It was his turn as “Double-tough” US Marshall Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn that scored John Wayne his one and only Oscar.
Ironic really, as Cogburn is a send-up of the western genre’s biggest hero: a complacent, unsympathetic old drunk who’d rather stay home playing cards than be out on the open range.
Wayne, though, simply gives us his best late-career John Wayne, just with an eyepatch. And yes, he’s darn good at it.
At the heart of Charles Portis’ source novel is Mattie Ross, a bookish but hardy teen on the hunt for her father’s killer. But Wayne’s bristling performance dominates director Henry Hathaway’s adap, as he growls and wisecracks his way through injun territory in pursuit of his quarry.
It’s the humour of True Grit ’69 that disarms most, Marguerite Roberts’ script bouncing playfully between Mattie (Kim Darby in her strongest role) and Texas Ranger La Boeuf, played by wide-eyed crooner Glen Campbell (he’s no match for Matt Damon in the Coens’ new revamp).
Hathaway’s version can’t help but creak next to Joel and Ethan’s grittier take, but it still holds together. Wrapped around the barbed comebacks is the touching partnership between the young girl and Rooster, and there are raw performances from young guns Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall as two of the film’s rogues gallery.
Galloping onto Blu-ray to coincide with the Coens, this is a fully loaded six-shooter of a set – although with features lifted from the 2007 R1 Collector’s Edition (historians’ commentary and a doc on The Duke), the newest bonus is the dusted-down transfer.