Directed by Stuart Millar John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn
Katharine Hepburn as Eula Goodnight
Anthony Zerbe as Breed
Richard Jordan as Hawk
John McIntire as Judge Parker
Strother Martin as McCoy
Paul Koslo as Luke
Lane Smith as Leroy
Jack Colvin as Red
Jerry Gatlin as Nose
Mickey Gilbert as Hambone
Due to his excessive drunkenness and heavy hand with dealing out lead, U. S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn is stripped of his badge. However, Judge Parker must soon eat his words and put Rooster back out there when a brutal gang of thugs known as the Hawks ambushes a cavalry patrol carrying a full shipment of nitroglycerine and a Gatling gun.
On the trail of the gang, Rooster rides through Fort Ruby, where the gang tore a swath of violence through the town, killing several people including preacher Rev. George Goodnight. Rooster encounters several in the town that want revenge on the gang, including the Reverend’s aging daughter, Eula, and a young Indian boy known as Wolf. Begrudgingly Rooster allows them to come with him.
They come across the gang and their wagon of dangerous loot shortly thereafter. Their leaders, Hawk and Breed, have gone ahead to plan for a bank robbery using the nitroglycerine, leaving the band vulnerable to the wily plans of Rooster. During the ensuing gunfight, Eula saves Rooster’s life with a well placed rifle shot, and Rooster forms quite a degree of respect for the woman and her abilities. They are able to retake the wagon, and begin to bring it back to Judge Parker.
Hawk returns from his scouting, collects the rest of his gang and gives pursuit, catching up with the group. They plan an ambush and are able to capture Wolf, but he escapes and Rooster is able to fight off the bandits again.
They arrive at a river crossing and decide to travel via river to their destination, loading the cargo into a small boat and heading down river. Hawk and his gang ride hard to get ahead of them and plan an ambush, but are thwarted when Rooster lets a few cases of nitro be carried downriver ahead of them, and detonates them with some well placed shots.
Successful in his mission, Judge Parker reinstates Rooster back to the U.S. Marshals.
Rooster Cogburn trailer
This was the only on-screen pairing of stars John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn. Hepburn was previously offered Geraldine Page’s role in Hondo (1953), but turned it down, stating she would not work with John Wayne due to his politics at the time. Wayne was in support of the infamous Hollywood blacklist, which angered many in Hollywood.
The man who played Katherine Hepburn’s father in the movie was in fact only one year older than she was.
Katherine Hepburn was amazed at John Wayne’s tendency to argue and yell at the cast and crew. On a party for the last day of shooting she is quoted as telling him, “I'm glad I didn't know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you !"
John Wayne was ill frequently during filming. He had undergone surgery to remove one lung in his battle against lung cancer, and frequently needed to breathe through an oxygen mask.
The principle still photographer on the movie was Susie Tracy, daughter of Spencer Tracy. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy had a long relationship as lovers.
Originally Richard Fleischer was going to direct, but John Wayne vetoed the decision, harboring a grudge against Fleischer because he turned down North to Alaska (1960).
The character of Rooster Cogburn came from the adaptation of the book True Grit written by Charles Portis. Rooster Cogburn is an original story created by Marguerite Roberts. Charles Portis never wrote a sequel to " True Grit ".