

On the whole, Paramount has chosen the right audio configuration for this flick because the audio quality isn't good enough that it needs the main speakers; the smaller center channel speaker should be just fine.

The only real extras you get on this disc is the theatrical trailer, an alternate language track, and subtitles, though those aren't really considered extras on DVD's any more.

True Grit, from Paramount Home Video
127 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital mono
Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin
a Hal Wallis Production, Screenplay by Marguerite Roberts
Directed by Henry Hathaway


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Updated May 13, 2006