True Grit (1969 film)

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True Grit
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Marguerite Roberts
Based on True Grit
1968 novel
by Charles Portis
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Edited by Warren Low
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • June 11, 1969 (1969-06-11)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $31.1 million[1]

True Grit is a 1969 American western film. It is the first film adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Marguerite Roberts. The film was directed by Henry Hathaway and starred Kim Darby as Mattie Ross and John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Wayne won his only Academy Award for his performance in this film and reprised his role for the 1975 sequel Rooster Cogburn.

Historians believe Cogburn was based on Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas, who brought in some of the toughest outlaws. The cast also features Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin. The title song, sung by Campbell, was also Oscar-nominated.

True Grit was adapted again in 2010, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld.


Frank Ross (John Pickard) is murdered by his hired hand, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Ross's young daughter, Mattie (Kim Darby), travels to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she hires aging U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn (John Wayne) to bring Chaney in, raising his fee by shrewdly horse trading with Colonel Stonehill (Strother Martin). Mattie has heard that Cogburn has "true grit." She gives him a payment to track and capture Chaney, who has taken up with outlaw "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma).

A young Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), is also pursuing Chaney and joins forces with Cogburn, despite Mattie's protest. The two try to ditch Mattie, but she catches up and is permitted to ride along.

After several days, the three discover horse thieves Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper), who are waiting for Ned Pepper at a remote dugout cabin. Cogburn captures and interrogates the two men. Moon's leg is injured and Cogburn uses the injury as leverage to get information about Lucky Ned. In terrible pain and about to talk, Moon is stabbed by Quincy, who is then killed by Cogburn. In the remaining minute before Moon dies, he reveals that Pepper and his gang are due at the cabin that night to get fresh mounts.

Rooster and La Boeuf lay a trap. Upon arriving, Pepper is suspicious and succeeds in drawing La Boeuf's fire, who blows their cover by shooting and killing Pepper's horse. A firefight ensues, during which Cogburn and La Boeuf kill two of the gang, but Pepper and the rest of his men escape unharmed. Cogburn, La Boeuf, and Mattie make their way to McAlester's store with the dead bodies. Cogburn tries to persuade Mattie to stay at McAlester's, but she refuses.

The three resume their pursuit. Fetching water one morning, Mattie finds herself face-to-face with Chaney in a stream. When he comes toward her menacingly, she shoots Chaney with her father's Colt Dragoon, injuring him and calling out to her partners. Pepper and his gang get there first, capturing her. Lucky Ned then forces Cogburn and La Boeuf to abandon the girl and ride away. Pepper decides to leave Mattie in the care of Chaney, who has lost his horse. He promises he will send a horse back for Chaney, vowing to kill him if any harm comes to the girl.

Cogburn doubles back and attacks Pepper and his gang single-handedly. La Boeuf, meantime, finds Mattie. They watch from a high bluff as a mounted Cogburn confronts Pepper's gang. Cogburn gives Pepper a choice between being killed right there or surrendering and being hanged in Fort Smith. Calling this "bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," Pepper enrages Cogburn, who charges the four outlaws, guns blazing. He kills two of the gang and mortally wounds Pepper. In the fight, Ned shoots Rooster's horse, trapping Rooster's leg under him as he goes down. As a last act, the wounded Pepper prepares to kill Rooster, until La Boeuf makes a long shot with his Sharps Rifle, doing away with Pepper once and for all.

As La Boeuf and Mattie return to Pepper's camp, Chaney comes out from behind a tree and strikes La Boeuf in the head with a rock,

True Grit
LocationFort Smith, Arkansas and Indian Territory

Ross Family

Ned Pepper Gang

  • snake pit
Commanders and leaders

Mattie Ross (w)
U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn

Texas Ranger La Boeuf (k)
"Lucky" Ned Pepper (k)

1 armed citizen
1 U.S. Marshall

1 Texas Ranger
9 gang-members
Casualties and losses

1 killed
1 wounded

1 noncombatant murdered

7 killed

1 murdered by fellow gang-member

fracturing his skull and knocking him unconscious. Mattie is able to shoot Chaney and wound him, but, driven back by the recoil, falls into a snake pit and breaks her arm. Chaney begins to taunt Mattie about the snakes; Cogburn appears and shoots and kills Chaney, who falls into the pit as well. With great difficulty, Cogburn descends into the pit on a rope to retrieve Mattie, who is bitten by a rattlesnake before Cogburn can kill it. The mortally injured La Boeuf helps them out of the pit, saving their lives. La Boeuf dies from the effort.

Cogburn is forced to leave La Boeuf's body behind as they race to get help for Mattie at McAlester's on Mattie's pony. After stealing a buckboard, they arrive at their destination. There, an Indian doctor treats Mattie's snakebite and broken arm.

