John Wayne

Rooster Cogburn

Today marks the 45th anniversary of True Grit. But just because the original is the one regarded most fondly doesn’t mean there aren’t other True Grits out there. The franchise is actually bigger than you’d think — with a novel and four films, True Grit has as much franchise moxie as Jaws does (sadly, what True Grit lacks is a theme park ride where an animatronic John Wayne heaves himself against your boat, causing a Universal Studios tour guide to blast him with a grenade launcher). Yes, once you include the sequel Rooster Cogburn, the Coen Brothers‘ remake, and the forgotten-by-society TV movie True Grit: A Further Adventure, we’ve got four True Grit movies on our hands. And with so many, we’ve also got numerous Rooster Cogburns: John Wayne in the original ’69 True Grit and its ’75 follow-up Warren Oates in A Further Adventure Jeff Bridges in the only 21st Century True Grit. But which Cogburn is best? Which is the shaggiest, the paunchiest, the most likely to go on a drunken tirade and draw a pistol on small animals? The only way to find out is to compare our Roosters, using four distinct categories: Looks, Gunplay, Morals, and Acting Ability Of The Rooster Portrayer. Switch your eye patch to the other eye, and let’s begin.

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riddick 4

Initially I set out to compile a list of specific movies to watch after you’ve seen Riddick, in the same fashion as I’ve done for other new releases. But in an attempt to pick out titles worth recommending, I couldn’t choose. The thing about Riddick is that it’s not too directly derivative of any individual precursors. While the original movie in the franchise, Pitch Black, could mostly be traced back to 3:10 to Yuma given its central setup involving a prisoner transport plot, Riddick is more of a typical Western with tropes found in too many examples to mention. Part of the problem might be that it’s kind of all over the place. In the first act we follow Riddick (Vin Diesel) through a solo outing on a desolate planet. He faces trials of survival against monsters, making the early section more like a Harryhausen movie than a cowboy flick, though I guess that means a nod to Jim O’Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is in order, and going back further The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which features effects by Harryhausen mentor Willis O’Brien. Both of these deal with dinosaurs in the Old West. There’s also Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which is a prequel revealing how the subterranean Graboids (or “dirt dragons”) were around as far back as 1889.

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John Wayne in The Searchers

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, Cole desperately tries to explain to a skeptical Landon why John Ford‘s monument to Western filmmaking is the best of the genre. But even if The Searchers capably and wondrously checks all the boxes, does that make it the greatest of all time? And why (at #7) is it alone at the top?

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John Ford

John Ford is The Western. Instrumental in elevating the genre and crafting more iconic films than can fit in a saddle bag, the director had a filmmaking career spanning 63 years and managed to make eye patches cool on top of building a legendary resume. Sporting four Oscars (for How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, The Informer and The Quiet Man), Ford saw the work of a filmmaker as a way to make a living, a job not to be seen through romance or puffery. Still, it’s impossible to overstate his influence. If you could ask David Lean, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick and other masters who inspired them, they’d all bring up Ford’s name. The directors we all look up to, look up to him. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who made Jimmy Stewart play Wyatt Earp so audiences wouldn’t go to the bathroom.

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Culture Warrior

A genre nearly as old as filmmaking itself, the western thrived throughout the years of the studio system but has zigzagged across rough terrain for the past forty or so years. For the last fifteen-ish years, the struggling, commercially unfriendly genre was either manifested in a neoclassical nostalgic form limited in potential mass appeal (Appaloosa, Open Range) or in reimagined approaches that ran the gamut between contrived pap and inspired deconstructions (anything from Wild Wild West to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). But last December, True Grit – a bona fide western remake that relied on the opportunities available in the genre’s conventions rather than bells, whistles, or ironic tongues in their respective cheeks – became a smash hit. Did this film reinvigorate a genre that was on life support, as the supposed revitalization of the musical is thought to have done a decade ago, or are westerns surviving by moving along a different route altogether? Three westerns released so far this year – Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, and, as of this weekend, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens – suggest mixed directions for the dusty ol’ genre.

