Rooster Cogburn (film)

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Rooster Cogburn
Rooster cogburn.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStuart Millar
Written by Martha Hyer
Based on Rooster Cogburn
by Charles McColl Portis
Produced by
Cinematography Harry Stradling, Jr.
Edited by Robert Swink
Music by Laurence Rosenthal
Color process Technicolor
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • November 1975 (1975-11)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[ citation needed ]
Box office$17.6 million [1]

Rooster Cogburn is a 1975 American Western film directed by Stuart Millar and starring John Wayne reprising his role as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and Katharine Hepburn. Written by Martha Hyer, based on the character Rooster Cogburn created by Charles McColl Portis in his 1968 Western novel True Grit , the film is about an aging one-eyed lawman whose badge was recently suspended for a string of routine arrests that ended in bloodshed. To earn back his badge, he is tasked with bringing down bank robbers who have hijacked a wagon shipment of nitroglycerin. He is helped by a spinster searching for her father's killer. Rooster Cogburn is a sequel to the 1969 film True Grit . [2]



Aging one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn has been stripped of his badge by Judge Parker at the territorial capital of Fort Smith, Arkansas, because of drunkenness and questionable use of firearms. He is given a chance to redeem himself after a shipment of highly explosive nitroglycerine is stolen from a transporting troop of United States Army cavalry. Rooster tracks the outlaws, led by Hawk and his gang, along with Cogburn's former scout Breed, to a church mission in the remote settlement of Fort Ruby in the Indian Territory. The village had been overrun by the gang, who killed an elderly missionary preacher, Rev. George Goodnight, and a number of the local Indians. The preacher's spinster daughter, Miss Eula Goodnight, becomes Cogburn's unwilling partner, along with her student Wolf, the son of one of the deceased Indians.

Cogburn, Wolf, and Eula barricade a gully crossing in the woods with logs. When the bandits stop, Cogburn threatens to blow up the wagon and its high-explosive contents unless the men dismount. A man attempts to shoot Cogburn in the back, but Eula, an excellent sharpshooter, shoots from across the ravine and kills him. Another man tries the same, and is also killed. The other gang members flee, and Cogburn captures the wagon and a Gatling gun on board.

Hawk and his men kidnap Wolf, then offer to exchange him for the wagon, explosives, and Gatling gun. Wolf shoots the man holding him, escapes, and returns to Cogburn's camp safely. Wolf scatters the outlaws' horses and the bandits retreat from the torrent of Gatling gun fire, allowing Cogburn's party to escape.

Cogburn commandeers a raft from an old ferryboat man, stashes the nitroglycerine on board, and the three head down the mountainous river. The bandits attempt to ambush the raft, but are repelled once again by the Gatling gun. Breed and another bandit set up a trap further downstream with an underwater rope, which snares the raft. Breed's accomplice prepares to shoot Cogburn as he tries to free the raft, but Breed shoots the bandit in the back in return for Cogburn's having saved his life, years prior. Breed returns to the outlaws' camp and tells Hawk that his partner died in a shootout with Cogburn, but Hawk sees that Breed's gun has only one expended bullet and kicks him into a rocky ravine, killing him.

Cogburn's party encounters massive whitewater rapids the following morning. They get through safely, but the raft is damaged and the Gatling gun is lost. Hearing the gang's horses up ahead, they dump several explosives boxes overboard to float ahead of the damaged raft. Eula and Wolf pretend to surrender, but Cogburn shoots the floating explosives boxes, blowing up Hawk and the remaining bandits.

Judge Parker, at Eula's insistence, gives Rooster his job back. Eula and Wolf, along with a number of settlers, return to rebuild Fort Ruby.



The screenplay was written by actress Martha Hyer, the wife of producer Hal B. Wallis, under the pen name Martin Julien. [3] Director Stuart Millar, a longtime Hollywood producer, had directed only one film, When Legends Die based on the classic novel by Hal Borland, prior to helming Rooster Cogburn.

Although True Grit was released by Paramount Pictures, Wallis made a deal with Universal Pictures to finance this film.

The film was shot in Oregon in autumn 1974, [4] [5] in Deschutes County west of Bend, Oregon (for the mountain scenes), on the Deschutes River for the whitewater rapids, and on the Rogue River in the counties of Josephine and Curry in Oregon, west of Grants Pass, Oregon (for the river scenes). Smith Rock State Park, northeast of Redmond, Oregon, was a setting, as well; the Rockhard/Smith Rock Climbing Guides building at the park entrance was originally built as a set for the movie, where it was portrayed as Kate's Saloon.

John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were both born in May 1907 (Hepburn the elder by two weeks), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together in a film. Although it was promoted as Rooster Cogburn (...and the Lady), [6] the opening credits of the film give the title as simply Rooster Cogburn. During filming, both 67-year-old stars stayed in Sunriver, Oregon; [4] Governor Tom McCall flew in for a brief visit with them in early October. [4]

Noted character actor Strother Martin portrayed Shanghai McCoy; he also appeared in True Grit, but as the horse trader Colonel G. Stonehill.

It was the final film from producer Wallis, and the cinematography was by Harry Stradling Jr.


Critical response

In his review in The New York Times , Vincent Canby called the film "a high-class example of the low Hollywood art of recycling" and praised the performances by the two leads—Wayne for his continuation of his Oscar-winning role as Cogburn, and Hepburn for a performance that recalls her "marvelous characterization opposite Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen ". [7] Canby concluded that the film is "a cheerful, throwaway Western, featuring two stars of the grand tradition who respond to each other with verve that makes the years disappear." [7] Roger Ebert gave the film 1 star out of 4, and wrote, "the chemistry's there at times. But when it does work, it's largely because of the sheer acting craft of [Wayne and Hepburn]. The dialog they're given is so consciously arch, so filled with subtle little recognitions of who the two actors are, that we never care about the story and it never gets told. And without a narrative to help us along, we finally have to wonder why the movie was made." [8] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote, "It's a stupid story riddled with plot-holes. All that it cares about is providing Hepburn and Wayne with a half-dozen 'big scenes' together ... What few pleasures are contained in 'Rooster Cogburn' occur when Hepburn and Wayne simply and silently look at each other with affection. We sense they like each other from the beginning, so their put-down material comes across as phony theatricality." [9] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote that the film had "an embarrassingly prefab script, along with much forced and strident acting, all badly coordinated by the numb and ragged direction of Stuart Miller." [10] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film a "slow and rattletrap" star vehicle for Wayne and Hepburn, whose pairing was "not so much a relationship as a very good-natured contest in scene larceny. Despite some of the most tongue-numbing dialogue in a long while, Hepburn wins every time with her sweetly devastating underplaying." [11] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a patchwork conception that might have worked if the script had been considerably more ingenious and the direction considerably more adroit ... Screenwriter Martin Julien hasn't discovered how to develop a relationship between hero and heroine that runs on the same track with the chase story, and Stuart Millar's direction is as heavy as lead and slow as molasses." [12]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds a 44% "Rotten" rating based on 9 critics, with four being positive and five being negative. [13]

Box office

The film grossed $17,594,566 at the box office, [1] earning $4.5 million in North American rentals. [14] It was the 25th-highest grossing film of 1975.

See also

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