Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rooster Cogburn (1975)

          More of a merger between two established cinematic brand names than an organic creative enterprise, Rooster Cogburn offers the unlikely screen duo of towering he-man John Wayne and delicate blueblood Katharine Hepburn. A sequel to True Grit (1969), the movie for which Wayne won his only Oscar, this lively Western adventure story reprises Wayne’s award-winning role of drunken, one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and pairs the character with a Bible-thumping East Coast transplant named Eula Goodnight (Hepburn). Each role is catered to the persona of the respective screen legend, so Rooster Cogburn delivers exactly what longtime fans of the actors want, and nothing more: Wayne is cranky and heroic and macho, while Hepburn is articulate and defiant and indomitable. The movie is therefore hard to beat for sheer crowd-pleasing star power, but aesthetic dissonance abounds.
          For instance, the acting styles of the two stars are so wildly divergent that the performers seem to exist in parallel universes even when they occupy the same shot. Wayne poses and preens, pausing arbitrarily like he’s struggling to remember his lines, while Hepburn powers through reams of dialogue effortlessly; however, each accentuates the other’s peculiar appeal, since Wayne’s frontier authenticity compensates for his lack of acting ability in the same way that Hepburn’s numerous affectations are leavened by her supreme dramatic skills. With star personalities the main attraction, it doesn’t matter that Rooster Cogburn’s story is redundant and trite.
          Just like in True Grit, Cogburn embarks on a hunt for a pack of killers accompanied by the willful daughter of a murdered man. In this case, Eula is the adult child of a preacher who was gunned down by varmints led by Hawk (Richard Jordan), a thief who has stolen a wagonload of government nitro for use in a robbery. When Cogburn accepts the job of capturing Hawk, Eula insists on tagging along, so the bulk of the picture comprises cutesy scenes of Rooster and Eula bickering even as they develop grudging affection for each other. There are several exciting action sequences, particularly a raft ride down nasty white water, and attractive location photography in Oregon adds to the film’s appeal. Jordan delivers enjoyable villainy, doing the best he can with an underwritten role, and costar Anthony Zerbe lends a bit of nuance as a gun-for-hire with conflicted emotions. Directed with workmanlike efficiency by Stuart Millar, Rooster Cogburn is pure hokum, and it never pretends otherwise.

Rooster Cogburn: FUNKY


Unknown said...

A totally forgettable film, as a note of trivia, this was the last film produced by the legendary Hal Wallis, and it was written by his wife at the time Martha Hyer, a former second tier star of the late 50s and early 60s, who appeared in several Wallis productions at Paramount.

David Sloan said...

A fair review, as was Vincent Canby's review in the New York Times.

Unfortunately, Roger Ebert's one-star review was a little harsh.