Sunday, 6 February 2011

True Grit (1969) - DVD Review

Before we gear ourselves up for one of the most anticipated films of the year, in the Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit, take time beforehand to relish in the original adaptation of Charles Portis' novel starring the one and only, John Wayne - and if you look at the image above, now complete with 'gritter' cover art. Released in 1968 this tale of revenge is told through the eyes of young Maddie Ross (Kim Darby), as she embarks on a spirited adventure through Indian territory with a Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell and an ageing US Marshall named, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Wayne) as they attempt to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey).

The historical merit of True Grit is slightly lost on me, especially as my only real connection to John Wayne was the distinctly non-Western, Ireland-based drama, The Quiet Man (as a child I actually visited the town it was filmed in). However given Wayne's prestige, I found it quite astonishing to learn True Grit was the only time the screen legend ever won an Oscar for Best Actor. Upon watching it though, it's easy to see why. You don't have to subject yourself to countless upbeat Westerns to know Wayne was infamous for playing the squeaky clean heroic archetypes in the majority of his films, however with True Grit he tosses that preconceived notion on its head, playing this witty, ageing, washed-up, alcoholic to near perfection.

While Glen Campbell was perfect folly to Wayne's knowing eccentrics, it was Kim Darby who impressed more so as the spirited heroine of the piece, Maddie Ross. She was confident, morally adherent, even if time has made her persistence in the film, verge on plain irritating. The random minor appearance of a young Robert Duvall did raise a smile though.

Where True Grit feels most outdated however is in the distinct lack of 'grit' it claims to be true to. Especially when you consider Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone were making the particularly gritty and ever-lasting classic Man With No Name Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars/A Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) in the years prior to True Grit's release. The film also lacked any kind of moody atmosphere for the story it was trying to tell, with the score being in line with Wayne's more infamous brand of Westerns - in which over time has simply conjured images of the Mel Brooks parody, Blazing Saddles, for myself.

If all that damning criticism hasn't turned you off from, curiously, viewing the film, even just to see how it compares to the upcoming remake, and if you're this way inclined, I would recommend going for Blu-Ray version if possible as the standard DVD is completely absent of all the additional extras such as, audio commentary from Western film historian, Jeb Rosebrook, executive editor of True West magazine, Bob Boze Bell and historian of the American West, J. Stuart Rosebrook. As well as, a trailer and a couple of featurettes, not to mention presented in glorious 1080p.

Final Thoughts
Having not seen the remake just yet (review next week), I imagine this version will only be considered a companion piece to what's to come. Regardless of which may be better, the film still manages to stand on its own feet as an entertaining Western adventure tale of slight suspense, shot in richly lush technicolor, featuring an iconic performance from one of the greatest cinematic presences of all time, in John Wayne. My only real problem with it? Lacks sufficient grit.

Film: 3/5
DVD Extras: 0/5
Blu-Ray Extras: 3.5/5

This reissue of True Grit is available from major suppliers on DVD and Blu-Ray from February 7th 2011.

No comments: