A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, it needs no saying, are two of the strongest presences in the history of movies. Just to see them on the screen is to remember dozens of roles, many of them great, that shaped them almost into elemental forces. The problem with "Rooster Cogburn" is that those memories become mostly painful. We remember Hepburn in "The African Queen" and Wayne in "True Grit" (1969), and then we've got to watch the actors themselves conspire in a ripoff of some of their finest moments.
There was Hepburn, bravely manning the tiller while Bogart tried to keep up stream and the little African Queen shot the rapids. And then there was their beautiful sigh of relief when they thought they'd done it and then the look of alarm as the thunder of even faster rapids grew in the air. And now what we get are Hepburn and Wayne improbably riding a raft loaded with nitroglycerin through much tamer rapids, for a far less (certain purpose, and we remember the classic scene so sharply that the new one becomes less exciting and poignant.
And there was John Wayne, in his first time out as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," the movie he finally won the Oscar for. We remember him drunk and defiant, taking the reins in his teeth and firing with both hands as he recklessly charged the bad guys. We remember the glory and the craziness of that moment, and in "Rooster Cogburn," we see him rolling around drunk on the ground and firing at his favorite delicacy, corndodgers, and it's a pale moment by comparison.
It may seem unfair to compare "Rooster Cogburn" to such classics. After all, how many movies could possibly stand up? Except that comparison is absolutely invited. Not only does Wayne play the same character, but Hepburn just about does. She was a missionary's sister in "The African Queen," but this time she's a missionary's daughter. Both times, the locals killed the missionary, and both times she turned to a heroic local character. Wayne replaces Bogart, the various plots mingle awkwardly and all too obviously, and the movie depends on the HepburnWayne chemistry to survive.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at John Sayles' brilliant "The Brother From Another Planet."