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  • Lance Mannion
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Kelli Marshall

Hi, Lance:

Just found your post via Twitter (@mattzollerseitz tweeted it). I enjoyed your viewpoint and agree with you 100% about the ending. I have a slightly different reason for being unsatisfied with it though. If you're interested:

"True Grit (C+): Give Me A Different Ending and Some Freakin’ Contractions"

And a follow-up post: “True Grit, Mattie’s Fate, and Testing Onscreen Women”


Lance, not having seen the latest version or read the book (unlike you, I saw the movie before I even knew there was a book), I can't really speak about much more than my impressions of the Wayne version.

I agree, this was a vehicle written specifically to make Rooster the main character, Mattie becoming a sidekick, and Glenn Campbell...Glenn Campbell???? afterthought, a totem.

Maybe it was the cancer diagnosis. Maybe it was an acknowledgement of all those Ford films and how much entertainment they provided. Maybe it was simply an homage to an icon, much like Stallone had to do one last Rocky movie. I don't know.

I don't even know it was his best performance, altho it is the performance that stands up best to this day. I think "The Searchers" is his best work, such as it was. But Cogburn was not far behind & certainly better than Cahill or The Shootist.

It was, in sum, a love song to Wayne, not Portis' work.

The weakness Wayne's Cogburn has is liquor. That's what causes Mattie to doubt Rooster...did he drink the grit away?... and in many ways almost reflects Wayne's own life. Too, it sums up the turning points of the excesses of the 60s. I don't know how this carries over to this version, but given Bridges' work in True Heart, I suspect it's not changed much, except as you point out, Mattie matters in this film, so it's seen from her perspective.

minstrel hussain boy

i kept waiting for the coens to include my favorite line in the book and the old movie.

it comes when maggie is discussing religion with la beouf. he explains that his family are episcoplains and maggie says:

i figured you for a kneeler.

they also left out the explanation of yell county. why it says so much when mattie says that she is from yell county.

when arkansas seceeded from the union, yell county seceeded from arkansas.

they know grit there.

Michael Bartley

I just saw the film and then read your review and I'm glad you're here to do the thinking Lance. Like you, I love the Portis novel. Hell, I've been trying to get my public school teacher friends to teach the novel in their jr. and senior high English classes for years. All too often, I think, the book is rejected because of the strong association with the duke. To bad they'll never know what they are missing. I was hoping the movie would change that preconception. Maybe, it will.

There was much to love in the film, music, the moving pictures, actors, much of the script, the overall feel but somehow, expectations maybe, it fell short of my hopes. I love the Coens but just as in No Country, I found the film to be well short of the novel. And your points on the conclusion are spot on. My wife, a True Grit virgin, had the same reaction. Both of us felt jerked from the movie. It was as if we were suddenly watching a sad half hearted sequel directed by someone who not only thinks old people play bingo all day but that they do so with only one card.

M.  George Stevenson

As past comments confirm, I'm a stalwart fan of your literary and cinematic analyses, but have to disagree with you here.

The ending is vital to the Coen's conception of the film as it connects Cogburn to both Mattie's father (I teared up when the coffin with the scrawled direction was echoed in the last two shots) and to the way encroaching civilization reformed the border outlaws by taking away their territory as well as their lawlessness, the central theme of all the late Eastwood westerns and sets up the final shot, an echo of the last shot of Unforgiven (and the place where I began to weep).

Yes, there are echoes of the Altman, Ford in general (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a key touchstone for the visual style of Unforgiven), and the David Lean of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist (good one, Lance, I missed that until you mentioned it). But the Coens are clearly trying to find their way toward mastery of the Western in general in addition to the original of True Grit in particular. So the fact that Mattie's legal turn of mind is able to best the frontier horse trader but not the outlaw territories until she can be "brought up" by Cogburn is the cinematic story at hand, one that is the basis of most of the greatest Westerns: Red River, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, Liberty Valance, Pale Rider, etc.

