J. KARL MILLER: 'True Grit' will remain a John Wayne film

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Sadly, into each life a little rain must fall. Even in this prosperous and blessed nation we call home, there will be sadness, tragedy, obscenity, indecent behavior and even defilement.

From the untimely deaths of Bambi's mom and Old Yeller, Philadelphia sports fans booing Santa Claus, burning the American flag, the booing of the Boy Scout's color guard at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, to the Westboro Baptist Church disrupting military funerals, we have been subjected to, and have risen above, disappointment, anger, sorrow and even desecration.


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However, when I was recently examining the entertainment pages of the Kansas City Star, to my utter dismay, I discovered the most dastardly deed of all — a virtual blasphemy of all we hold dear. In a move reminiscent of demeaning motherhood, apple pie and the flag, Hollywood has engaged in the onerous remaking of "True Grit", John Wayne's only Academy Award-winning role.

Supplanting John Wayne in the lead role is Jeff Bridges, a more than passable actor in his own right, having won an Oscar last year for the movie "Crazy Heart."  Matt Damon is playing Glen Campbell's Texas Ranger role. The thumbnail sketch describing the movie touts Damon head and shoulders over Campbell's wooden performance — an obvious effort to disguise the obvious.

Any living actor, along with anyone selected at random from the streets, would have given a more believable performance than the singing talented but stage challenged Glen Campbell. However, the most craven of insults should shock the sensitivity of movie fans everywhere — Bridges' talents and family legacy notwithstanding, he is not Rooster Cogburn and he sure as heck ain't John Wayne.

It was bad enough when they remade "Stagecoach", the 1966 movie with Alex Cord and the 1986 "made for TV" version" with Kris Kristofferson, and the 1988 TV remake of "Red River" with James Arness. But, when compared to the profaning of an American classic, the "end of tour award" for the Duke for his only Oscar-winning performance, they are dwarfed as mere molehills.

Whether due to laziness, unoriginality or a dearth of creative talent, the entertainment product provided by Hollywood and the television industry has morphed into revisiting past success instead of seeking new horizons. On the big screen, we have been subjected to remakes of "Psycho", "The Pink Panther", "The Longest Yard", "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Planet of the Apes". Hollywood has also insulted our collective intelligence with remakes of television shows such as "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Starsky and Hutch," while TV's latest yawner is destined to be the new "Hawaii Five-O."

These efforts share a carload of similarities, the first of which is being utterly unnecessary. When contemplating whether to spend good money or time on a "reboot," one must ask: "What was wrong with the original?" With few exceptions, the remakes are shallow, shoddy imitations with scripts and themes altered to inflict additional violence, sex and special sound effects to disguise the lack of acting and absence of a plot.

From my perspective as an erstwhile movie fan who has been largely turned off by the inane and boring drivel foisted upon us by movie and TV land, the only remake that improved on the original was "The King and I" over "Anna and the King of Siam." The casts and the acting were superb in both versions — Deborah Kerr and Irene Dunne were flawless but Yul Brynner was a far more plausible oriental potentate than Rex Harrison.

I am in no way a prude; nevertheless, so long as we permit the so-called entertainment industry to peddle raw sex, unnecessary violence, vulgarity, car chases and an inexhaustible supply of gunfire by purchasing tickets or by tuning in, we continue to subsidize mediocrity. For example, when I first retired, Friday night was "date night" — dinner and a movie for my wife and me. It did not take long for the Friday ritual to become a dinner date only — when popcorn outshines the movie, it is better consumed at home.

As I view the decline and fall of the movie to a level below mediocrity by substituting special effects for acting and plot and by shoddy duplicates of classics, I shudder at what may be next. Will Hollywood remake "Sands of Iwo Jima" with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio as Sgt. John Stryker, "Casablanca" with Tom Cruise as Rick or "The Grapes of Wrath" with Sean Penn as Tom Joad? Scary, isn't it — the quality of leading men plummets along with that of the movies.

Clearly, some of you will disagree, even to the point of invoking the First Amendment. I don't advocate censorship, but merely point to the shocking lowering of standards. I am reminded of a sign in a pool hall I frequented in my "misspent youth." The sign at entry read: "A place where you can proudly bring your mom or sister."

Is that not a pinnacle to which our entertainment industry could aspire once more?

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ray Shapiro September 15, 2010 | 12:51 a.m.

How about a remake of "Gone With The Wind?"
They could make it into a musical comedy.
Drew Carey could play Rhett Butler with Tina Fey as Miss Scarlett.

(Report Comment)
gary dobbs September 15, 2010 | 4:05 a.m.

I'm a massive western fan and I too have worries about the True Grit remake, however I am hoping it does well. And as for your list of remakes that were actually better than the originals, I think you should add Ocean's Eleven - the remake was stylish, clever and funny while the original was boring.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 15, 2010 | 5:42 a.m.

John Wayne was born in Iowa; the family moved to California when John was rather young. If you drive north from Missouri on I-35 you will see official signs on the Interstate directing you to John's birthplace. It is a tiny house in the town of Winterset, and I wonder how the family fitted into it.

While you're there, take in the [covered] bridges of Madison County, source of a novel that was made into a pretty good motion picture. Sorry, your chances of meeting Clint Eastwood are slim or none.

(Report Comment)
John Bliss September 15, 2010 | 1:58 p.m.

Colonel, "Jeff Bridges?" or any of the Bridges family...are they nuts?? On the other hand, who could replace The Duke? Nobody! When you mentioned Matt Damon, I thought for what role, that young girl that is a pain in the rear...yeah Matt might be able to do that. To answer your question on why they keep doing re-writes: HOLLYWOOD HAS NO ORIGINAL THINKERS ANYMORE! Sort of like how Japan takes our ideas and clams them as their own. Sir, just a thought, I bet they asked better actors, and got turned down! Bridges was all they could get!

(Report Comment)
Tim Kilgore September 15, 2010 | 2:23 p.m.

The author of True Grit is still alive and he evidently has a different opinion about Wayne's version being the best take on his story. While you might be disappointed that Hollywood doesn't dig for something newer, I am happy that they are at least doing a big-budget western since they are so rare these days.

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