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Paramount Home Video presents
Mattie Ross: Mr. Rooster Cogburn?
DVD ReviewA film like 1969s True Grit has endured as one of those reliable staples—a sprawling Western featuring a larger-than-life actor in a role that became one of the most identifiable in the genre. John Wayne may not have necessarily been a great actor—though he did get an Academy Award for his performance here—but he exuded an image, a comfortable, reliable presence that pretty much told you all you needed to know just by seeing his name on a theater marquee. It's a John Wayne picture; there will be bravado and shootouts, with good triumphing over evil, John Wayne style.
In the film version, Charles Portis' book gets simplified a bit, helmed by one Hollywood's often overlooked directors, Henry Hathaway. Hathaway did some memorable yet disparate studio Westerns—The Sons of Katie Elder, Nevada Smith, Five Card Stud—and here the focal point is a somewhat overstuffed Wayne as the eyepatch-wearing Rooster Cogburn, a crusty old US Marshall reluctantly recruited to help plucky young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) track down the men who killed her father. Despite the richness of Portis' prose, the filmed version of the story itself is almost inconsequential to the simple fact that John Wayne's in an eyepatch, chewing things up as the tough-talking Cogburn.
There's some nice-looking scenic Colorado vistas on display and a sweeping Elmer Bernstein score, as Cogburn, Mattie, and green Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) follow the trail. It's all interspersed with curmudgeonly bickering and self-realization, as the mismatched trio take a leisurely 127 minutes to finally get to the magic moment where Wayne gets to put the reins in his teeth and take on nasty Robert Duvall and his gang of thugs. The phrase "they don't make 'em like this anymore" could certainly apply here, as True Grit represents one of the last big entries in the traditional studio Western style of filmmaking, where the sheer weight of a lead actor's name almost means more than the story told.
There's no denying John Wayne was a star, and while not a master thespian, he had a distinctive-yet-similar way of carrying himself in every film that audiences found appealing. What has made this film one of his more identifiable roles (the questionable Best Actor notwithstanding) has more to do with the fact that it had Wayne usurping Portis' original Cogburn character, and somehow twisting it into an extension of his own screen persona. The Marguerite Roberts screenplay has been criticized for manhandling Portis' novel—won't be the first time that happens, won't be the last—yet after all these years it is still remembered as a John Wayne vehicle. We don't think all that much about the mountains of bad dialogue uttered by Glen Campbell, because this seems exclusively built for Wayne.
Looking back on this one today does reveal some meandering narrative dead spots in the 2-plus-hour runtime, and the overall pacing seems less content with action than it does talking about action. The scenery, however, is fetching, and the expected stereotypical genre elements are there for the three leads to intersect with, and through it all it is indelibly stamped as one of the last nails in the old-school Western coffin, and one that is nearly eclipsed by the star power of John Wayne—with an eyepatch.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks like a marginal improvement over the 2000 release, with things looking much better for a good portion of the film. Colors in general appear brighter and fleshtones have a more natural hues, though definition and edges still look soft throughout, rendering some of the big vista shots fairly lackluster. Significant edge enhancement is apparent on a regular basis, and there are major blocks of grain visible often.
Hardly a stunner, but certainly tolerable, even with its flaws.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Paramount has included the same perfectly suitable English 2.0 Dolby Digital mono track found on the 2000 release, and has sweetened the deal here with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. This new mix is essentially just a goosed up mono track, but it does try to add some spatial spread to things without appearing too artificial. Overall voice quality is clear and discernible—and not all that much of a dramatic improvement over the original mono—but where the biggest improvement is revealed is with Elmer Bernstein's rousing theme and the occasional random bit of gunfire. Surround usage is understandably minimal, with the biggest change a wider three channel spread across the front.
A French 2.0 mono dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Boze Bell, J. Stuart Rosebrook
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Extras Review: There's a neat wood-grain-looking slipcover on this new collector's edition, which when removed reveals the identical cover art found on the 2000 release. The big new extra is a commentary track from a trio of genre historians, namely Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Boze Bell, and J. Stuart Rosebrook. Much like those wonderful Tom Weaver commentaries on the Universal horror titles, this one is absolutely crammed with history, and not just another recitation of how a film was shot. There's a wealth of great info here, including western lore and how it relates to True Grit and the genre overall, even so far as addressing the adaptation from book to screenplay. Outstanding stuff.
There's a couple of Duke-related trailers, a slim 13 chapter stops, and optional English subtitles
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThe transfer isn't the greatest, but this new collector's edition sports a knowledge-packed commentary from a trio of Western historians that is almost worth a purchase on its own. The film itself is a late-model version of the old-school Western, with John Wayne pulling an Academy Award by playing one of the genre's most iconic characters.
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