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

Dirty Harry [1971)

Cops get a bad rap.  It’s only fitting that Kinney National Company, by way of their 1969 purchase of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts film company, should bring you this message.  Kinney National Services, Inc. was the product of a 1966 merger between Kinney Parking (as in, parking lots) Company and National Cleaning Company.  The former, a New Jersey operation, was owned by three gentlemen…at least one of which was a mobster:  Abner Zwillman.  But wait, it gets richer…

Before Kinney Parking Company was publicly listed in 1960, it merged with the funeral home (!) company Riverside.

Ah yes…Abner Zwillman.  Newark.  Cut numbers…  Tosches.

Zwillman did alright for himself…  Dated Jean Harlow…

Along with Al Capone, Zwillman controlled the movie projectionist union.  Histoire(s) du cinema.

Funny that an extortionist should start a company which would eventually make a film about an extortionist.

Zwillman died an untimely death by hanging…just before he was to appear before a U.S. Senate committee organized crime hearing. 1959.

Another chthonic founder of Kinney Parking Company was Manny (Emmanuel) Kimmel.  Keep in mind, folks–this developed into Time Warner!  Yeah.

Along with the racketeer/bootlegger Zwillman, Kimmel used his garages to store the liquor which the former was smuggling into the U.S. from Canada in armored WW I trucks during Prohibition.  The FBI “compelled” him to testify in two notable mafia trials (including Zwillman’s).

Kimmel…legendary New York horseracing bookie, blackjack card-counter, “compelled” witness.

Kimmel and Zwillman (to say nothing of Sigmund Dornbusch) circuitously brought you the film Dirty Harry.  Oh, the irony!

And thus it starts:  perhaps the most quintessential American movie.  No, dear friends, you cannot watch this with commercial interruptions on AMC…no way.

And TCM has been slow to “get it”…though their screening format is superior.

Don Siegel hits a vein–a gusher–with this one!

From that first rifle scope focus…that first glamorous victim…that icy blue summer swimming pool atop the roof suddenly tinged with blood…

We could have mentioned Vito Genovese.  Meyer Lansky.  Bugsy Siegel…

But we will focus on the immensely talented Don Siegel.

In Don Siegel we encounter the difference between American montage and French montage:  not at all the same thing.

We find Peckinpah as an assistant.

Friends…

Hell, Siegel even directed Baby Face Nelson in 1957 (a couple years before Zwillman was suicided).

But the big story?  The big scoop???  Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood was born in San Francisco (the setting of Dirty Harry).  11 pounds and 6 ounces.

The mid-60s were good to Eastwood…three spaghetti westerns helmed by Sergio Leone with Clint in the lead.  All three were financial successes…low-budget and high box office return.

By 1971 Eastwood had just completed his directorial debut:  Play Misty for Me.

But let’s not forget the Finks who wrote Dirty Harry’s script:  Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink!

The Finks were joined by Dean Riesner and John Milius.

Now they just needed a villain.  A mashup of the Zodiac Killer and actor Andy Robinson provided just the right level of disgust for audiences to swallow the vigilante Harry Callahan.

Yeah, a butcher knife and a hard-on is probably probable cause…though D.A. Rothko would likely disagree.

The Smith & Wesson Model 29…we’re talking about a handgun that approaches three pounds (depending on barrel length).

I know what you’re thinking.  Did he just put two unrelated phrases ass-to-ass on purpose or on accident?

Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.

Scorpio…

Signed crosshairs.  Benicia.  Vallejo.  Lake Berryessa.  Presidio Heights.

This was real.

Well, Harry’s usual hot dogs had not kept him in the greatest cardio shape, though he admirably runs from payphone to payphone.  It’s a pretty ingenious plot device.  The thrilling uncertainty would do Hitchcock proud.  Yes, Hitch would direct two more films after Harry Callahan hit the world’s stage.  One can’t help wondering if he saw this masterpiece.

When Eastwood stabs Scorpio in the leg…that is cinema.  It’s not far from the iconography of Kubrick’s The Shining or Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (though it predates both).

When Eastwood steps into the arena (sand) of Kezar Stadium, we know there will be blood.  Would you torture a psychopath to save an innocent teenage girl?  These are the types of questions which came to dominate Clint Eastwood’s amazing career.

Even smalltime shits like Scorpio understand the concept of the good old false flag, but it doesn’t work.

And then like Superman with no name…sun at his back on the railroad trestle…Eastwood hops the short bus.

“But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

It’s too long to be a haiku, but it floats…

-PD