Thursday, September 30, 2010

Favourite movies: True Grit (1969)

I have lost track of how many times I have seen True Grit. It is one of those films that is committed to memory. Marguerite Roberts' screenplay is filled with some of moviedom's most delicious dialogue as she drew heavily on Charles Portis' remarkably fine novel. The tone is one of dramatic authenticity with a dark sense of absurdity at situation and character, particularly Mattie's intractable worldview. It is the adventure of a lifetime.

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross

Rooster Cogburn: Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?
Mattie Ross: It belonged to my father, he carried it bravely in the war, and I intend to kill Tom Chaney with it if the law fails to do so.
Rooster Cogburn: Well, this'll sure get the job done if you can find a fence post to rest it on while you take aim.

I was 12 years old when I saw True Grit for the first time in 1969. A 12-year-old who had grown up in an era of television westerns and Audie Murphy features at our local theatre. I loved the drama, the action and the morality, sometimes ambiguous, in those stories. True Grit was the same, yet it was different. Western fans play the game of "measuring up". We would stand up to the rancher Ryker. We would not refuse Will Kane's request for help. We would know a skunk when we saw one.

In True Grit, it wasn't the tall man in the hat to whom I had to measure myself, it was a girl. It was 14 years old Mattie Ross seeking justice, seeking vengeance for the killing of her father. It was Mattie Ross standing up to a world of adults who wanted to brush her aside. It was Mattie dealing with her sorrow and pain, yet determined to have her voice heard. It was the world around her that would have to measure up to Mattie.

John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell (La Boeuf)

The viewers go on a journey with the spunky girl as she deals with the frustrations of bureaucracy and the societal expectations of children. Mattie knows she is capable and she knows what she must do. Her journey leads her to Rooster Cogburn, a marshal of skill and dubious reputation. A Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell becomes part of the team which is an uneasy alliance. Musician Campbell does well enough considering it is a tyro acting effort, but how I wish an experienced actor had been cast in the role. I always pictured Doug McClure.

True Grit is filled with interesting characters and interesting character actors which gives the film its depth. Jeff Corey (Little Big Man) is the murderer Tom Chaney. Hank Worden (The Searchers) is a sympathetic undertaker. Edith Atwater (The Body Snatcher) is a pretentious boarding house landlady. Alfred Ryder (T-Men) a bombastic defense attorney. Donald Woods (A Tale of Two Cities) is cast as the district attorney, but sadly only has one line in the film, and doesn't appear on screen.

Strother Martin, Kim Darby

Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke) is Colonel Stonehill, a horse trader whose scenes with Kim Darby are one of the highlights of the movie.

Mattie Ross: Do you know a Marshal Rooster Cogburn?
Col. G. Stonehill: Most people around here have heard of Rooster Cogburn and some people live to regret it. I would not be surprised to learn that he's a relative of yours.

Jeremy Slate (The Sons of Katie Elder) and Dennis Hopper (Hoosiers) are two unfortunate criminals who cross paths with Rooster. Robert Duvall (The Godfather) is 'Lucky' Ned Pepper, as determined an outlaw as Rooster is a lawman. 
John Wayne, John Fiedler, H.W. Gim

John Fiedler (The Odd Couple) is Mattie's lawyer, J. Nobel Daggett.

Mattie Ross: They're in this story together. Now, I've got business across the river and if you interfere with me you may land up in court which you don't want to be. I've got a good lawyer in J. Noble Daggett.
Rooster Cogburn: [to LaBoeuf] Lawyer Daggett again.
LaBoeuf: She draws him like a gun.

John Doucette as the Sheriff

Mattie Ross: Who's the best marshal they have?
Sheriff: Bill Waters is the best tracker. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn, a pitiless man, double tough, fear don't enter into his thinking. I'd have to say L.T. Quinn is the straightest, he brings his prisoners in alive.
Mattie Ross: Where would I find this Rooster?

Kim Darby as Mattie Ross

Rooster Cogburn is who Mattie feels will get the job done for her, but is she ready for the realities in store? How will the violence and hardships to come shape her character? Is it Mattie's determination and her vulnerabilities that will shape her destiny and her relationships? The novel presents the events as a memory, the story of an adventure. The movie's viewpoint is from the young girl that is Mattie Ross. We are swept up in her journey of discovery and her adventure with the force of nature that is Rooster Cogburn.

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn

Rooster Cogburn: Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way.

John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit. He had been nominated once before for Sands of Iwo Jima. Personally, if I were the Academy I would have given Duke nods for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, and Island in the Sky, but I'm not the Academy.

