Friday, 17 December 2010
True Grit from page to screen
This surprised me since I've seen the film at least a dozen times but until last week had never read the novel and the many articles that I had read led me to believe that the film bore only a passing resemblance to the source material. That's not so, even if the tone of the novel is somewhat darker. Many people have said Wayne dominated this movie and was presented as the central character when in the book it is Mattie who leads the narrative, indeed it is a first person narrative with Mattie being the narrator but the film almost follows the book scene for scene and much of the dialogue is ported across to the screenplay, particularly the words spoken by Mattie.
"People do not give it credence that a fourteen year old girl could leave home and go off in wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band."
And soon there will be another movie version of True Grit out there, this time with Jeff Bridges as the one eyed lawman and from what I've read it will become fashionable to say Wayne didn't do it right but that's simply not true. Wayne was such a big star that maybe it is the viewer's fault and not the movie that he tends to overshadow the character of Mattie. For if any actor could be considered to represent the entire western genre then it is John Wayne.
In the introduction to the 2005, Bloomsbury edition of True Grit, Donna Tartt wrote that there is something of the Huckleberry Finn in Mattie Ross and that author, Charles Portis should enjoy a similar reputation to that other giant of American writing, Mark Twain and on the strength of this book she could be right.
So by all means go and see the new True Grit but if you ignore the original movie you will be doing yourself a disservice, just as you will by not reading the original novel from which the whole thing started.
John Wayne - yep, he certainly had True Grit.