True Grit [1969)

To get through life, you need grit.

Toughness.

I know of no tougher people than my parents.

And they have been an infinite inspiration to me.

So it is a pleasure to review what is one of my dad’s favorite films.

He always told me to watch this, but I guess I had some subliminal aversion to Westerns.

Well, dear friends, this here is a masterpiece.

I haven’t written much about Westerns (aside from the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns I reviewed long ago).

I know the genre is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Jean-Luc Godard commented once that his soulmate Anne-Marie Miéville really couldn’t stand this genre, whereas Monsieur Godard has been open about his admiration for John Ford and other directors of the American Western.

But here we have a film by Henry Hathaway.

Sure, John Wayne is in the movie (big league!), but it was Hathaway behind the camera ostensibly calling the shots.

You might know Hathaway from the film noir Call Northside 777.

Or perhaps The Desert Fox:  The Story of Rommel (starring the inimitable James Mason).

But he also directed Rawhide and The Sons of Katie Elder (another flick starring The Duke).

But let’s bring out the big gun.

John Wayne was born Marion (!) Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.

That’s right.  Not Texas.  Not Oklahoma.

Iowa.

So how did John Wayne become such a badass?

Much of it might be attributable to his attention to detail.

And just what (or who) was he paying attention to?

Wyatt Earp.

That’s right.

Deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona.

But let’s get on to this fantastic film, shall we?

The real surprise is Kim Darby.

Sure, Glen Campbell is great here, but Darby is sensational!

And though this might be thought of as Kim Darby’s only significant film role of her career, it is timeless.

She knocked it out of the park as Mattie Ross.

All our actors are gritty, but the real toss-up is between Kim Darby (who was 22 at the time) and John Wayne (who was 62).

Toughness is the theme of the movie.

He or she who is toughest will overcome.

Sure, some obstacles are insurmountable.

But GRIT will get you through some harrowing situations.

It’s almost funny when a film (like this one) includes minor roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.  Duvall’s role is a bit more substantial, but the main focus is on the troika of Campbell, Darby, and Wayne (particularly the latter two).

Fans of the recent film Sicario will notice precursors to “rough justice” present all throughout True Grit.

But director Hathaway manages to make a G-rated film.

For that and other reasons, I am recommending this as a family film (though it may be unsuitable for particularly young ones).

The narrative device which keeps the film “all ages” is that Mattie is supposed to be 14 years old (though, as stated, Kim Darby [Mattie] was actually 22).

The action of our film centers around Fort Smith, Arkansas (at first) and later in the “Indian Territory” around McAlester, Oklahoma.

The film features prominently a Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver a.k.a. Colt Dragoon Revolver (.44 caliber).

Firearms aside, John Wayne is magnificent in the denouement when he takes on four armed horsemen.

That said, a Sharps rifle comes in particular handy for Wayne in a near-death imbroglio.

Glen Campbell’s greatest moment is just getting on the horse and setting the beast in motion.

It is this scene in which Campbell proves himself to be just as gritty as Darby and Wayne.

But the film is not over yet.

And we see John Wayne take action:  as a leader!

Doing what needs to be done!

But the scene which brought tears to my eyes was when John Wayne bet on the toughness of Kim Darby.

And that is the message.

What great encouragement it is when people have faith in us!

When they say, “I know you can do it!”

We may not believe it ourselves, but their faith lifts us up.

We think, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”

When we’re at our lowest point.

Those who stand beside us with compassion are displaying that priceless characteristic of true grit.

The very end of the film is quite touching as well.

We see an actor 40 years younger than her leading man offer a hand of friendship with an act of love.

It’s not even romantic.

It’s just classy.

Humane.

In truth, very poetic.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film for all doubters of John Wayne and the Western genre in general.

Yee-Haw!

-PD

The Private Eyes [1980)

This film holds a special place in my heart.

I was blessed to have wonderful parents growing up.

This is a film we enjoyed as a family on many occasions.

When our extended family got together we would also share in the laughs from this little masterpiece.

Yes, Tim Conway and Don Knotts are essentially two Jacques Clouseaux in the same movie.

Knotts is a bit more of the straight man (in comedy parlance), but both are fumbling/bumbling idiots.

And that is, of course, why we love them.

Though The Private Eyes borrows heavily from the Pink Panther series, it has a charm of its own.

Filmed at the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina (the largest privately-owned mansion in the U.S.), The Private Eyes is a good-natured film full of secret passageways and “spooky” scenes which are tame enough for a young audience.  In fact, I would heartily recommend this as a Halloween movie fit for all ages.

Directed by Lang Elliott (who doesn’t even have a stub [red link] on Wikipedia), this film has aged fairly well.  The only drawback is if one is familiar with Peter Sellers’ oeuvre.  That’s the sad part about watching a plethora of films.  On the one hand you see where all the influences came from (and that, in itself, is rewarding).  On the other hand, you see where all the influences came from (and said influences might oft times be a bit too liberally lifted).

Ah, but this is the movies 🙂  Not cinema.  Not hoighty-toighty.  Hell, I don’t even know if I spelled that right.  And I’m not gonna look.  Because that’s entertainment.  You just go with it.  Comedy.  Make ’em laugh!

Special mention should go to the sultry Trisha Noble who plays the role of Phyllis Morley.  You might know her as Padmé’s mother in Revenge of the Sith.  [Sorry, I refuse to write the whole title of that atrocious Star Wars film.]

Also worth mention (in the same vein) is Suzy Mandel who plays Hilda.

John Fujioka is quite funny as the samurai chef Mr. Uwatsum.  His rapport with Tim Conway is pretty priceless.

Bernard Fox is very convincing as the insane butler Justin.

But let’s get to the point, shall we?  Grace Zabriskie is certainly perfect in the part of Nanny (very Lotte Lenya)  [not to be confused with Alotta Fagina], but…

we should dedicate this review to the late Irwin Keyes who played the role of Jock (Jacques?) the hunchback.  Such a pithy role to portray a man with no tongue.  And Irwin did it well.  Mr. Keyes passed away only a few months ago and so it is appropriate that we honor his small but important contribution to this timelessly enjoyable film.

But remember, kids…next time someone asks you why you painted a picture of Don Knotts, just tell ’em (like Enid Coleslaw in Ghost World), “Because…I just, like Don Knotts.”  Take it from Thora Birch…  She has the right idea!  And if they still don’t leave you alone, tell ’em about wookalars 🙂 [boy, oh boy, oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy…this buzzard pus is really starting to back up on me…]

-PD