It is impossible to say how many John Wayne movies I had seen to that point in my life. He was, to me, a true movie star and he epitomized the West, with a capital W, as it had grown in my imagination. Since that time, my main movie cowboys have become Randolph Scott and Glenn Ford, and John Wayne has become more and more, an actor who gives me great joy.

John Wayne carried a legacy of classic western portrayals of close to 40 years when he played the character of Rooster. The marshal was a man who hadn't just seen much, he had done much. However, his world was turning fast. His previous autonomous ways were becoming accountable to courts and now to a youngster, and not just any youngster, a young lady. A young lady with as keen a sense of self as his own. Their clash of wills would lead to understanding, respect, and affection that neither would experience again.

Henry Hathaway directed True Grit on location in Colorado instead of the novel's actual setting of Arkansas. Although that decision may annoy purists, it mattered little to a Nova Scotian girl who marveled only at the vast and magnificent scenery against which the tale was told. Award-winning cinematographer Lucien Ballard breathtakingly captured the magnificent scenery, making it another character in the story. Elmer Bernstein's score is one of his "rousing" variety and pushes all the right buttons.

When I think of great female performances of the 1960s it is not the Academy Award winners or the glamour queens of the era that come to mind. It is Kim Darby's valiant, heartbreaking and inspiring Mattie Ross.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Introducing June and Art

Hello, friends. I want to direct your attention to a new blog on my "following" list. A special project from an IMDb Classic Film Board friend, lee-109 and sister, "The Story of June and Art" is a loving tribute to their parents and a time and place in their lives.


Monday, September 13, 2010

As the World Turns, 1956 - 2010

1956 to 2010. That's quite an astonishing run for a television program. It is a feat to be applauded. It is an entertainment legacy to celebrate. However, as with last year's cancellation of (The) Guiding Light, the ending of the program leaves a bitter taste for fans.

Also created by Irna Phillips, As the World Turns was, along with The Edge of Night, the first of the soaps to be broadcast in 30 minute episodes. The Hughes, the Stewarts, the Lowells captured hearts and imaginations, and dedicated viewers for generations.

Kathryn Hayes (Kim), Don Hastings (Bob), Greg Marx (Tom), Hillary Bailey Smith (Margo)
Don McLaughlin (Chris), Helen Wagner (Nancy)
Julianne Moore (Franny) and Scott DeFreitas (Andy)

Soap fans appreciate a strong cast. By necessity, personalities drive many of the stories. Even the best of writers are going to dry up when trying to provide episodes for an hour (the show went to an hour in 1975), 5 days a week. A solid mix of experienced performers and youngsters who can take the opportunity and run with it make for exciting - almost theatrical television.

Note the Christmas tree in this cast photo. The weddings, the births, the funerals and the holidays made the characters and their travails important moments in the days of viewers.

Isn't this a fabulous photo? Who else remembers Lisa's Mom and Susan's Mom? Our "Aunt" Charlotte used to say "Oh, that John Dixon is a devil!" We all agreed and we all loved Larry Bryggman.

It's a rare thing to see a "soap" get a TV Guide cover. Apparently, the time of day in which a program aired was important in the hierarchy of entertainment. That would change with the advent of VCRs when people could choose their own timing.

However, that change in viewer's habits frightened television and program executives. They ran scared and in an effort to gain a new viewership, ignored the old. Ratings slipped and viewers were blamed for deserting the show. A look at any internet message board would have told them that the fans were still there, but the fans had had enough. Fans practically begged for stories where history of plot and consistency of character were honoured. Fans practically begged for a glimpse of cherished, veteran performers.

What we got were recasts in name only ("we're going in a different direction with the character), promises of storylines for veterans (Bob gets sick on Tuesday and forgotten about by Thursday). Gimmicky summer mysteries (a slasher on the loose at a camp for teens!) and SORAS'ed (soap opera rapid aging syndrome) teenagers making out at the Snyder pond.

I believe it is the lack of listening to the fans, and the proliferation of SPOILERS that have brought about the decline in viewership. There is still a place for the continuing story arc in entertainment. Most of the popular primetime series of today emulate that model.

Eventually the bitterness will fade and fans will check out clips on YouTube to relive favourite stories and moments that are as real to us as anything we've experienced. However, right now, during the last week of As the World Turns we hang on every last moment and curse the people who took a cherished storytelling legacy and let it die.

Farewell Lisa, Bob, Kim, Susan, James, Barbara, Lucinda, John, Tom & Margo, Lily & Holden. Good-bye to the all the stories told and all the stories untold.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...