Some time later, Mattie's attorney, J. Noble Daggett (John Fiedler) meets Cogburn in Fort Smith. On Mattie's behalf Daggett pays Cogburn for Cogburn's part in Chaney's capture. Cogburn offers to wager the money on a bet that Mattie will recover just fine, a bet Daggett declines.

In the epilogue Mattie, her arm in a sling, is back at home recovering from her injuries. She promises Cogburn he will be buried next to her in the Ross family plot after his death. Cogburn reluctantly accepts her offer and leaves, jumping over a fence on his new horse to disprove her good-natured jab that he was too old and fat to clear a four-rail fence, and rides off into the valley below.



Filming took place mainly in Ouray County, Colorado, in the vicinity of Ridgway (now the home of the True Grit Cafe), around the town of Montrose (Montrose County), and the town of Ouray.[2][3][4] (The script maintains the novel's references to place names in Arkansas and Oklahoma, in dramatic contrast to the Colorado topography.) The courtroom scenes were filmed at Ouray County Courthouse in Ouray.[5][6]

Ouray County Courthouse, constructed in 1888.

The scenes that take place at the "dugout" and along the creek where Quincy and Moon are killed, as well as the scene where Rooster carries Mattie on her horse Little Blackie after the snakebite, were filmed at Hot Creek on the east side of the Sierra Nevada near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain form the backdrop above the creek. This location was also used in North to Alaska.[7] Filming was done from September to December 1968.[8]

Mia Farrow was originally cast as Mattie and was keen on the role. However, prior to filming she made a film in England with Robert Mitchum, who advised her not to work with director Henry Hathaway because he was "cantankerous." Farrow asked producer Hal B. Wallis to replace Hathaway with Roman Polanski, who had directed Farrow in Rosemary's Baby, but Wallis refused. Farrow quit the film, which was then offered to Sondra Locke and Tuesday Weld, both of whom turned it down. John Wayne met Karen Carpenter at a talent show he was hosting and recommended her for the part, though the producers decided against it because she had no acting experience. Wayne had also lobbied for his daughter Aissa to win the part. After also considering Sally Field, the role went to Kim Darby.[9]

Elvis Presley was the original choice for LaBoeuf but the producers turned him down when his agent demanded top-billing over both Wayne and Darby. Glen Campbell was then cast instead. Wayne began lobbying for the part of Rooster Cogburn after reading the novel by Charles Portis.

Wayne called Marguerite Roberts' script "the best script he had ever read," and was instrumental in getting her script approved and credited to her name after Roberts had been blacklisted for alleged leftist affiliations years before. This came in spite of Wayne's own conservative ideals.[3] He particularly liked the scene with Darby where Rooster tells Mattie about his life in Illinois (where he has a restaurant, his wife Nola leaves him because of his degenerate friends, and has a clumsy son named Horace), calling it "about the best scene I ever did."[10] Garry Wills notes in his book, John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity, that Wayne's performance as Rooster Cogburn bears close resemblance to the way Wallace Beery portrayed similar characters in the 1930s and 1940s, an inspired if surprising choice on Wayne's part. Wills comments that it's difficult for one actor to imitate another for the entire length of a movie and that the Beery mannerisms temporarily recede during the aforementioned scene in which Cogburn discusses his wife and child.[11]

Veteran John Wayne stunt-double Tom Gosnell does the stunt in the meadow, where "Bo" goes down, on his longtime horse Twinkle Toes.[12] In the last scene, Mattie gives Rooster her father's gun. She comments that he's gotten a tall horse, as she expected he would. He notes that his new horse can jump a four-rail fence. Then she admonishes him, "You're too old and fat to be jumping horses." Rooster responds with a smile, saying, "Well, come see a fat old man sometime," and jumps his new horse over a four-rail fence. Although many of Wayne's stunts over the years were done by Hayward and Chuck Roberson, it is Wayne on Twinkle Toes going over the fence.[12] This stunt had been left to the last shot as Wayne wanted to do it himself, and following his lung surgery in 1965 neither Hathaway nor Wayne was sure he could make the jump over the fence. Darby's stunts were done by Polly Burson.[13]

The horse shown during the final scene of True Grit (before he jumps the fence on Twinkle Toes) was Dollor, a two-year-old (in 1969) chestnut Quarter horse gelding. Dollor ('Ole Dollor) was Wayne's favorite horse for 10 years. Wayne fell in love with the horse, which would carry him through several more Westerns, including his final movie, The Shootist. Wayne had Dollor written into the script of The Shootist because of his love for the horse; it was a condition for him working on the project. Wayne would not let anyone else ride the horse, the lone exception being Robert Wagner, who rode the horse in a segment of the Hart to Hart television show, after Wayne's death.[14]


