In 1969, forty years prior to Jeff Bridges’ turn as Rooster Cogburn in the second big screen adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, John Wayne made an icon out of that U.S. Marshal and blazed his way into the Oscars. Certainly, you’ve seen the ads for Paramount’s second shot at the story, with Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin starring alongside newcomer Hailee Steinfeld in the role of Mattie. If the pattern from the 60s holds true, Bridges will get the accolades and Steinfeld will do her fair share of the work.
Kim Darby’s role as Mattie in the 1969 version, now available on blu-ray, should not be overlooked. As the fourteen-year-old spitfire hot on the trail of the murderous drunk Tom Chaney, Mattie serves up a healthy mixture of youthful naivete and strongwilled purpose. Sure, she’s hellbent on the death of Chaney in Old Testament vengeance for the murder and robbery of her father in the opening stages of the movie. But she’s a rock in the midst of a world gone strangely wrong, and her role per societal standards should’ve been submissive and weak, whereas she is instead a strong, capable human being who helps set her world right again.
I know enough about the upcoming 2010 version of True Grit and the team of directors, the Coen Brothers, to know that this will look a bit different. Maybe not No Country For Old Men Different, but a stretch enough that we might be calling it a remake in the early days of 2011. How will Mattie in 1969 compare to Mattie in 2010? I don’t know, but I hope she isn’t slid to the periphery to make way for Bridges, Damon, and Brolin. Her unquenchable spirit, and her refusal to give up, make the way for Wayne’s strong performance, in comparison and similarity, like partners in a crazy dance.
Fans of the old version will dig seeing it here in crystal clear blu-ray, with commentary enough to satisfy curious minds, while new fans (of the Coens, Bridges, or some other ingredient) may appreciate catching up on this one after their trip to the theater. Wayne was something special, and like many of our grandparents say, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”