True Grit (1969) (Blu-ray)(Paramount Home Entertainment, 12.14.2010)
The arrival of the Coen Brothers’ brilliant adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel has generated considerable commentary about the first version of True Grit, most of it negative. While the new adaptation is a significant improvement, the original has aged better than many of its more celebrated peers from 1969. Though it gets off to a clumsy start, things liven up considerably once Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne), Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) and La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) hit the road. Director Henry Hathaway stages the action quite well and cinematographer Lucien Ballard beautifully captures the Colorado landscape (in the same year he shot The Wild Bunch). The beauty of the film's outdoor sequences -- particularly the climactic shoot-out -- is well-served by this high-def transfer.
Such is the strength of Portis’ story that not even the miscasting of Darby and Campbell can sink the film. Only twenty-one when True Grit was made and seeming to channel Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou, Darby is clearly not the child Cogburn keeps calling her. Mattie’s repeated assertion that she is superior to others because she owns property carries a conservative stridency that is thankfully missing from the 2010 version. It's also worth noting that Campbell (a popular singer at the time) cannot act at all and Elmer Bernstein’s score is alternately cloying and bombastic. Much is redeemed by the presence of Wayne, an underrated, often subtle actor, who hams it up a bit here -- to the delight of Oscar voters. This film also features an excellent cast of character actors, including Jeff Corey, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin and Jeremy Slate. Extras (all holdovers from the 2007 DVD) include a commentary by three western historians and four featurettes about the making of the film. -- Michael Adams