January 12, 2011 Edition

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'True Grit' is classic
in '69 and '11

John Bland

Have you seen the remake of the 1969 movie "True Grit" that was released just a couple of weeks ago? The movie is obviously interesting to Arkansans for reasons other than the fact that it is a current box office revenue leader in theaters.

Charles Portis of Little Rock wrote the novel, which was first published in 1968. The novel (and movie) takes place in Fort Smith and eastern Oklahoma, with several references to Dardanelle and Yell County. The 2010 movie also mentions Memphis and Jonesboro.

We saw the new movie version, which is said to more closely follow the book, over the holidays. We then rented the original 1969 film to watch at home.

I would have to agree with Charles Portis, who was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in Paper Trails as saying, "I think they both did well," in reference to the films and actors.

According to Paper Trails writer, Linda Caillouet, Portis watched the new release of "True Grit" at a Little Rock theater on New Year's Day. Apparently, no one but Portis' two friends who accompanied him knew he was in the audience at the theater.

The new film includes Jeff Bridges as "Rooster" Cogburn, Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger and Hailee Steinfeld as the stubborn young girl or woman who is attempting to track down her father's murderer. We thought they all did a great job, but Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old Mattie Ross was a real standout. The new film is very pleasing, visually, with great scenery and a beautiful soundtrack and background score featuring classic hymns.

The 1969 version, however, was equally good. I'd forgotten that it features Glen Campbell singing the song "True Grit." John Wayne's performance of Rooster Cogburn was truly worthy of the Oscar he received and holds up well more than 40 years later. Kim Darby was remarkable as Mattie Ross.

It was interesting to hear commentary from Campbell and Darby about their experience in "True Grit." Campbell said he was honored just to ride a horse beside the legendary John Wayne, and Darby was glad to be involved in the film that led to Wayne's Oscar.

Another commentator put the 1969 film into perspective. He said, with paraphrasing on my part, that in the turbulent 1960s, with assassinations and the Vietnam War, that "True Grit" gave the nation hope. The movie's message of standing up for what's right, even while enduring hardship, emphasizes timeless values. This message was important in 1969 and is again in 2011.

Now, I guess it's time to read Portis' book.

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