“Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.” - Adam Sandler
At the weekend we watched an old Western the likes of which aren't made any more. I would say that even for its time it was “old-fashioned”, and it was no surprise given it starred that legend of westerns, John Wayne, in his second last film role before he died. The film was Stuart Millar’s 1975 flick “Rooster Cogburn”, starring John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Zerbe. It had everything a western should have, good guys, bad guys, shootouts, gold robberies, horses, Indians, magnificent scenery and a plot that would satisfy all expectations of the westerns lover.
The film is a sequel, building on John Wayne’s character of Rooster Cogburn from his earlier film “True Grit” of 1969. This previous film was so popular that a sequel was a no-brainer, given Wayne’s health being relatively good and Katharine Hepburn looking for something she could co-star in with Wayne. Hepburn was one of John Wayne's biggest boosters of his talent, even though their politics clashed.
Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) is on the trail of a gang that massacred an army patrol and stole a gatling gun and a load of nitroglycerine to use in a bullion robbery they are planning. The gang headed by Richard Jordan with Anthony Zerbe who used to scout for Wayne go to an Indian settlement with a missionary school headed by father preacher (Jon Lormer) and daughter teacher (Hepburn). The gang shoots up the place and kills the preacher. When Cogburn arrives on the scene, he gets saddled with Hepburn and an Indian teenager (Richard Romancito) who has just been orphaned in the massacre. The unlikely pair accompany him on the trail of Jordan and his gang and get enough adventure to last a lifetime.
Hepburn playing teacher Eula Goodnight can be compared to Rose Sayer in “The African Queen”. Although there are many similarities, there are also fundamental differences and the increased years of Hepburn in the 1975 role are in harmony with the more experienced woman of the world that Eula is, compared to Rose Sayer – who incidentally is much more of an action woman. This film was written around the two stars and is a perfect vehicle for their talents. They settle comfortably in their roles and have good chemistry, one seeing that they liked each other quite a lot. Hepburn said at the time that she thought John Wayne projected the same sense of integrity that Spencer Tracy did on the screen – and that’s quite a compliment coming from her!
We enjoyed the sense of nostalgia that the film exuded, bringing back memories of a simpler time – and I don’t mean the frontier days, I mean my youth! The music by Laurence Rosenthal was suitably expansive and rhapsodic at times complementing wonderfully the magnificent cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr. Charles Portis who wrote the screenplay based it on the the character of Rooster Cogburn from the novel “True Grit” and he has done his best to accommodate the stars of the film in a plot that is engaging albeit conventional. We recommend the film, if nothing else for the great chemistry between the two stars towards the end of their careers.
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