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JULY 2011

* (April / May 2012)  A PRAYER FOR THE DYING

* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012)  THE YAKUZA

* (Sept. / Oct. 2011)  THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING
* (July / Aug. 2011)  History of TRUE GRIT
* (May / June 2011)  History of THE GREEN HORNET


TRUE GRIT (2010)
GullCottage rating ****  (on a scale of 1 - 5)

Written for the Screen & Dir. by - Joel & Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel by - Charles Portis
Pro. - Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ex. Prod. - Steven Spielberg, Robert Graf, David Ellison, Paul Schwake, Megan Ellison
Dir. of Photography. -  Roger Deakins, ASC BSC
Music - Carter Burwell

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld,
Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper


TRUE GRIT (1969)
GullCottage rating ***1/2  (on a scale of 1 - 5)

Paramount/Hal Wallis Productions
Dir. by - Henry Hathaway
Screenplay by Marguerite Roberts
Based on the Novel by - Charles Portis
Pro. - Hal B. Wallis
Dir. of Photography. -  Lucien Ballard
Music - Elmer Bernstein

Cast: John Wayne, Glenn Campbell, Kim Darby,
Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper,
Strother Martin, John Fielder

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    When it was first announced in 2008 that film making siblings JOEL & ETHAN COEN were slated to write and direct a new adaptation of the classic western TRUE GRIT for producer SCOTT RUDIN, the news was greeted by more than a few insiders with a fair amount of head-scratching incredulity.  After all the Brothers (lovingly referred to in the industry as “the Two-Headed Director”) were the independent darlings behind dark quirky faves like FARGO, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, while Rudin was the most commercial of producers known for mass appeal material the likes of FLATLINERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, CLUELESS and THE FIRM.  Also, the original 1969 JOHN WAYNE film, at the time the latest in the Duke’s legendary collaboration with director HENRY HATHAWAY, while a bonafied cinematic favorite (maybe another reason NOT to do a remake) was also considered a straight-up middle America icon of the old school ... even corny ... “horse opera“ variety.  Or so it could appear to a new generation of FX-addicted, IMAX-raised film goers attending theaters in 2010.  Those more familiar however with the distinct literary voice of the 1968 CHARLES PORTIS novel on which the Wayne film was based, and familiar with the author’s unique brand of skewed Americana in general, grinned knowingly, realizing this new pairing was a tag team hook-up from the gods in movie-making heaven. 


Charles Portis
   While to date having written only five novels (NORWOOD - 1966, TRUE GRIT - 1968, DOG OF THE SOUTH - 1979 , MASTERS OF ATLANTIS - 1985 and GRINGOS - 1991) Portis’ is considered by legions of fans, critics and fellow writers as one of America’s most unique literary treasures.  Compared to Mark Twain, John Irving and Britisher Charles Dickens for his similar, albeit slightly irreverently subtle, ear for the poetic patois speak of common folk, he's also noted for his observant journalist’s eye for contextual detail as well as insight into the often ironically tragic and touching motivations which churn below the surface of most human nature.  Sound like any film makers we know?  

     Born and raised in southern Arkansas, Portis would see military service during the Korean War, then after discharge obtain a journalism degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1958.  After a short stint with the Arkansas Gazette he’d move to New York to work the next four years with the Herald-Tribune, often traveling back to the South to cover the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.  In 1964 he’d leave the news game and migrate home to complete his first novel NORWOOD.  The book’s slim (slightly autobiographical) plotline serves as the rack on which Portis would hang what would later become his signature literary attire of dry, deadpan humor, uniquely colorful and quirky characters (some would call them “dregs on the outskirts of polite society”) and the keen life-changing observations they’d pick up during an archetypal long-haul road trip or journey/quest.  In this case the “enlightening journey” would be that of Norwood Pratt, a naïve ex-Marine from Texas who’s persuaded by a con man to transport two automobiles to New York City.  Originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, NORWOOD created a minor stir upon publication.  But that was nothing compared to the accolades which would greet his next novel - TRUE GRIT.

