One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Well, we were at Wal-Mart again the other day. I saw a new multi-pack display that made me laugh.

Wayne Bullock


First they had a nice five movie collection for John Wayne and Sandra Bullock (above)

Gibson Murphy


Next to it was a five film collection for Eddie Murphy and one for “Antiheroes”. Apparently Mel Gibson is now persona non grata enough to be removed from the title. I wholeheartedly support actual consequences for bad behavior and this certainly gave me a good laugh at Gibson’s expense.

Mind you, the fact police will have some words over this. Payback absolutely features an antihero. The Road Warrior is also pretty much an antihero movie. Conspiracy Theory features a protagonist who is insane but not an antihero. Edge of Darkness features a grieving father searching for justice. Finally, We Were Soldiers is a fairly standard war picture. So honestly only 40% of the collection is about antiheroes.

A Tale of Two Grits – Wait Three Grits! And a Rooster!

I admire filmmakers who can revisit material and put their own stamp on it, making a film that has its own identity and is not simply a remake for modern audiences. Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World is a wonderful 50s science fiction monster movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing goes back to the original material and makes a movie where the monster is almost incidental to the paranoia at play. Sadly the modern remake/prequel The Thing (2011) was not very good but I digress.

Wonderfully Netflix streaming has both the iconic 1969 True Grit and the sardonic 2010 True Grit. How do they measure up against each other?

True Grit (1969) – Rated G

“John Wayne landed one of his last great screen roles as crusty lawman Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, who reluctantly helps teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) pursue her father’s killer. True Grit is more a character study than many of Wayne’s formulaic Westerns. The rousing final showdown between Wayne and the villains adds to the Duke’s long list of outstanding movie moments.”


True Grit (2010) – Rated PG-13

“After drifter Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders her father, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires alcoholic U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her exact revenge. The disreputable lawman still has grit, though, and mounts an epic search. Joining the duo on their quest is a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) who’s also hunting for Chaney in this updated Western that received multiple Oscar nods, including Best Picture.”

Academy Awards:

1969: John Wayne won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. The 1969 version was also nominated for Best Music, Original Song but lost to Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head from Butch Cassidy.

2010: Nominated for a whopping 10 Oscars, it lost every single one: Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Picture, Writing, Directing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Costume Design and Art Direction.

10 is a lot of Oscars to be nominated for but history only remembers the winners so point goes to True Grit 1969.

Rooster Cogburn – The Duke and The Dude: In spite of this being Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance, it is not his best work. He is having too much fun and there is little nuance to his portrayal. His performances in The Shootist, The Searchers, and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance are better. This is also not Jeff Bridges’ best performance but it is one of his better performances and is quite a bit more nuanced.

Mattie Ross: The part of the precocious yet pugnacious 14-year-old is played in 1969 by a 22-year-old Kim Darby and in 2010 by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. Not just for the appropriate age but also for the intensity of the performance, this point easily goes to True Grit 2010. John Wayne himself said Kim Darby was the lousiest actress he ever worked with. Of course that may have been sour grapes as he wanted his daughter Aissa to play Mattie and after she was rejected, he wanted Karen Carpenter for the role. Kim Darby really isn’t that bad – for bad we have to go to our next category.

La Boeuf: The dandy Texas Ranger is played by singer Glen Campbell in True Grit 1969 and by Oscar-winner Matt Damon in 2010. Need you ask? Point: True Grit 2010. Glen Campbell is just awful.

Villains: Jeff Corey vs. Josh Brolin, Robert Duvall vs. Barry Pepper, a very young Dennis Hopper vs. Domhnall Gleeson. I have to give the edge to True Grit 1969.

Sequels: Yes I used the plural! You probably know that John Wayne got to reprise his role of Rooster Cogburn in Rooster Cogburn, starring opposite a wonderful Katherine Hepburn. While a very entertaining film, it was obvious that it owed a lot to The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. In fact Hepburn’s character in Rooster Cogburn is not terribly different from her character in African Queen.

The part I bet you didn’t know was that there was a TV movie True Grit in 1978. It was a failed pilot starring Warren Oates as Rooster Cogburn. Neither Rooster Cogburn nor the TV True Grit are available on instant Netflix. Since Rooster Cogburn is an entertaining sequel, this point goes to True Grit 1969.