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John Wayne was not only King of the Western but also King of the Comedy Western when the need arose. McLintock! may be one of the best in that regard, but if you watch the trailer, it seems like the entire movie is about people sliding down a hill into a pile of watery mud. But this is far more than just a big brawl in a muddy hole. This film is actually a kind of remake of “Taming of the Shrew” which sees Wayne going toe to toe with Maureen O’Hara for the fourth time in their acting career. The Quiet Man might be their most famous work together, but this is probably their funniest. Plus, yeah, there’s a big fight in a pile of mud. And it’s pretty awesome.

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John Ford did Westerns the way Michael Bay does explosions. With a remarkable amount of power and skill. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance unites John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin all under the directing prowess of the master, and the result is a hell of a ride through a dry gulch with one bullet left in the chamber. Is it a fantastic movie? Yes. But it’s also notable for being the first time that John Wayne ever calls someone “Pilgrim,” on screen, and that’s reason enough to celebrate right there.

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. John Wayne wasn’t the first choice to play Captain Tom Wilder. Or the second. Or third. But he takes the role of a man trying to lead a village through treacherous waters without a map, and he makes it his crazy own. It’s a middle child of his career and a middle child of the genre (whatever genre that might be), but it manages to be an enduring classic simply because of how strange it is.

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There’s almost nothing historically accurate about The Alamo, but it’s a corny piece of entertainment elevated by the presence of The Duke. John Wayne rocks a leather coat with fringe on it throughout this (as the trailer boasts) $12m epic. Twelve million dollars! For a movie! Who would spend that kind of cash? But, seriously, that would be like making a broad Western today for $88m. Not a small amount of money for something with no capes in it. Although Wayne was involved (and partially financed the film himself), it’s Laurence Harvey who won the Badass Award. During a shot, a cannon fell over onto his foot, breaking it, and Harvey continued with the scene and then treated the wound himself. Two years later, he’d go on to play the iconic role of Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate.

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Culture Warrior

It’s become common wisdom to say that the best remakes are those made of non-canonical, non-classic films; that is, it’s typically better to give a second go to a film that – while possibly venerated, is hardly deemed a work of perfection that can’t be improved upon – than to redo a classic. Such a rule isn’t set in stone, of course, but it can be argued through example via some of the most celebrated of remakes (like The Thing or, in a more modest and more recent example of improvement-on-imperfection, The Crazies), and are often a result of a genuine inspiration from the source material rather than a simple means of capitalizing from its name. With the Coen brothers’ quite popular and much celebrated remake of True Grit, however, the distinction of what kind of a remake it is isn’t exactly so clear, as what kind of movie the original is proves to be something of an enigma in of itself.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr dresses up in a big red suit and sneaks into people’s houses. The only difference is that he sneaks into the houses of all the naughty girls. But before he can manage that undertaking, he sets his sights on the last wash of movies hitting the multiplexes this season. He travels with Jack Black to the Bermuda Triangle in Gulliver’s Travels then heads out west to catch a killer with True Grit. Finally, he brings his Christmas movie watching to a close by stabbing himself in the face with Little Fockers. Ho ho ho, the humanity!

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In December, we reported on a national talent search that was underway over at Paramount Pictures. The Coen Brothers were looking for an unknown young actress to star in their upcoming rework of True Grit, based on the novel by Charles Portis. We now know that said girl will be played by Hailee Steinfeld.

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An Irish-American named Sean Thornton (John Wayne) leaves his broken boxing life behind for Ireland to take back his family farm, he meets and falls for Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).

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BridgesRoosterCogburnTrueGrit

For some reason, I get the feeling that Rooster Cogburn will suddenly be attacked by a water-dwelling mammal.

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Who could replace John Wayne?

If anyone could do it, it’s the Coen Brothers. But who could possible fill John Wayne’s shoes as the iconic Rooster Cogburn?

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