Western of the week (February 14 - 20):
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Runtime: 128 minutes
Starring: John Wayne (Reuben J. 'Rooster' Cogburn), Glen Campbell (La Boeuf), Kim Darby (Mattie Ross), Jeremy Slate (Emmett Quincy), Robert Duvall (Ned Pepper), Dennis Hopper (Moon), Strother Martin (Colonel G. Stonehill), Jeff Corey (Tom Chaney)
The movie opens to an idyllic scene of a farmstead nestled in a rolling green valley. The farm's owner, Frank Ross of Yell County Arkansas, is preparing to leave for Forth Smith in order to buy some Texas mustangs for breeding purposes. Ross consults with his beloved 14-year-old daughter Mattie about his plans, collects his money and gun, says goodbye to his family, and departs on the journey with his hired man, Tom Chaney.
While in Fort Smith, Chaney spends an evening getting drunk and gambling. He gets into a heated argument with his fellow card players, believing he has been cheated. As the scene is about to turn violent, Ross pulls Chaney from the saloon and tries to reason with him. Chaney responds by shooting Ross in the gut, stealing his money, and riding away as the people from the saloon filter out to the street and watch him escape.
In the next scene Mattie Ross, accompanied by a family servant, arrives in Fort Smith to collect her father's body. A three-man hanging is scheduled to occur in the town square that same day, and a large crowd has gathered to view the spectacle. Mattie watches as the men are hung, and after goes to see her father laid out in his coffin.
After arranging for her father's body to be returned home, Mattie visits the local sheriff to see what is being done about Chaney. The sheriff informs her that Chaney was recently involved in a robbery with Ned Pepper's gang, and he is now believed to be hiding in the neighboring Indian nations. Because the sheriff has no jurisdiction in the nations, he suggests to Mattie that finding Chaney is now a matter for the federal marshals service.
Mattie inquires as to which marshal might be the best for the job. The sheriff suggests three marshals, each with different skills-- the meanest one being Rooster Cogburn. Mattie decides to look for Cogburn.
Cogburn, wearing a patch over his left eye, arrives in town with a wagonload of prisoners while Mattie looks on. Though she tries to get his attention, she is thwarted and is forced to make plans to return the following day for Cogburn's scheduled court appearance in order to speak to him.
That evening, Mattie stays in a rooming house where her father had stayed and where his belongings are waiting to be claimed-- his gun, his watch, and a few small personal items. When finally left alone for the evening, Mattie shows emotion over the loss of her father, crying while she holds his watch.
The next day at the courthouse, Mattie looks on as Cogburn testifies in Judge Parker's federal court. As the defense cross-examines him, she learns that Cogburn has killed 23 men during his four years as a U.S. Marshal. After his testimony, Mattie follows Cogburn and offers $50 of her own money as a reward for bringing in Chaney. After some consideration, Cogburn asks for $100 because Chaney is running with Ned Pepper's gang. Mattie agrees to the terms and gives $25 to Cogburn as a down payment.
When she returns to the boarding house, Mattie has a conversation with a man named La Boeuf who is also looking for Chaney. La Boeuf, a sergeant with the Texas Rangers, has been searching for Chaney since he killed a State Senator in Waco, Texas. The Senator's family has offered a considerable reward for Chaney, and La Boeuf wants to accompany Cogburn to help catch Chaney and bring him back to Texas. Mattie, however, is adamant that Chaney should be hanged in Fort Smith for the murder of her father, and she refuses any collaboration with La Boeuf.
To obtain the rest of the money she needs to hire Cogburn, Mattie pays a visit to Colonel G. Stonehill, the local horse trader. Using the threat of legal action against him, she manages to sell back the horses her father bought from Stonehill, and she also obtains money for her father's stolen horse that had been left in his corral.
The next day Mattie buys one of the horses back from Stonehill, christens it "Little Blackie," and goes to see Cogburn, intending to go with him as he searches for Chaney. She is angered to discover that Cogburn and La Boeuf have met without her knowledge and agreed to work together, hoping to split the sizable Texas reward for his capture.
Cogburn and La Boeuf attempt to leave town without Mattie in tow, but she trails them to a river crossing, intent on coming along. As the two men ferry across the river, Mattie is forced to swim Little Blackie to the other side to catch up. While Cogburn is impressed with her determination, La Boeuf is annoyed. He snatches her from her horse and spanks her with a switch. Cogburn eventually draws his gun to make La Boeuf stop striking her, and the three grudgingly ride on together.
