True Grit Times Three: Movies and Book

The movie theater here on St. Simons Island, part of the Georgia Theater Company, shows a different old movie each week.  I wrote about it last year here, and we have been enjoying it just as much this year.  This year I have been to “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “Easter Parade,” and “Gigi.”  I told Tom they were showing “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” the first week of May and he asked if we could just live here all the time.  We also saw “True Grit” starring John Wayne.

I love the 1969 movie “True Grit.”  I love the old-fashioned language, the scenery, and especially the characters.  Rooster Cogburn, the US Marshal who never “shot anyone who didn’t deserve it.”  Mattie Ross, mature beyond her years, who is determined to avenge the murder of her father.  LaBoeuf, the young Texas Ranger who has been chasing Tom Chaney for months.  The characters are fully developed and their interactions are funny and touching.  In this first movie, LaBoeuf dies after saving the lives of Mattie and Rooster but Mattie and Rooster continue their friendship through their lives.  I wouldn’t change a thing about this movie.

When they made a remake of True Grit in 2010 I had to see it.  The credits say it was written and directed by the Coen brothers with Steven Spielberg as the producer.  I wondered if they could improve the nearly perfect first movie.  Fortunately they didn’t really try to improve the first one.  The dialogue and character development in the remake was almost identical to the first.  There wasn’t any extra gratuitous violence and the second movie was just as wonderful as the first.  Tom likes the first one better, but I like the second one better.  I like the actress who plays Mattie better and I liked the ending better.  It seemed more real.  I made Tom watch the remake a few weeks after we saw the original.

But watching both of them made me wonder which one followed the book more accurately.  Charles Portis wrote the book “True Grit” as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1968.  I borrowed the book from the library and read it shortly after watching both movies.  Fortunately I can report that both movies are almost mirror images of the book.  The dialogue is lifted word for word and very little that is in the book is left out of either movie.  The 2010 version of the movie has the same ending as the book.  I laughed in the same places that I laughed in the movies.  I rooted for all three of the main characters and was pleased at all the instances where all three showed “true grit.”

Finding a movie and a remake that are both true to the book is unusual these days.  So many times movie writers and directors think they have to add more or change a story line.  “True Grit” is a true delight no matter which version you see or read.