Some sequels are simply not needed. The original “True Grit” was a success in 1969, and it won John Wayne a long overdue Academy Award. Six years later, his character from that film is revived, for one purpose only, to give two stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, an opportunity to work together. Although many other actors were considered in case John Wayne was incapable or a younger actress was available, the only reason to see this movie is the lone pairing of these two great stars.
The movie turns into a loose remake of “The African Queen” with Wayne in the Bogart role. While most of the film takes place on dry land in the old west, there is a sequence on a boat and that is where our featured actor appears. Strother plays “Shanghai McCoy” a sailor who has migrated into the interior and runs a ferry across a mighty river. The ferry is nothing more than a raft big enough to carry some horses, riders and maybe a wagon.
Rooster and Eula, the characters played by Wayne and Hepburn, actually Shanghai his ferry to take themselves downstream rather than merely across the river. Strother appears in only this one scene in the movie and his credit at the end of the film was not as a co-star but:
Apparently Wayne complained about some of the dialogue in the film being awful, especially when they had to be repeated take after take. However, much of it has the antiquated cadence and inflection that was found in the original “True Grit” and was heavily praised in Charles Portis novel and the Coen Brothers version of the film.
McCoy: Do you know anything about rafts? There’s rough water down river.
Rooster Cogburn: I can ride. Can’t be much different.
McCoy: You ain’t no sailor. I can see that. Water is like a woman: sly and fickle. You gotta watch it every minute.
Rooster Cogburn: You a sailor?
McCoy: I was once. Shanghai McCoy’s my name. Been around the Horn, sailed the seven seas, seen everything, done everything, that’s how I know people are rotten. I’ve seen ’em all.
Eula: You’re wrong, old man. We’re made in God’s image, and goodness is in us. Even in you.
McCoy: Amazing! I never took you for a Bible-thumper.
Rooster Cogburn: Hold it. She is what she is ’cause she wants to be. That’s the way you take her. Like me.
McCoy: You’re wastin’ your time preachin’. You too, Sister. I’m a ship that can’t be salvaged.
When you put those words into the mouths of some of the great actors of the previous century, you get some sparkling moments. While some actors in the film appear to be barely making an effort because after all, who will be paying attention to their performance? Strother dives in with his usual gusto and nasally quality of voice and once again matches up well with the actors he is playing opposite of.
Jay made a half dozen pictures with the Duke and Wayne highly respected him. As far as I can tell, this was his lone role opposite Ms. Hepburn, and it does not seem as if he was planning on taking it lightly.
McCoy: You’re shippin’ out with a strange crew, captain.
Rooster Cogburn: I’ll match their mettle against most.
McCoy: I’m glad it’s your ship, not mine. Women can no more keep their mouths shut than a yellow-tailed catfish.
Rooster Cogburn: [pats McCoy’s stomach] Got to agree with you there.
In the original “True Grit” Strother appears as Col Stonehill, a more erudite conversational partner. He ends up on the losing end of matching wits with Kim Darby. His role in this film is much earthier and directly coarse, but still full of sideways insult and his peculiar vernacular.
The film is handsomely mounted with glorious locations that look beautiful on screen. Every time there is a wide vista, you will wish that they made movies like they did in the old days. That said, the story is repetitive and it meanders quite a bit as it gets to the key set piece near the end. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, shooting the rapids and firing a Gattling gun at their enemies. Bogie would be proud.
The movie is full of well known character actors including Anthony Zerbe, Richard Jordon, Paul Koslo, Jack Colvin and others. It is however, as usual, Strother Martin who stands out and makes the movie worth watching at least once.
Jay also has a line that many of us might identify with, especially these days:
Rooster Cogburn: You ain’t very hospitable.
McCoy: I ain’t got an ounce of goodwill in me, and that’s a fact. I hate everybody. I’m a cantankerous old man, and I know it. I like myself better’n anyone I ever met, that’s how come I took this job – to be alone with me!
There is a character who knows himself.