After stopping at Bagby's provision store to get information about Ned Pepper's whereabouts, the three come upon a cabin with horses in its corral and smoke rising from the chimney. Cogburn suspects that the men inside are with Pepper's gang. La Boeuf covers the chimney to smoke the men out, and gunfire is exchanged. One of the men, Moon, is shot in the leg.
Once inside and now holding the men as prisoners, Cogburn questions the injured Moon about Pepper and Chaney. As Moon begins to tell the truth about Pepper's whereabouts, his companion, Quincy, fatally stabs him to keep him quiet. Cogburn shoots Quincy dead, and as Moon lays dying he explains that Pepper will soon return to the cabin.
Cogburn and La Boeuf remove the bodies and climb the rocky cliffs above in order to ambush Pepper and his gang when they return. When morning comes, Pepper and five other men ride up to the cabin. When Pepper can't locate Moon or Quincy, he fires into the air to signal them. La Boeuf mistakenly begins firing in response, and the ambush is thwarted. Cogburn does manage to kill two men, but the rest, including Pepper, manage to escape.
After returning the two dead men to Fort McAlister for any reward money, the pursuit of the Pepper gang continues. Cogburn worries both Mattie and La Boeuf with his heavy drinking. Indeed, Cogburn is so drunk one afternoon that he falls off his horse and insists on making camp where he landed.
The following morning, Mattie walks to a nearby stream to wash her face and fetch water. As she slides down the hill to the creek bed, she happens upon Tom Chaney. As Chaney slowly realizes who she is, Mattie pulls out her father's gun and announces she will be taking him in. Chaney laughs and encourages her to cock the gun and shoot; he is quite surprised when she shoots him in the ribs. He then charges her, takes the gun, and brings her back to Pepper before Cogburn and La Boeuf can intervene.
Using Mattie as a hostage, Pepper gives Cogburn five minutes to ride away and let his gang escape. Cogburn agrees, and he and La Boeuf make a show of riding away. Meanwhile, Mattie explains to Pepper why she shot Chaney. She then becomes quite disheartened when it appears Cogburn has left her in the hands of the gang.
As soon as Cogburn is seen riding a safe distance away, Pepper takes three men with him to make their escape, leaving Chaney behind with Mattie. Though Pepper tells Chaney he is not to harm Mattie, the two struggle soon after the gang is away. La Boeuf arrives in time to subdue Chaney, and he and Mattie look down from the rocks above as Cogburn and Pepper's gang face off from opposite ends of a large clearing.
As Pepper asks if Cogburn will let them pass through, Cogburn declares, "I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience. Which will it be?" Pepper replies, "I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man." Cogburn angrily retorts, "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!" He charges straight for the men, shooting with both hands and holding his horse's reins in his teeth. Pepper's men also charge and fire. Pepper's men go down, and Pepper himself is wounded badly. Cogburn's horse is shot from under him, and his leg becomes trapped under the felled animal. As Pepper slowly approaches Cogburn, La Boeuf takes a long shot with his Sharps rifle and kills Pepper.
Just as Mattie and La Boeuf are about to celebrate their apparent victory, Chaney hits La Boeuf over the head with a large rock. As he comes at Mattie, she shoots him again with her father's gun, this time killing him. However, the force of the shot causes her to fall backward into a deep pit filled with rattlesnakes. She injures herself and is bitten by a snake before Cogburn can rescue her. La Boeuf aids in the rescue, but dies shortly afterward from his head wound.
Cogburn tends to Mattie's snake bite and they race off together on Little Blackie to get medical attention. Cogburn pushes the animal until it dies of exhaustion, and then carries Mattie on foot until he comes across a group of men with a wagon. Cogburn takes the wagon and races to Fort McAlister. When they arrive, Mattie is already gravely ill.
After some time has passed, Mattie's lawyer J. Noble Dagget visits Cogburn to pay the remaining sum owed for finding Chaney, as well as an additional $200 for saving Mattie's life.
When Cogburn visits Mattie at her home in Yell County, she has recovered from her snake bite. She shows him her family's grave plots, and tells Cogburn that she would like him to be buried there was well.
As Cogburn is about to leave, the two discuss his new horse. Cogburn says the new horse is a good jumper, to which Mattie replies, "You are too old and fat to be jumping horses." As he leaves, Cogburn jumps his horse over the fence, quipping, "Well, come see a fat old man some time!"
Plot keywords: Drunken marshall, Texas Ranger, U.S. Marshall, murdered father, revenge, heroine, tracking criminals
Scenery: wooded areas, open fields, streams and rivers, autumn leaves, rocky terrain, rocky cliffs, snow capped mountains, birch trees
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