True Grit, Two Times

02 Jan

The plan for today is to watch the oringal True Grit  and then go and see the new one, and that’s probably the best plan I’m likely to come up with all year, so I kind of set myself up for disappointment the rest of 2011, but the dye’s cast.  Let’s do this.

Marilyn is anxious to watch them both, because she’s never seen the original but she read the book last week.  I got her a crazily overpriced paperback copy of it for Christmas, and she cracked it open and then devoured it in a day, while the rest of us hung around and trashed the house, ate White Castles.

I’ve seen the original as a kid, the way I saw pretty much every other John Wayne movie, sprawled out on the floor of my dad’s living room, eating chips, not really getting it.  They sort of blur together, all the westerns – that’s about all that was on television for quite a stretch, westerns and football games. 

So now we’ve finished the original, and here’s the first thing that struck us both – there simply were not a lot of great actors back then.  The way all the dialogue is flat and canned, it’s like watching Star Trek, except all the aliens are different kinds of cowboys.

I think the idea is that television and the big screen tipped the craft of acting on its ear, because for centuries they had to be loud and obvious and flamboyant in order to convey anything to a huge crowd of people.  Subtlety wasn’t really valued or noticed.  So I shouldn’t say they were bad actors, just that it was a less advanced form of it, one that’s pretty striking.

For example, there is a scene in which Rooster Cogburn and his partner are trying to leave Maddie, the heroine, by crossing a river by ferry and refusing to let her on board.  She goes ahead and swims across the river with her horse.  There’s a bunch of that big western music blasting and Cogburn goes, “She reminds me of me!”

Which feels like a brick to modern sensibilities.  He could have cracked a grin or something, and we would have got it, you know?

That’s really about the first thing people tell you when you try to write anything these days, show don’t tell.  Not really how they rolled back then.  It’s more like, everybody tells, loud and clear – and if anybody shows you anything, you can be sure someone will tell you what it is right after they show you.

Also Maddie has a really distractingly terrible haircut.  She looks kind of like a boy wearing a dress, which is fine, don’t get me wrong.  It just took me twenty or thirty minutes to realize they were going to keep it that way, it wasn’t a mistake.  My guess is, they wanted to avoid sexualizing the fourteen year-old girl, so they made sure to square off her hair for her.

Wouldn’t that be awesome if modern movie producers were always trying not to sexualize teenagers in their movies?  Like some kind of bizarro paradise land, where it rained cheeseburgers and the cars could talk. 

Anyway, it turns out this is in keeping with the novel.  Marilyn says there isn’t a hint of sexuality about the girl in the book, either – though there’s the same dread that I feel, watching this or Breaking Bad, possibly just the modern curse of knowing how often young girls are victimized  by men.  We keep expecting the worst possible things to happen, but maybe that’s because modern movies are so comfortable going there.

I don’t know if a reader from sixty years ago would have the same dread, or if that was just something you didn’t really have to worry about in your novels back then.  It certainly doesn’t seem like the viewers of the original movie carried around such concerns – the idea of a fourteen year-old girl riding around with two drunken gunslingers looking for a gang full of the same, it’s pretty much played for laughs.

Of course it’s cool watching John Wayne, but he doesn’t really seem to act, to me.  He’s again like Captain Kirk except in a sudden, shocking realization, I understand that I like Captain Kirk more.  A lot more.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Captain Kirk could beat up John Wayne – there, I’ve said it.

Marilyn says that the movie is fairly true to the book in a lot of ways, but deviates sharply at the end.  And I can attest that while she was reading the end of the book, she kept going, “Oh my God!  Oh my GOD!!   OH MY GOD!!!”

Kind of got on my nerves.  Trying to blog over here.

But the point is, none of us were saying that at the end of the John Wayne movie.  Even my youngest watched that one with us, and she got outraged a few times, but just in the way she always does when she watches old Westerns.  Why the fixation on tripping horsies and shooting horsies and running horsies until they drop dead on the ground?

Not real horsies, I assure her.  Not dead horsies.

They don’t look like comfortable horsies, she points out.  Still very shocking to her.

Now we are headed off to see the Coen Bros. version of the movie – minus the youngest daughter, obviously.  They’ve said that they weren’t so much remaking the John Wayne movie as they were making another film adaptation of the novel.  So I’m thinking at the end of it, I’m probably going to say, “Oh my God!”  Louder and louder and louder.

So I’ll be back later, and I’ll post this then.  I’m not going to post it until I get back, for Internet Safety Reasons.  Then later I’ll post about the new version, and link to it right here.


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5 responses to “True Grit, Two Times

  1. tokyo5

    January 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

    I want to see the new “True Grit” movie too.
    But it doesn’t hit theaters in my city until March. 😦

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      That stinks – but you can get the John Wayne version to tide you over..

  2. Judson

    January 3, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    I did almost the same thing ovdr the weekend. I’m a huge John Wayne fan and “True Grit” was one of the few films that he didn’t simply portray himself on screen. His Oscar was well-deserved.

    When I saw the original back in 1969, I thought the dialog was extremely stilted and curiously paced. The new version uses the same device.

    “It is enough that you know that I will do what I have to do.”

    While I wasn’t sure I liked it years ago, I found it somehow appealing more recently.

    I hated Glenn Campbell as La Boeuf in the original, but found Matt Damon much better. And while I found myself wanting to smack Kim Darby as Mattie in the original, I just wanted to hug Hailee Steinfeld.

    — Judson

    • Tom Chalfant

      January 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Yes, I was the same way about Campbell and Darby – and I hated to admit it, because the well wasn’t too deep back then. Still, watching both versions – I’ve had worse afternoons.

      Thanks for commenting Judson!

      Everyone else – Judson’s got a great post up about this topic as well, so here’s the link. Go on over and check it out –


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