Hepburn Rules the Rooster
In 1969 the legendary John Wayne delivered one of his iconic performances as hard-nosed U.S. Marshal Reuben J. 'Rooster' Cogburn in the classic "True Grit". Shame then that he reprised the character in the 1975 movie "Rooster Cogburn", which also featured Katharine Hepburn, because it was a less than impressive movie. Whether it was the weak storyline, or its obvious reliance on its star names to carry the movie, something is just not right about "Rooster Cogburn", Wayne's penultimate movie.
Having been stripped of his badge for being a drunk, Reuben J. 'Rooster' Cogburn (John Wayne - Brannigan) finds himself back on the trail when Judge Parker (John McIntire) asks him to go after a group of cowboys lead by the infamous Hawk (Richard Jordan - The Secret of My Success) who have stolen a wagon load of nitro-glycerine. Along the way Cogburn unwillingly teams up with the forthright Miss Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) who wants to help track down the cowboys because they killed her father as they went through her village.
A major issue with "Rooster Cogburn" is that the storyline is seriously uninteresting and is almost a stock storyline. Watching Cogburn and Eula Goodnight go after a bunch of cowboy criminals is not the most exciting idea in the world and it plays at such. There are various stock elements to the story, the shoot outs, the arguments and so on but it also pulls in other elements. The scene where Cogburn and Miss Goodnight float down a river on a raft feels like a slim imitation of a scene out of Hepburn's "The African Queen", just one of various scenes which seem to pull from both Hepburn and Wayne's back catalogue of movies. It has to be said that when it comes to the storyline there is little, if anything, which you could class as original or unique.
But the entertainment in "Rooster Cogburn" is not the storyline but the casting of two strong legendary actors opposite each other. Watching the antagonistic relationship between Cogburn and Goodnight is brilliant because the characters are both strong minded and willed. You get a sense that perhaps there was a semi antagonistic relationship between the stars as well and it shows on screen to great effect. The banter between them is first class as they battle each other over their way of life, from Cogburn's drinking to Miss Goodnight's religious fervour. But there is also the nice softer side to it as well, and you also get a sense that although Wayne and Hepburn may not have always seen eye to eye there was also a respect for each other.
As for their performances, well like in many movies John Wayne isn't so much playing a character but playing himself, the legendary tough talking cowboy. But sadly for me this was not one of Wayne's finest performances, maybe age and health were starting to take there toll or perhaps it's because this came on the back of shooting the movie "Brannigan", but some of that Wayne spark is missing. Hepburn likewise plays Hepburn, that feisty forthright woman who is strong minded, has a conviction in her beliefs but has one of the most endearing smiles in cinema history. The pairing is great and it is what makes the movie.
Elsewhere though the performances are not so good and Richard Jordan as Hawk the leader of the dangerous cowboys goes for over top drama in every single scene. It is one of the least convincing bad guy cowboys I have ever seen and really spoils things. Maybe he realised that he would be over shadowed by John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn so went for an over the top performance to try and stand out. Anthony Zerbe fairs little better as tracker Breed because for some reason he looks an acts like a knock off Clint Eastwood.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Rooster Cogburn" features the entertaining pairing of John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn it is a pretty poor western. The storyline is very plain and not in the least bit exciting. But the clever pairing of John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn in a forced, antagonistic partnership makes "Rooster Cogburn" work with some fun banter between them standing out in an other ways poor movie.