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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Classic Film Review: Rooster Cogburn (1975)

Rooster Cogburn stars John Wayne as the title character, a marshal who has his badge taken away because the criminals in his area seem to end up dead and not in prison. He's given it back on the proviso that he can catch Hawk (Richard Jordan), the leader of a gang who have stolen explosives to blow up a bank, and bring him back alive. Rooster sets off after them, coming across a settlement that the men have ransacked. Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn), a preacher's daughter, is mourning the death of her father at their hands and she and Wolf (Richard Romancito) are taken along with Rooster so he can leave them somewhere safe. Eula has no intention of letting that happen - she and Wolf go with Rooster to catch the men responsible for murdering her father and friends.

It's remarkable, given the age of the two stars (both were born in 1907 so were 68 at the time this was released), the amount of energy this film exudes. At no point do you get the impression you're watching an old Katharine Hepburn as she shoots and rides her way through the country. It's quite evident that she and Wayne enjoyed making this film and their back and forth, quips and comments, are a joy to watch. Of course there are comparisons to be made with Hepburn's The African Queen (1951, reviewed here), and there are similarities, though The African Queen remains the superior article. However, Rooster Cogburn still occupies a prime space in Hepburn's later filmography and is thoroughly enjoyable.

I have to say, Westerns aren't my forte and I think it was the presence of Hepburn and Wayne that made this one so good from my perspective. However, the characterisation and portrayal of Rooster is good and several bit characters also make an impression. One person I wasn't sure about was Richard Jordan as villain Hawk. For me, he wasn't balanced enough. He often switches from calm to angry in a disjointed way which, while expressing his volatility, doesn't feel normal.

There are a couple of memorable scenes, most notably the rapids (another similarity with The African Queen) and the shoot-out in the woods where Eula shows off her shooting prowess. There are also some nice, quiet scenes between the leads, the best of these coming when Rooster gives Eula a massage. This is a gorgeous little film, worth watching for any Hepburn fan, even those who aren't too sure about Westerns.

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