The True True Grit

As Seira, like more or less everybody in the media world, noted this morning, True Grit, the second adaptation of Charles Portis's novel into film, was one of the top nomination-rustlers in today's Oscar announcement, and it's the most prominent book-to-movie among the contenders. (Trivia side note, which I'm sure has been mentioned elsewhere: since Jeff Bridges is nominated for Best Actor for playing Rooster Cogburn, the same role John Wayne won Best Actor for 40 years before, is that the first time two actors have been nominated twice for playing the same character? Wikipedia's already on the case, and the answer is: not even close. It's happened at least 10 times among the men, although only once--De Niro and Brando both winning for playing Vito Corleone in the Godfather series--have both men won. End of detour. Wait, sorry, another detour: True Grit is not the only 2011 nominee that was mentioned in our Books of the States survey a couple of years back--representing Arkansas. The first time I ever heard of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, the source for the low-budget Best Picture nominee, was when researching the Missouri list, although I couldn't quite find room for him in that crowded state.)

Portis is one of those writers who contribute to the perpetual overhang of my to-read pile (The Dog of the South has long been near the top of my list), and while watching the movie and greatly enjoying its language the other night, my wife and I were wondering whether we could credit it to the Coens--certainly capable of wry and off-kilter wit on their own--or Portis, somewhat widely acknowledged as one of the comic geniuses of American fiction. As soon as we got home, I opened our copy of True Grit and thumbed through to see if I could find our favorite bit of dialogue. Indeed, it was there, verbatim (at least as far as I can recall it from the film), from the scene in which Mattie and Marshal Cogburn come across a self-described "Methodist and a son of a bitch" (also straight from the book) in a remote cabin and notice what a big dinner they've prepared:

"Was you boys looking for company?" he said.

"That is our supper and breakfast both," said Quincy. "I like a big breakfast."

"I would love to watch you eat breakfast."

"Sofky always cooks up bigger than you think."

(Yes, sofky is real too.) One side note to this scene (and not much of a spoiler), for those who have seen the movie: in the book, LaBoeuf is with Mattie and the marshal when they come upon the cabin. In the movie he arrives separately, with some consequence for the plot.

The only other time I had looked up movie dialogue in the source book I'd had the same result, successfully tracking down the blissfully bizarre conversation when Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh meet on a train in the original (and blissfully bizarre) Manchurian Candidate (also since remade, which I can't bear to bring myself to watch, since the original is utterly perfect) in Richard Condon's novel by the same name:

"Maryland is a beautiful state," she said.

"This is Delaware."

"I know. I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid track on this stretch, but nonetheless Maryland is a beautiful state. So is Ohio, for that matter."

"I guess so. Columbus is a tremendous football town. You in the railroad business?" He felt dizzy. He wanted to keep talking.

"Not any more," she told him. "However, if you will permit me to point it out, when you ask someone that, you really should say: 'Are you in the railroad line?' Where is your home?"

Three cheers for underrated midcentury American comic novelists frequently adapted into films! (Condon, after all, was also the author of Prizzi's Honor, and, my god, they made Portis's Norwood in 1970 with Glen Campbell, Joe Namath, and Dom DeLuise!) --Tom

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