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John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn stand toe to toe
on 4 July 2004
Sometimes a multitude of wrongs can come out right. Hollywood has a penchant for making sequels to successful films, so when John Wayne finally won an Oscar for his performance in "True Grit." Wayne played Rooster Cogburn, a fearless, one-eyed U.S. marshal who never knew a dry day in his life. Fortunately Hollywood waited six years before making this 1975 sequel. However, at that point they not only hired a novice screenwriter, actress Martha Hyer ("First Men in the Moon"), they let her rip off "The African Queen" and turn it into a western. Fortunately, they hired Katharine Hepburn to play opposite the Duke.
That is what "Rooster Cogburn" comes down to, the chance for John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn to do scenes together; it also explains why the film is also known as "Rooster Cogburn and the Lady." Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, no, wait, I mean Eula Goodnight, who is the daughter of a minister (Jon Lormer) instead of the brother of a missionary. The gospel is still being brought to the natives, except this time we are set in the Cascades of Oregon rather than the jungles of Africa. The bad guys are now a gang of thieves led by Breed (Anthony Zerbe) and Hawk (Richard Jordan), instead of Nazis, and this time they gun down the minister. So when Rooster comes along to track them down and bring them to his brand of justice, Eula insists on going along.
The plot is predictable in terms of the outcome and familiar when Kate and the Duke end up on the water. But there is fun to be had in these two standing toe to toe, but not jaw to jaw, and going at it. "To whom do you think you are speaking," she intones frostily. "You is to whom I think I am speaking, sister," he shoots back. She allows that he is bigger than she is, but only physically. He observes in this situation that should be enough and they continue to have great fun with the dialogue. Wayne has great fun hamming it up and Hepburn enjoys having an actor big enough to stand up to her assault.
The stories from the set were that the two great stars had great fun making this movie. Their politics were at opposite ends of the spectrum so they just avoid the topics and enjoyed being in each other's company. Wayne was playing a character he had done before in a movie, but then Hepburn's character is instantly recognizable as well, even if the name is different. The names do not matter. They can call them "Rooster Cogburn and the Lady," but it is the Duke and Kate, and their fans will not be disappointed by their time together.