Bottom Line: You can’t really go wrong with either version of True Grit. The 1969 version is a pretty straightforward western adventure with an iconic performance by the Duke and a rousing finale. Strangely even though the 1969 version is listed as having a “G” rating, it contains plenty of gun violence, a triple hanging, a man getting his fingers cut off, a man getting stabbed, a man getting bludgeoned, alcohol use and abuse, and a fair amount of profanity. Supposedly it was an edited version that received the ‘G’ rating but I wonder how much was cut. It isn’t overly graphic but I sure can’t imagine it getting a ‘G’ rating today.

The 2010 version is better in most regards. It is however quite a bit darker even though it covers much of the same territory. While much of the dialogue is the same, Joel and Ethan Coen have given the script a verbal polishing. Much of the best dialogue is still from the original and I will say that the climactic line of “fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” packs more punch from the Duke. Cinematography is good in the 1969 version but better in the 2010 version.

People Watch:
In the 1969 version, Jay “Tonto” Silverheels plays one of the condemned men at the hanging. Wilford Brimley makes his film debut there too (though that’s just from imdb – I couldn’t spot him). In the 2010 version listen for J.K. Simmons as the voice of J. Noble Daggett

Fort Apache – Help! We are Surrounded week

This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Fort Apache is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Fort Apache (1948) – Not rated.

“This classic Western from legendary director John Ford explores the darker side of the Old West. When arrogant Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) takes command of Fort Apache, he is determined to make a name for himself. Against the advice of seasoned soldier Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne), Thursday wages war against Apache chief Cochise and his tribe — and the Fort Apache troops must follow the misguided command of their glory-seeking leader.”

“I suggest the Apache has deteriorated since then, judging by a few of the specimens I have seen on my way out here.” – “Well, if you saw them, sir, they were not Apaches.”

It is very clear that John Ford patterned this movie after the story of General Custer. Thankfully Ford does his best not to whitewash our expansion. The Indian Bureau are painted (rightfully) as the villains although we only have one representative, Silas Meacham.

Henry Fonda plays Lt. Col. Thursday, our Custer substitute. He does a wonderful job of portraying an officer trying to do his duty while wrestling with unbridled ambition, being a father and an ignorance of frontier knowledge.

This is a John Wayne film but not a John Wayne film if you catch my drift. He is a star in this film as opposed to being THE star. In fact he is practically a fixture or perhaps a backdrop until nearly the end of the film. It almost seems as if he wandered in from another movie.

While Ford and Shirley Temple reputedly did not get on at all, Temple adds some levity as well as a romantic interest. She does quite well in one of her few adult film roles. She retired from movies the year after this was released. Her part, that of the daughter of the commander became a stereotype and is essentially the same as the role of daughter of the Governor in swashbuckler movies.

This is the feature film debut of John Agar (Lt. O Rourke) who would go on to star in a bunch more westerns, many with John Wayne (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Undefeated, Chisum, Big Jake). He also became a very popular genre star (Tarantula, Attack of the Puppet People, The Brain from Planet Arous, Revenge of the Creature). At the time of filming Fort Apache, he was married to co-star Shirley Temple though they did divorce shortly after.

Ford regulars Ward Bond (Wagon Train), Victor McLaglen (Gunga Din), and Pedro Armendariz (From Russia with Love) all put in their usual amusing supporting performances.

The cinematography is absolutely wonderful. Cinematographer Archie Stout used a special infrared black and white film to film in Monument Valley. This really enhances the gorgeous rock formations and cacti out there.

While I appreciate that Fort Apache is practically an epic, being over two hours in length back in 1948, this film could have used some serious editing. There is essentially no peril until almost the halfway point. Way too much time is spent showing how much fun life on the frontier was.

I highly recommend this classic western. Being 1948, the battles are bloodless and the brutality of life on the frontier and of the Apache conflict are not present but while the U.S. Cavalry as a whole is the hero here, this movie is very honest for its time. Monument Valley is of course a fabulous location for a western and it shows.

Fort Apache is presented in high definition for those of you with the bandwidth. It is of course an old black & white western but the HD makes it quite vivid.

People Watch: Veteran character actor Ben Johnson was a stuntman on this picture.