With the exception of the versatile Anthony Zerbe almost everyone involved in the western movie Rooster Cogburn has passed from this earth. There were great talents in this movie starting with the leads themselves Kate Hepburn and John Wayne. There is a temptation to paint the story as a land based, western version of African Queen but that would not do it justice.
Katherine Hepburn’s portrayal of Eula Goodnight as a tough as nails, self-reliant missionary is the perfect counterpoint to Wayne’s reprise of Rooster Cogburn the character which garnered him an Academy Award in 1970. What makes this movie work is the effective chemistry between Hepburn and Wayne. Goodnight and Cogburn are two sides of the same coin – they have grit and while they choose to express it differently there is mutual respect clear in every frame of this movie.
There is also a very clear and charming though not overpowering romantic feel at time when Goodnight and Cogburn seem to soften to each other. Having seen the best that each can be makes them more forgiving of the things which they do not like about the other. For Goodnight it means being somewhat more tolerant of Cogburn’s fondness for drink and hyperbole and for Cogburn a tolerance of the quoting of scripture which Goodnight does all too frequently.While the story behind all of this is ostensibly about the tracking and brining to justice of murderous criminals the real story is in the relationship between Goodnight and Cogburn. There is a good deal of shooting, strategizing and a little bit of the code of the old west thrown in for good measure (Breed and Cogburn just before the last big shootout) which makes for a good pacing and a satisfying end to the movie. As western goes this is one which should be seen, but does not stand out as the kind of classic the packaging might build it up to be.