True Grit: Special Edition

True Grit: Special Edition (1969)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: John Wayne. Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Trailers

Celebrating John Wayne's 100th birthday, studios are pulling out the films of the legendary actor and bring them to DVD either for the first time, or as a re-release. "True Grit" had been release in 2000 without any extras and as such this newly prepared Special Edition is certainly a welcome addition for many of the Duke's fans.

Introducing the character of Rooster Cogburn – a part he would revisit in the 1975 film "Rooster Cogburn – John Wayne brings to the screen a one-eyed drunkard of a federal marshal, regularly scouting the Indian Territory for criminals trying to hide there from the law.

When a farmhand is shooting her father in cold blood, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is determined to track down the killer and see him hang. She hires Rooster Cogburn to help her find and bring down the killer because she's heard of his reputation of an unrelentless, merciless lawman, when Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) shows up calling his dibs on the man. Evidently, the killer has also shot a senator and his dog in the Lonestar State.

So the strange trio make their way into the Indian Nation to track down the man who killed Mattie's father and anyone who may get in their way.

Of course the rough loner of a marshal is not too excited about having a little girl around, or a Texas Ranger for that matter, and the friction between these characters is what makes up the majority of the film. There are many funny moments that are nicely countered by moments of action and shoot-outs. Complemented by wonderful vistas of Colorado, the film finds the perfect mix between humor and drama, and although John Wayne's portrayal of Cogburn is clearly one of his best, Kim Darby's wonderfully spirited performance adds a lot of spark to the movie, nicely balancing out Wayne's more stoic character.

Paramount is presenting "True Grit" in its original 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. The print is generally clean and mostly without defects. However, it does have a somewhat strange-looking quality. Maybe I've just been watching too many movies in high definition lately but overall the transfer seems to seriously lack definition and detail. Long shots in particular are unable to hold any amount of detail and in addition the landscape shots look as if they have been artificially sharpened as contrast and edges seem exaggerated. Strangely this is not true for the actors in the same frame, and I was also unable to detect any visible edge-enhancement – and yet, it looks distractingly unbalanced at times.
Colors are nicely reproduced and give the image live. Whether it's skin tones or lush greens or the dappled light in a forest, the transfer manages to bring the accents out nicely with strong hues and tones. Black level is good also, giving the image solid visual depth at all times.

The disc contains a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track that has been remixed from the original mono audio elements. The track is solid and has a pleasant quality despite its age. Surround usage is limited, as expected, but still makes good use of the full sound stage for a pleasing presentation. No distortion or hiss is evident and the dialogue is without any sibilance.

A commentary track by Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Boze Bell and J. Stuart Rosebrook is included on this release. All three are Western specialists and film historians, discussing various elements of the film. The three have a very active discussion throughout, making this a great commentary track that reveals a lot of information about locations, characters, actors, events, lore, and much, much more.

"True Writing" takes a look at the movie's script and offers up interview clips with some cast and crew members as well as film historians to discuss how relevant the film was during its period and what made it so successful and popular.

"Working With The Duke" is a loving tribute to John Wayne in which cast members remember what it was like to work with a true Hollywood legend. It is an exciting featurette that allows viewers to appreciate the icon that is John Wayne even more.

"Aspen Gold" is a featurette about the locations in Colorado where the movie was shot. "The Law And The Lawless" takes a look at the history of marshals and outlaws in the Wild West to put them in relationship with the characters we see on the screen.

The DVD is rounded out by the movie's trailer and sneak previews.

"True Grit" is a cool Western that has a great mix and chemistry that makes viewing it very enjoyable. While the transfer may not be perfect on this release it isn't bad either, so do not let me comments hold you back from giving this disc a fair shot. Combined with the extras this release is a worthy replacement for the old bare-bones release.