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Rooster Cogburn


John Wayne, near the end

Duke followed up with Rooster Cogburn. His penultimate film shows irreverence. How can an old man be as daring as a youth? It is natural for spirited, imprudent youth… But Duke was nothing if not a man, defiant.

Rooster is helping an old woman now. Again, man & woman come together without family, for revenge. Again, he seems less serious than she is. How are they prepared to face injustice together? They become gentle. They are obviously unusual men, a religious missionary & a marshal, but they need not conceal themselves, because they do not live much in the city. – The girl stood for law, which she was said to use like a gun. The old woman stands for the old law: The Bible. Both avenge murdered fathers. The Indian child she rescues is their legacy.

Old folks are grumpy, opinionated. – Neither talks easily, for they live away from society; but they like each other’s society, so they must talk. She learns she cannot browbeat him, so she would persuade; he cannot have his way by compulsion, so he must also persuade. Her godliness & neediness persuade him to risk his life for justice.

He explains where they stand: No, here we value a spirited woman almost as much as we do a spirited horse… You know more about the Lord & His Good Book than you know about men! She answers: That’s my good fortune. I know enough about men to steer clear of them.

She finally kisses him & drinks his liquor. She thinks him lovable. There is something more serious in him than in her, for his love of drink & fight go together: He knows justice better than she does. They are too old to come together as man & woman, but they have other passions – they have seen more than most, survived, & pondered.

A man is undefeated who all his life did the same thing. Good habits make for virtues. Constancy in those habits which allow man a life without crime is itself a virtue. This man is equal to himself & to unequal circumstances; not a hopeful man; doing as he would all his life. But death must come in the order of things & the more a man learns about life, the more he must consider how to die. Several answers arise. Sacrifice is manly, for noble men go down to defeat unbowed & unafraid. Fighting for justice is manly, for it allows the man to hold high his head who means no harm & knows his worth. Wit is manly, for it gives man a better measure of things & people than the common opinion.

Katharine Hepburn & John Wayne together. How could you miss it?