The Set-Up: It's mentioned earlier in the script—how Marshall "Rooster" Cogburn, alone, faced down several gunmen on horse-back, by taking his horse's reins in his teeth and firing on the opponents with both hands. It is assumed it is hyperbole, bold talk from a one-eyed fat man. But, in this scene, from the original version of True Grit (the Coen Brothers' version, starring Jeff Bridges as Cogburn, opens Wednesday) it is revealed as truth.
Cogburn really is that crazy.
And that capable. John Wayne won a long-deserved Oscar for the role; he's been better in other movies, but it was always assumed he was just "playing John Wayne." Cogburn was enough of a character, with shades of the Wayne persona mussed up and made sloppy, that the Hollywood crowd could look at this and say "well, that's different." They couldn't deny his comic timing when it was needed, and the still stalwartness when it wasn't. Cogburn's a little arch, the language (from Charles Portis' sepia-toned novel) a bit flowery and precise, but bigger than life—it's entirely appropriate that director Hathaway stages this gladiatorial gun-play in the natural amphitheater of a forest glade, not far removed from the round Spanish ruins that framed the gun-duels of director Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns."
This scene also contains one of my favorite Wayne lines—not found in Portis' book, but the rest of the dialogue is his—the relief-expelling laugh line, bordering on camp: "Damn you, Bo" says Wayne's Cogburn to his beloved fallen horse. "First time ya ever gave me reason ta...cuss ya." It's a little precious, but leavened somewhat by Wayne's regret-filled reading. It's the sort of line you'd expect John Wayne to say—the mythical Wayne—if he'd been allowed the vice of cursing.
Love this scene. And I can't wait to see the Coen variation.
The Scene: The motley posse formed to bring in the killer of a "little" Texas Senator and the father of young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is "in a bad way:" Mattie has been captured by the gang the hapless gunman Tom Chaney, nee Chelmsford (Jeff Corey) has partnered with. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Glen Campbell) has rescued Mattie, who the two lawman had supposedly abandoned.
But, it was just a feint. They've split off, the Ranger tasked to rescue the girl, while Marshall Cogburn (Wayne) confronts his real prize, the gang of "Lucky" Ned Pepper (a pre-Godfather stardom Robert Duvall)
Dialogue is from the movie; the "descriptions" from the classic book(in the voice of Mattie Ross)© 1968 by Charles Portis.
"LUCKY" NED PEPPER: She was in wonderful health the last I saw her. I can't answer for her now.
ROOSTER: You'll answer for her now. Where is she?
LA BOEUF: Rooster! Make a run for it! I got Mattie. Chaney, too!
"The bandits turned to look up at us and no doubt they were surprised and not a little disconcerted by the interesting development. Rooster made no reply to us and gave no sign of leaving the place."
ROOSTER: Farrell, you and your brother stand clear.
Words by Marguerite Roberts (and Charles Portis)
Pictures by Lucien Ballard and Henry Hathaway
True Grit is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.