After reading True Grit by Charles Portis, John Wayne was enthusiastic about playing the part of Rooster Cogburn, but as production got closer, Wayne got jumpy—he didn't have a handle on how to play Rooster Cogburn. He was, of course, nervous because the part was out of his comfort zone and hadn't been specifically tailored to his screen character by one of his in-house screenwriters. Henry Hathaway, who directed the film, was able to calm Wayne's doubts, most notably concerning the eye patch which was made of gauze allowing Wayne to see.[15] John Wayne thought the picture had been edited too tightly by Hathaway. Nevertheless, in May 1969, a few weeks before the picture was released, Wayne wrote to Marguerite Roberts thanking her for her "magnificent" screenplay, especially for the beautiful ending in the cemetery that she had devised in Portis's style.[16] Wayne and Kim Darby worked very well together, but Henry Hathaway disliked her, stating: "My problem with her was simple, she's not particularly attractive, so her book of tricks consisted mostly [of] being a little cute. All through the film, I had to stop her from acting funny, doing bits of business and so forth."[17] By the time the picture got back to the studio interiors, Kim Darby was telling Hal Wallis she would never work for Hathaway again. John Wayne was another matter. "He was wonderful to work with, he really was", said Darby. "When you work with someone who's a big star as he is... there's an unspoken thing that they sort of set the environment for the working conditions on the set and the feeling on the set. And he creates an environment that is very safe to work in. He's very supportive of the people around him and the people he works with, very supportive. He's really a reflection, an honest reflection, of what he really is. I mean that's what you see on the screen. He's simple and direct, and I love that in his work." [18] Surrounded by an angry director, a nervous actress, and the inexperienced Glen Campbell, Wayne took the reins between his teeth the same way Rooster Cogburn does in the climax of the film. "He was there on the set before anyone else and knew every line perfectly", said Kim Darby.[17] Both Wayne and Hathaway had difficulties with Robert Duvall, with the director having constant shouting matches with his supporting actor and Duvall and Wayne nearly coming to blows.

The film earned an estimated $11.5 million in rentals at the North American box office during its first year of release.[19] Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 52 reviews to give the film an approval rating of 88%, with an average rating of 7.9/10.[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

John Wayne won a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. Upon accepting his Oscar, Wayne said, "Wow! If I'd known that, I'd have put that patch on 35 years earlier."[21] The title song, by composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black, and sung by Glen Campbell, who co-starred in the movie, received nominations for both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Golden Globe.

Differences from the novel[edit]

Unlike the book, the movie doesn't introduce Mattie as an old woman telling a story of her childhood, but instead begins and ends in late 1880, when Mattie is 14. In the book, Mattie remains the central character throughout; in the movie Rooster Cogburn gets an equal share of the limelight. The film also downplays the novel's biblical tone and adds a hint of romance between Mattie and La Boeuf. La Boeuf also does not die in the novel, but survives his head injury. Another significant difference from Portis' tale is that Mattie has her arm amputated as a result of the rattlesnake attack, in contrast to the final scene in the film where Mattie is seen with only a sling on her arm—indicating that she is recovering from the snake bites and intact physically. The novel's conclusion makes the reader aware that the story has been recounted by Mattie as an elderly, one-armed woman who never married. Also in the book, Mattie shoots Chaney in the head with her Dragoon but he survives until Rooster hits him with the butt of his rifle and he falls into the pit. In the movie, Rooster shoots Chaney.

In the book and both this movie and the 2010 film version, Mattie's Colt Dragoon misfires at a critical moment. The book explains this as, while drunk, Rooster used it to shoot a rat. Mattie insisted he re-load the two chambers fired, which he did, while still drunk, using defective old caps from a box under his bed. In the 1969 film, Rooster shoots the rat with his own Peacemaker, removing the reloading scene. Thus, during the scene where the Dragoon misfires it is unfairly portrayed as an unreliable weapon. However, during the graveyard scene at the end of the movie, when Mattie presents Rooster with the Dragoon as a gift, he states "It almost got you killed when it misfired once," to which she responds "That is because you loaded it wrong when you were in a state of drunkenness." When or why he reloaded it is not explained, but the misfire itself is.

In the book, Tom Chaney was a young man; Mattie guessed his age to be around 25. Jeff Corey, who played Chaney in the movie, was 55 at the time. In the movie, La Boeuf claims to have a girl in Texas who would "look with favor" on his capture of Tom Chaney. In the book, La Boeuf made no mention of a girlfriend; his motive for capturing Chaney was purely financial.