Also key to the ending is the Coens' central theme: we are all alone in a universe that obtains meaning only through our own efforts. Mattie ends alone, her humorless insistence on her own way now as crippling as her lost limb, but understands what Cogburn gave her and honors it, even though she is now an angry spinster and Cogburn a second rate rodeo clown (what she accused LaBouef of being). For my money, well thought out, beautiful and as completely in keeping with the rest of the film as the parade of corpses passed by Cogburn and Mattie as they begin their run to shelter and "civilization." The dead are the price of that civilization's coming, however tenuous it turns out to be.


Excellent stuff, Lance. I'm putting a re-read of the novel on the to-do list pronto. I have to say I find it somewhat amazing that the original movie of True Grit is as entertaining as it is considering Kim Darby and Glen Campbell are the main support to Wayne. I wonder if the producer thought he had just another Duke vehicle on his hands and didn't figure he needed more.

M.  George Stevenson

The producer of the original True Grit, Hal Wallis, also produced the Elvis movies as well as "classy" adaptations such as Anne of a Thousand Days. True Grit was a hybrid of his two modes: "classy" novel adaptation meets movie star-cum-pop star (Campbell) vehicle. According to Wikipedia, Mia Farrow was supposed to play Mattie, but balked at Henry Hathaway and insisted on Roman Polanski as director. When Wallis balked at this, Darby got the job. I'd love to see what Polanski would have done with the Colorado Rockies, not to mention the Duke; I'm sure he would have recast Dennis Hopper, if not Jeff Corey with himself. "Everythin's agin me, kitty cat. Cheeky little girls soon have no cheeks!"

Lance Mannion

Welcome, kelli! I'd better drop Matt a note thanking him for the tweet-out. And thank you for including the links to your posts.

This touches on M. George Stevenson's point---in the book Mattie is not punished in the end. She's not married but that's of no matter to her or to anyone who knows her, because what she is is the owner and president of the town bank. One of the themes of the novel is the effects of money on people's lives and characters and it's amusing to go back and see how many conversations revolve around money. When Mattie is captured by Lucky Ned Pepper he actually turns to her for financial advice. I wish that scene had been in both movies.

As for the lack of contractions, that's a running gag in the book. Mattie is telling her story and can't help making everybody talk the way she thinks they ought to have talked, which is to say like her.

The Coens played down the humor much more than I expected.

M. George, I liked the bookending coffins sliding into the train. Maybe I'd have liked the epilogue if the Coens had cast a better middle-aged Mattie or treated the actress they did have better. You gave us a good list of other movies the Coens referenced, but in the epilogue they also referenced The Wizard of Oz---Mattie comes across as a sterner cousin to Elvira Gulch.

Minstrel, I didn't know that about Yell County. That explains something about the way Mattie talks about her father's military service.

M. George, didn't know that about Mia Farrow and Polanski either. I'm watching *that* movie in my head right now. It doesn't star John Wayne though. Can't see Polanski and him working together.

M.  George Stevenson

To Kelli Marshall and Lance's point about "punishment": Mattie isn't punished by being her "civilized" self in civilization any more than Jimmy Stewart is punished by being a successful politician in Liberty Valance -- that is who they are. However, because they have also been "raised" to be adept in the lawless world by their surrogate fathers (and, yes, Tom Donaphon/John Wayne is a father figure to the similarly aged Stewart), they will always be nostalgic if not bitter at the loss of the opportunity to use their "lawless" skills. Their civilized success depends on destroying the uncivilized sphere in which their hard-won "grit" matters most.

Mattie's not finding anyone worthy of her whole self isn't punishment, though clearly frustrating enough to make her a "cousin to Elvira Gulch," (again, well done, LM) another financially successful, letter-of-the-law old maid (though I can't recall whether Miss Gulch was a self-made or inheritance Jayhawk miser). Not finding adulthood as romantic as one had hoped is a common frustration; in the Western, a core dichotomy is that forging a grownup society means killing off the possibility of adventure and romance. A bold move in a financial negotiation is a very different thing than a bold tactic in armed showdown and, at least as far as Westerns are concerned, acquiring a taste for the latter means that the former will always pale by comparison. That isn't punishment but the glorious tragedy of an expanded consciousness; in showing Mattie in this light, the Coens are choosing to print the truth of one who has lived the legend.


