Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit, then and now

Yesterday, the two seminarians helping out over Christmas break and I went to see True Grit, the remake by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges in the role made famous by John Wayne.

I enjoyed it; and I am a fan of the Duke and his 1969 performance, for which he won his only Oscar. I was both interested in the new version, as well as how the seminarians, younger than I, saw it.

They weren't familiar with John Wayne's performance, so they didn't make that comparison. While they enjoyed the movie, they were less taken with it than I, whatever that means.

We all liked Jeff Bridges; he really is a solid actor, someone I always seem to enjoy. He did a great job, and I can't argue with the reviewers who said he out-did John Wayne.

To Mr. Bridge's credit, he paid respect to Wayne, saying he wasn't going to try to fill the Duke's boots. That was classy, and takes nothing away from Bridges.

But I was struck by comments from the Coen brothers, who have made many fine films (I think "Brother, Who Art Thou?" is one most would remember, but they've made a slew of well-regarded films); they were dismissive (I thought) of Wayne's version of the film, trying to claim they weren't doing a remake. Well, you are; deal with it. If you don't like being compared, don't do a remake.

Maybe the Coen brothers didn't really mean to give John Wayne and his film the back of the hand, but that's how they came across to me, saying in an Associated Press interview,

"I'm not even sure if John Wayne is more of an icon to us and less and less of an icon as the demographic gets younger and toward people who actually go to the movies now," said Ethan Coen, 53.

"That's really true," said Joel Coen, 56. "There are people I mention the movie to who are not that much younger than we are, the next generation, and they go, 'Yeah, I'm aware of that vaguely. That title sounds familiar. I have no idea what it is. What is it?' "

(Read more:

Here's how the Daily Beast reported it:

As for the earlier film version of the novel—which came out in 1969 and is most famous for winning John Wayne his first and only Academy Award—they didn’t bother to re-watch it, having seen it years ago when they were kids.

“It’s weird,” Joel said, in an interview held in one of the hotel’s suites earlier in the day, where his tall, wiry frame was sprawled out on a sofa, one long leg propped up on a coffee table. With his thick-framed glasses, graying beard, and wild, shaggy hair, he looked like a professor on his coffee break. “I remember a couple points in production, actually saying, ‘You know, I should rent the movie and see it.’ And I just never got around to it. It’s really funny. It sounds unbelievable, but I just didn’t get around to it.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Ethan, the quieter of the two, who seems more like a grad student, with short, curly hair, and less prominent spectacles, “We just weren’t interested enough.”

Maybe it's just me, but I think, show some class, be generous, and tip your hat to those who went before you.

I'd read their comments at the Daily Beast, but realizing it was just one interview, I did a search, and found the AP item I also quoted, along with Bridge's more generous remarks.

Then I found a review by the New York Times, which made me laugh because of its obvious, mean-spirited axe-grinding and admitted score-settling: "Maybe the picture will also settle some old business in the film world," referring to disagreements, in 1969, about Wayne meriting his Oscar. The Times dredges up producer Robert Evans to say,

“It was a token Oscar,” said the producer Robert Evans when queried this week about the best-actor trophy that went to Wayne on April 7, 1970. Mr. Evans was head of production at Paramount at the time, but while Paramount released “True Grit,” it was produced independently by Hal B. Wallis, and Mr. Evans reckons his own creative input to have been “zero.” (He does say he was happy with the film.)

Gee, no hint of any score-settling there!

The Times also points out,

It was also the year of countercultural statements like “Easy Rider,” “Medium Cool,” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “The Sterile Cuckoo” and “If”; the European flair of “Stolen Kisses” and “Z”; and the retro sophistication of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” “The Wild Bunch” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

In the face of all that, Paramount made what many saw as a clumsy attempt to position “True Grit” as part of the revolution. One program for an early studio screening, now preserved at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, called it a “Brand New Brand of American Frontier Story."

The Times' article goes like that, finding more reasons to compare Wayne and his film unfavorably. The funny thing is, of the films just mentioned, how many are remembered? Some, deservedly so. Apparently, Wayne's "True Grit" doesn't deserve such company.

One wonders why the Times--or anyone still around from those Hollywood days--would feel the need, in promoting the new "True Grit," to drag Wayne through the dirt to do so. Then one reads the following:

By the time the Oscar was awarded, Wayne was being described as a “sentimental favorite.”

But other film devotees were less charmed, particularly when they viewed “True Grit” through the filter of Vietnam-era politics and Wayne’s conservative principles — which he had said were illustrated by a scene in which Cogburn shoots a rat after demonstrating the futility of trying to treat it under due process of law. (The new film has no such moment.)

Writing in The New Yorker, Penelope Gilliatt complained of the movie’s “very right-wing and authoritarian tang.” She was particularly put off by the frontier stoicism, which she described as “near-Fascist admiration for a simplified physical endurance of pain.

Heh. It's been 40 years, and the Times, and the cultural elites to whom they cater, and for whom they speak, still resent the h*** out of John Wayne and all he stands for. So, naturally, they drag out his corpse so they can give it a few kicks, saying all the while, "Wayne? Who? No one anyone remembers!"

Heh. Yeah, right.


Kurt H said...

I haven't seen the new film, and I barely remember the original, which I saw once about 26 years ago, so I can't really comment on the relative merits of either version. However, Steven Graydanus was recently a guest on Catholic Answers Live, where they discussed the film a bit. His review is posted at From the conversation I heard on the radio, I understand that the Coen brothers based their film exclusively on the book, and consciously tried not to be too influenced by the John Wayne version.

Lisa said...

I just picked this one up and am looking forward to it!!Especially now since I've read you enjoyed it so much!

Anonymous said...

So what's your point, Fr.?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I wrote a review of the movie and I found fault with some of the ungenerous comments about the prior version of the movie. Sorry that wasn't clear.

ignorant redneck said...

I have given fealty to the Duke!

Sean said...

Not here to defend the NY Times or died in the wool Lefties, but John Wayne does seem open to the charge of being a chicken-hawk of his generation like so many of the unserving he-men who rallied for our current war in Iraq.

There is a colossal hypocrisy in being pro-war while studiously skirting military service oneself [like most of the Bush adm and most right wing talking heads].

Fr Martin Fox said...


I wondered about that too; but I'd like to think that there was a good reason John Wayne didn't serve. Even so, many other entertainers and actors did serve, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart, two who come to mind.

Sean said...

I think John Wayne didn't serve because he didn't want to risk dying [understandable]. John Ford, his longtime friend and director, served in the Navy during WW2. Ford often privately prodded Wayne on the disparity between his warrior swagger and his lack of service [less understandable].

Jimmy Stewart, I believe, flew in real combat missions over Germany. Ronald Reagan is more in league with John Wayne. Reagan, I believe, "served" in Hollywood during the war depicting brave men who flew combat missions and engaged the enemy. This is why actual veterans and others were perturbed and dumbfounded when he talked about how he liberated some concentration camp. The gaffe came while he was touring Germany on a presidential visit. Reagan remembered action he never saw -- except for the movies. Big difference.

Anonymous said...

I walked out of the John Wayne version of this movie those many years ago. If I remember correctly, I thought the acting was bad. It was one of only two movies I've walked out on in my life.