True Grit By Charles Portis

     Detailing the harrowing and humorous quest of a 14 yr. old,  Bible-quoting firebrand named Mattie Ross, and her journey into Indian country with boozy U.S. Deputy Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in search of the man who murdered her father, the story is on the surface a rip-roaring, brio- filled western yarn replete with hilariously accurate ricochet-like “old trail talk".  And the authentic voice of Mattie was based on Portis’ college writing experiences “translating” verbally told stories of Ozark mountain women into readable form.  But below it's surface GRIT surprisingly emerges as the more subtle quest of two souls with missing pieces in search of completion.  Mattie, who is now fatherless, and Cogburn - with a departed wife who took his son with her, both find a modicum of surrogate family in one another during their near biblical journey to perdition and back.  


    Hailed as “the Great American Novel” upon publication (up there with Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN and Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY) TRUE GRIT became the book everyone in Hollywood wanted.  John Wayne read it in galley form and sought the rights immediately, but producer HAL WALLIS had already secured them.  To Wayne’s delight however his old friend Henry Hathaway was hired as director and the Duke was his first choice for Rooster.  MIA FARROW was originally up for the role of Mattie.  But after doing a film in Europe with ROBERT MITCHUM (with whom Hathaway had just finished FIVE CARD STUD) and being told by the actor that Hathaway was “cantankerous”, she asked Wallis to replace Hathaway with ROMAN POLANSKI, with whom she had just finished shooting ROSEMARY’S BABY.  Wallis refused.  Farrow was out as Mattie and the relatively unknown KIM DARBY was in … ultimately to everyone’s delight. 

Glen Campbell
     To everyone’s surprise, especially to fans of the novel (and in what may have been a marketing ploy to appeal to younger audiences) the role of Texas Ranger La Boeuf, the third member of Mattie’s search posse, was given to popular country star but neophyte actor GLEN CAMPBELL.  Even more surprising was how effectively Campbell brought the slightly cocky, at-times-in-over-his-head, but ultimately noble-hearted character to three dimensional life.  In fact Wallis himself was so impressed with Campbell he gave him the title role in his next film - the adaptation of Portis’ NORWOOD.  While also featuring Kim Darby and a screenplay by TRUE GRIT’s  Marguerite Roberts (updating the novel’s 1950’s setting to the 70s) Wallis’ final film for Paramount would unfortunately not be nearly as successful financially or critically as TRUE GRIT. 

John Wayne and Kim Darby are shown in a scene from "True Grit."

     TRUE GRIT opened in 1969 to sterling reviews and great box office.  And even fans of the book (who still had a few quibbles with some cinematic alterations) found much to enjoy.  Wayne would win his first and only Oscar for his portrayal of the one-eyed, whisky soaked, crack-shot rifleman Marshall; and it was a prize he’d treasure the rest of his life.  Another cherished souvenir from the film he’d carry to his final days was the horse “ Ol' Dollor” (and yes, the spelling is correct).  “Dollor” was the real name of the “tall horse” Rooster shows up astride at the end of TRUE GRIT - the one with which he jumps the fence in the film‘s final freeze-frame image.  Wayne fell in love with the gelding and would ride it in every one of his westerns afterwards, up to and including THE SHOOTIST - his final film before his death in 1979.    

     The popularity of the Rooster Cogburn character (growing with repeated TV showings of TRUE GRIT over the years) lead producer Wallis to create a sequel at Universal in 1975.  Officially titled ROOSTER COGBURN … AND THE LADY (though “… And The Lady” doesn’t appear in the actual opening credits) the new adventure would team Wayne with the equally legendary Katherine Hepburn.  This time around, in an original story not by Charles Portis but from a script by “Martin Julien” (a pseudonym for Wallis’ wife Martha Hyer) Rooster teams up with a missionary to the Native American tribes who’s preacher father has been killed by former soldier Hawk (LOGAN’S RUN’s Richard Jordan) who’s also stolen a shipment of nitroglycerine from a military transport.  Filmed as a western version of THE AFRICAN QUEEN (even with a boat ride down the churning rapids) the film did okay box office but wasn’t a hit with critics or fans of Portis. 

