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Monday, 20 December 2010

Rooster Cogburn (and the lady) 1975

Think The African Queen out west and you've pretty much got this western summed up.

"Any deputy who shoots and kills 64 suspects in eight years is breaking the law not aiding and abetting it." Judge Parker.

"Now let's get this straight, Judge. Only sixty of them died and none was shot but in the line of duty or in the defence of my person." Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn.

That line of dialogue leads up to Cogburn's badge being revoked and when Rooster objects the judge tells him that he's gone to seed and that he drinks too much. Rooster then points out, "I ain't had a drink since breakfast." And proceeds to go back to the shack he calls home and drink himself stupid.

The west is changing and the modern world has no place for men like Rooster Cogburn however when an army troop are ambushed and killed Rooster is soon back on the job. Judge Parker has no option but to reinstate Cogburn to go after a gang led by Hawk (Richard Jordan), a one time associate of Cogburns.

Katherine Hepburn plays Eula Goodnight, a missionary whose father is shot down by Hawk's gang and her mission destroyed - that's one of the oddities in the movie - that Hepburn was sixty eight when she made this movie and the actor playing her father, Jon Lormer was actually only a year older at sixty nine. However when Wayne and Hepburn (who, by the way, were both 68) get together their chemistry means that we can overlook this small hitch.

Hepburn's character rides along with Cogburn in pursuit of Hawk's gang and , as with the character she played in The African Queen, is fond of spouting out passages from the Holy scripture at each and every opportunity. Rooster is not one for the Good Book but gradually he mellows towards Hepburn and the story becomes as much a tender love story as action movie.

The film was shot around Oregon and the Rogue River in Southern Oregon was used for several key scenes - the photography is wonderful and the film really comes into its own on a widescreen television - at the moment there is only a standard DVD version available but the transfer is pretty good and the scenery is clearly reproduced but one suspects a blu-ray hi-def print would look absolutely stunning. Hopefully with the new True Grit hitting cinema screens next week a new DVD issue will not be a long time coming, both in standard format and Blu-Ray.

That this was Wayne's penultimate movie and that his health was failing at the time makes the film all the more poignant and although I don't feel it's quite as good as True Grit, it is a worthy follow up. Wayne has an even better handle on the character of Cogburn that he did in the Oscar winning original.

Not his best maybe but it's another great movie by the greatest western star of them all and teamed up with Hepburn, another icon of Golden Age Hollywood, means that the film is essential viewing for anyone interested in classic cinema.

You won't see a better western in a lustrum - (in-joke there. Watch the movie and you'll understand.)

They sure don't make em like they used to.

God bless The Duke.

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