In the book, Rooster Cogburn had a mustache and did not wear an eye patch, though he had only one eye. In his fight with Ned Pepper, he wielded two Navy six-shooters. In the movie, Wayne carried a six-shooter in his left hand and his Winchester Model 1892 large-loop rifle in the other (the rifle is anachronistic, being introduced 12 years after the setting of the movie). The character of Rooster was supposed to be around 40 in the novel; in the film, he was played by 61-year-old Wayne.

In the book, Mattie has her arm amputated due to the snakebite and break. Rooster pays her a visit while she is recovering from the procedure, but she is too sedated to remember. She tries to meet him 25 years later while he is traveling in a wild west show, but he passes away a few days before they can meet. She has his remains exhumed and re-interred in her family plot.

Also, the film's Colorado location and mountain scenery are in sharp contrast to the script's references to place names in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Further, the film is set in autumn, while the book clearly sets the story in winter, with snow on the ground outside the dugout where Quincy and Moon awaited Pepper's gang. In the book, when Mattie falls into the snake pit her left arm is broken; in the movie it is her right arm. In the book she faces a ball of snakes which are disturbed in their winter quarters when Chaney falls on them. In the film Mattie faces a single rattlesnake.

Sequels and other film versions[edit]

A film sequel, Rooster Cogburn, was made in 1975, with Wayne reprising his role and Katharine Hepburn as an elderly spinster, Eula Goodnight, who teams up with him. The plot has been described as a rehash of the original True Grit with elements of the Bogart-Hepburn film The African Queen.[22] A further made-for-television sequel titled True Grit: A Further Adventure appeared in 1978, starring Warren Oates as Rooster Cogburn and Lisa Pelikan as Mattie Ross and featuring subsequent adventures of the valiant pair.

In 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen directed another adaptation of the novel. Their adaptation focuses more on Mattie's point of view, as in the novel, and is more faithful to its Oklahoma setting.[23] Hailee Steinfeld portrays Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, and the cast also includes Matt Damon as La Boeuf and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "True Grit (1969)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved 15 March 2018. 
  2. ^ Higgins, Jim; Higgins, Shirley Rose (March 22, 1970). "Movie Fan's Guide to Travel". Chicago Tribune. p. H14. 
  3. ^ a b Sheperd, Slatzer & Grayson 2002, p. 274.
  4. ^ JeepsterGal (October 3, 2007). John Wayne in True Grit, Then and Now, Extended Video. YouTube. Retrieved July 18, 2018. 
  5. ^ Parry, Will H. (November 22, 1990). "Born-Again Boom Town". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Copley News Service. p. 5D. 
  6. ^ Gelbert 2002, p. 44.
  7. ^ Shepherd, Slatzer & Grayson 2002, p. 274.
  8. ^ McGhee 1990, p. 361.
  9. ^ Davis 2002, p. 286.
  10. ^ Ebert 2011, p. 164.
  11. ^ Wills 1997, p. 286.
  12. ^ a b Associated Press (June 15, 1979). "Stuntman Recalls Wayne Friendship". Kingman Daily Miner. p. A5. 
  13. ^ De Witt, Barbara (March 11, 1995). "How the West was won: fearless women on horseback". Los Angeles Daily News. 
  14. ^ Whiteside, John (January 19, 1985). "The Duke's Horse Keeps Special Bond". Chicago Sun Times. 
  15. ^ Eyman 2014, p. 442-3.
  16. ^ Eyman 2014, p. 448.
  17. ^ a b Eyman 2014, p. 445.
  18. ^ Eyman 2014, p. 447.
  19. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969". Variety. Penske Business Media. January 7, 1970. p. 15. Retrieved July 18, 2018. 
  20. ^ "True Grit (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018. 
  21. ^ Oscars (July 1, 2009). "John Wayne Wins Best Actor: 1970 Oscars". YouTube. Retrieved September 27, 2010. 
  22. ^ Eyman & 2014 512.
  23. ^ Fleming, Michael (March 22, 2009). "Coen brothers to adapt 'True Grit'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018. 
  • Davis, Ronald L. (2002). Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806133294. 
  • Ebert, Roger (2011). Life Itself: A Memoir. Hachette Digital. ISBN 9780446584982. 
  • Eyman, Scott (2014). John Wayne: The Life and Legend. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781439199596. 
  • Gelbert, Doug (2002). Film and Television Locations. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786412938. 
  • McGhee, Richard D. (1990). John Wayne: Actor, Artist, Hero. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786407521. 
  • Sheperd, Donald; Slatzer, Robert; Grayson, Dave (2002). Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne. New York: Citadel Press. p. 274. ISBN 9780806523408. 
  • Wills, Gary (1997). John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity. New York: Touchstone. ISBN 9780684808239. 

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