Warren Oates: A Wild Life (Screen Classics) by Susan A.
     Rooster would make one more appearance - this time without Wayne - in the 1978 TV movie TRUE GRIT: A FURTHER ADVENTURE.  Grizzled genre stalwart WARREN OATES (THE WILD BUNCH,  BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, STRIPES) would essay the role of the eye-patch wearing hell raiser Deputy Marshall … now sporting a full beard and full-out wild-ass buffalo coat!  Written by Sandor Stern (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR) and directed by Richard T. Heffron (FUTUREWORLD, V-THE FINAL BATTLE) the film aired on ABC on May 19th and featured a plot wherein Rooster agrees to the quick and simple task of escorting old friend Mattie (this time played by young Lisa Pelikan) to relatives in California by rail.  Simple that is until Rooster loses their train fare in a poker game, an action propelling them into an all new (and increasingly complex) cross-country, guns-a-blazin' adventure.  Oates amusingly laid back performance was cited as a highlight in this pilot for a proposed TV series.  And TV GUIDE liked the fact that "Whereas Wayne swaggered, Oates ambles".  But it's dismal ratings and otherwise negative reviews seemed to send the message that the public had it's fill of Rooster for now; and the character wouldn’t see the cinematic light of day again for over three decades.  During that interim Portis’ original novels, especially TRUE GRIT, would gain in popularity, particularly exciting new generations with their (now viewed as) “post modern” quirkiness.  Enter the Coen Bros.

The Coen Bros.
     Having established over the years their own brand of “dark cinematic quirkiness”, as well as an obvious love of poetic commonfolk on their own journey/quests (FARGO, LEBOWSKI, OH BROTHER and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN all fall into this category), the Coen Bros., in their first collaboration with producer Scott Rudin, would “clean house” at the 2007 Academy Awards with four Oscars going to their NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.  The time was now ripe for a revisit to not only Portis’ TRUE GRIT narrative, but to the “tone” of the piece as well.  For while the actual plot elements of the original novel (and even stretches of dialog) were kept intact in the 1969 Wayne/Hathaway film, the “mood”, “vibe”, emotional “color” and even purpose of the film were interpreted quite differently by the filmmakers.  In all fairness to the 1969 version, the language of cinema and expectations of the public at the time dictated certain justifiable alterations from page to screen. 


     Two of the most major changes from book to 1969 movie were #1) the toning down of the novel’s at times uncomfortable mixture of bone-crushing violence followed by tobacco-chewin’ wit/humor, a tonal collage more unacceptable in mainstream 60’s cinema than today.  And more importantly #2) the original film’s 3rd person narrative point of view replacing the book’s actual narration by a grown up 40 year old Mattie.  In the novel we learn adult narrator Mattie is now, not unlike Rooster, missing a body part of her own - an arm, lost in her near fatal run-in with the poisonous snake.  She has learned through experience a harsh lesson Rooster tried to teach her, that nothing in life comes without a price, including justice and/or revenge.  In a Feb., 2010 interview for MovieNews at IGN, Ethan Coen stated, …

     “It's partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie was so I think, unfortunately, they lost a lot of humor in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. You see the main character – the little girl – 25 years later when she's an adult. Another way in which it's a little bit different from the movie – and maybe this is just because of the time the movie was made – is that it's a lot tougher and more violent than the movie reflects. Which is part of what's interesting about it”. 


     In the new version JEFF BRIDGES would be cast as Rooster, MATT DAMON as La Boeuf, JOSH BROLIN as Tom Chaney - the murderer of Mattie's father, and newcomer HAILEE STEINFELD as the pig-tailed, 14 year old Bible-thumping tornado Mattie Ross.  TRUE GRIT would be only the second film in the Coen Bros. career to carry a family friendly PG-13 rating (the first was INTOLERABLE CRUELTY - 2003) and this would help it become the Bros. biggest grossing picture to date, accomplishing the “never ever happens” feat of higher rather than lower box office receipts weeks after it’s Christmas 2010 debut; the film reaching the number one spot 21 days after it‘s release.  It would reap critical accolades around the world and ten Academy Award nominations including Best Picture stateside in early 2011.  And while it brought home no gold statues that year, before the ceremony the Bros. displayed their patented easy-going sense of humor about it all.  They’d joke, “Ten seems like an awful lot!  We don’t want to take anyone else’s”

                                                                                                                                                               CEJ - July 2011

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