I saw the Coens' version a couple of weeks ago, and caught the Wayne version on TCM last week, which I only dimly remembered. I haven't read the book yet. Overall, I preferred the Coens' version, particularly Hailee Steinfeld. I enjoyed the haggling scenes, but casting Buscemi is a really intriguing idea, as is your idea of casting actors from old westerns at the end. I found the epilogue a bit jarring for many of the reasons you describe, but I'm a sucker for 'the cost of revenge' in stories, so I sorta liked it. I agree on The Searchers front (Roy Edroso linked the final scene of it in his review of True Grit). I'd rate the Coens' version as very good, not great, but well worth a look, as is almost everything they do. They've got a good feel for (at least one approach to) the aesthetic of the western, and Roger Deakins' cinematography was wonderful, as always. Regardless, I'll have to read the book and give the film another viewing. It's always fun to see a film through Mannion's eyes.

I'll confess I'm not generally a fan of Fish's political analysis (or writings on faith versus atheism or empiricism), but I thought that was one of his better pieces. Meanwhile, what a remarkable passage from Hepburn! The John Wayne films I remember the most fondly are The Searchers, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which I think is one of his best performances.

Kelli Marshall

Hi, M. George Stevenson--

You write, "Mattie isn't punished by being her "civilized" self in civilization any more than Jimmy Stewart is punished by being a successful politician in Liberty Valance."

Regrettably, I've not seen LIBERTY VALANCE, so I cannot speak to your analogy. Stewart's character unwillingly, stoically enters the political sphere?

Kelli Marshall


"She's not married but that's of no matter to her or to anyone who knows her, because what she is is the owner and president of the town bank. [...]"

Well I think I need to get my hands on a copy of the book then. That sounds more like it! =)

M.  George Stevenson

@Kelli Marshall: (NOTE: this is an absurdly focused and spoiler-free synopsis of a one of the greatest and most beautiful Westerns in the canon) In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jimmy Stewart is a lawyer who arrives in a town terrorized by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). In order for the town to become part of the civilized world, Valance must be vanquished and, to do that, he needs the assistance of John Wayne, who also schools Stewart in the skills necessary for survival and success in a lawless territory. Afterward, Stewart is a successful lawyer and politician, never again utilizing his frontier skills but ineffably his truest self. Still, he demonstrably honors his "mentor" in lawlessness and shows nostalgia for the, well, grit that made the exercise of his true self possible.

Liberty Valance will almost certainly not meet the Bechdel standard as it is a late period classic Western of the type described by my old professor John Belton, but as in many Ford Westerns, neither are the women mere window dressing for civilization.

A question to you: What is unwilling or stoic about Mattie/Coens' subsequent life? She is clearly a success at business and though she seems rigid and somewhat angry that she was unable to find associates, romantic or otherwise, who met her personal standards, so was the young Mattie. That both Cogburn and LaBoeuf finally do is more a matter of time spent and opportunity than in any change of Mattie's attitude. Sadly for her (and as mentioned above), small town financial dealings don't offer many chances for heroic behavior.

Kelli Marshall

@MGS -- I don't give a hoot about spoilers, so next time, spoil away! Many thanks for the synopsis though. =)

I’ve written an(other) addendum to my post (see 01/01/11 here I’m not sure that it addresses all of your questions/comments, but I think it touches on a few of them.

Thanks again for the dialogue!


How did the civilized collide with the uncivilized ?

Lance Mannion


Happens in just about every scene but most explicitly in Mattie's negotiations with the horse dealer where both parties are all business while ignoring what they're really talking about: how Mattie is going to kill the man who killed her father. Then again in the courtroom scene, where the lawyer, the judge, and Rooster calmly and matter of factly discuss Rooster's having pretty much murdered some suspects. And it happens again and again whenever Mattie invokes Lawyer Daggett's name. She expects it to have an instantly civilizing effect as if everyone is amenable to handling problems in a rational and legalistic fashion, including outlaws. And amazingly it almost works in her conversation with Ned Pepper. They attempt to negotiate a contract, both acting and speaking as if they're in Daggett's office.

Can I ask you something? This is a four year old post. What brought you to it? Just curious.

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