Viewing Wayne's 'Grit'

December 27, 2008|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

John Wayne, after spending more than a quarter-century as probably the world's most popular movie star, finally won his Best Actor Oscar for 1969's True Grit (3 p.m., TCM), a revisionist Western in which he got to play a scurrilous, drunken federal marshal whose gruff demeanor does a lousy job of disguising his true heart of gold. This delightfully satisfying exercise in star power features Wayne as one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, hired by spitfire teen-ager Mattie Ross (an embracingly plucky Kim Darby) to find the cur who killed her father. Wayne is great, playing just enough against type (he swears, falls over drunk and acts about as uncouth as humanly possible) to get the attention of Oscar-voters, but not enough to alienate his fans: He's still firmly on the side of right, he's still the toughest guy in a world of tough guys, and he's still an indomitable force you just know will come out all right in the end. In the film's greatest scene, he grits his horse's reins between his teeth and charges at bad guy Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and his gang with shotguns blazing from both hands. Veteran director Henry Hathaway, whose career dated back to the silent cinema, brings a sturdy hand to the proceedings, giving the film a sense of subdued majesty that embraces but doesn't overwhelm the action.

Over on AMC, Richard Gere is a directionless pretty boy who finds both purpose and romance after enrolling in Navy flight school in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman (10:15 p.m.). Louis Gossett Jr. won an Oscar for playing the unyielding drill sergeant who sees something in Gere's Zack Mayo - either a con artist or a diamond-in-the-rough, he's not sure which. Debra Winger plays the love interest, a local gal who despises her mother's advice to throw herself at the first eligible would-be officer she sees, but falls for Zack anyway. The final scene is the stuff of which both men's and women's dreams of romance are made.

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