Friday, January 28, 2011

On Further Review: True Grit (1969) and John Wayne's Oscar

The truth that many people subscribe to is that John Wayne was given his Oscar for True Grit for decades of service. They say that the movie marks the end of old Hollywood and it's notion of the western. The new western was marked by the arrival a week later of the Wild Bunch.

Yea ,well maybe, but has anyone actually watched Wayne's performance? I'm not sure many people under a certain age have. And what's worse has anyone actually compared it to the other performances nominated? I don't think so.

I am not a John Wayne fan. I think that with few exceptions he really did play basically the same role. It wasn't until I was in my 20's until I actually sat down and watched his films and distanced the notion of him being an old Hollywood Icon with what he actually did. In all honesty I think that in the 60's Wayne actually started to be really good actor who was more than just The Duke. Look at The Alamo or Rio Lobo, where he is taking the notion of being the icon and doing more with it. In away I think his work compares favorably with what Eastwood did Unforgiven. I think that in those films, has he does in True Grit he takes the icon and twists it and switches it into something more.(It can also be argued that with the exception of The Shootist Wayne fell back into the Icon role for many of his films from the 70's).

First off you can't discount True Grit to The Wild Bunch. The films are both westerns, but its really pointless to try and compare them since they are both doing different things. Wayne's film is an adventure and little else, even if there is riffs on the notion of revenge. The wild Bunch is a mediation of violence and of the death of the west. Its a film that is trying to do more than Grit.

If you look at Wayne's completion for the Oscar things kind of get interesting.

Richard Burton was nominated for Anne of a Thousand Days but to me the performance is unremarkable. The performance is standard Burton.Its the sort of thing that Burton did well, even when he was asleep. I think Burton got it because he was the actor of the moment.

Peter O'Toole in the musical Goodbye Mr Chips is the WTF nomination. Yea the film is okay, but O'Toole is more mannerisms then anything. Again he was a hot property and I think he got the nomination for who he was.

The only rational competition for the award was both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman for Midnight Cowboy. Okay it could be argued that the double nominations split the votes, but on the other hand I don't think that Voight and Hoffman are quite Oscar material. (Full disclosure I'm not a huge fan of the film, I think its second to Z). To me Voight is a bit wishy washy who I remember not for anything he did, rather for the hat he wore. Hoffman's performance is reduced to the cliched "Hey I'm walking here", which I've heard was ad-libbed. Neither performance as a performance stands out over time.

Which brings me back to John Wayne and True Grit. If you want the easiest answer as to why he deserves the Oscar consider the mere fact that we are still seriously talking about it forty plus years later and not any of the other performances. Sure its an iconic performance by an icon performer, but its one that took the larger than life Wayne and redefined him in an even larger than life role. Its a role that casts such a HUGE shadow that they had they had to find away to counter it for the recent remake. (None of the other nominees come close)

Did John Wayne deserve the Oscar? Hell yea.

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