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Thursday October 22nd 2020

True Grit | 2010

True Grit film location: West Davilla Street, Granger, Texas
True Grit film location: the main street of 'Fort Smith, Arkansas': West Davilla Street, Granger, Texas | Photograph: Google Maps

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Not a remake of the 1969 True Grit, with John Wayne, but a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, filmed by Joel and Ethan Coen in West Texas and New Mexico.

The story is much the same, but the Coens revel in the quirky period dialogue, restore the barren wintry setting and, not surprisingly, the darker humour.

There’s no Ross ranch this time, the film opening with narration by Mattie and her arrival in ‘Fort Smith, Arkansas’.

The main street of the frontier town on the edge of what was the Indian Nation is West Davilla Street, the main thoroughfare of Granger, a quiet agricultural community on Highway 95, about 40 miles northeast of Austin, Texas.

There’s little CGI. The wide streets and turn-of-the-century brick buildings were supplemented with wooden frontages to fill the gaps and to disguise modern properties.

Col. Stonehill’s business, where Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) demonstrates her formidable bargaining skills over the ponies bought by her late father, was created in an empty lot that had been an auto body repair shop.

True Grit film location: First National Bank Building, East Clark Street, Bartlett, Texas
True Grit film location: Mattie views her father's body at the undertaker's: First National Bank Building, East Clark Street, Bartlett, Texas | Photograph: Google Maps

About five miles north of Granger is the town of Bartlett. It was here that the undertaker’s, where Mattie views her murdered father’s body and spends her first night in town among the dead bodies, was created inside the old First National Bank Building on East Clark Street at Evie Street. Now almost a ghost town, Bartlett is famed for its existing late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture, which has previously been seen in feature films such as 1995's The Stars Fell On Henrietta, with Robert Duvall, and Richard Linklater's 1998 The Newton Boys, with Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke.

True Grit film location: East Davilla Street, Granger, Texas
True Grit film location: the interior of the 'Monarch' boarding house: East Davilla Street, Granger, Texas | Photograph: Google Maps

With money from Col. Stonehill, Mattie can afford a room in the town's boarding house. The exterior of the 'Monarch' was just a façade built for the production but the interior, where Maddie is obliged to share a bed with a snoring, blanket-hogging old woman, is that of the 1901 Victorian house at 500 East Davilla Street on the corner of North Gabriel Street.

Determined to hire the meanest US Marshall in town to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father’s murderer, Mattie finds Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) giving evidence in the local courthouse.

This isn’t in Granger at all. It’s the Old Blanco County Courthouse, 310 Main Street at 3rd Street in Blanco, on Route 281 in the Texas hill country, about 90 miles to the southwest.

Built in 1886, the building has seen service as a school, a bank, a museum, restaurant and hospital. Designated a Texas Historic Landmark in 1972, it’s now a multi-use building being leased to business tenants and rented out for special events.

After much arguing and haggling, Mattie and Rooster, together with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) head off into the lawless territory in pursuit of Chaney.

Determined not to be left behind at the ferry crossing, Mattie shows her own grit by riding her pony Blackie across the river. The scene was filmed on the Colorado River, west of Lampasas and Burnet on Highway 281, to the north of Blanco.

‘Bagby’s Outpost’, the trader’s cabin where Cogburn discovers Mattie’s father’s gold piece and confirms that Chaney is riding with outlaw Ned Pepper’s gang, was built from scratch outside the town of Las Vegas, on I-25 about 40 miles east of Santa Fe in New Mexico.

Also constructed for the film was ‘Greaser Bob’s place’, the makeshift cabin where Mattie and Cogburn run into the hapless Quincy and Moon (Paul Rae and Domhnall Gleeson) and where LaBoeuf unwittingly foils their plan to ambush Pepper’s gang.

This was built among the fallen rocks in a box canyon on the San Cristobal Ranch, 90 San Cristobal Ranch Road, south of Lamy, which is itself south of Santa Fe.

A fortuitous change of weather allowed the production to get that haunting shot of the three bodies propped up against the cabin as snow begins to fall. In the 1969 film, you’ll remember the bodies were dutifully taken back to the trading post for a proper burial.

The varied terrain encompassed by the San Cristobal Ranch has seen it used for quite a few films, dating back to Mark Rydell’s 1972 The Cowboys, with John Wayne. More recent productions to have filmed here include Into The West, the 2007 remake of The Hitcher and Jon Favreau’s wonderfully crazy Cowboys & Aliens in 2011.

The rock ledge, atop which 'Lucky' Ned (Barry Pepper) and his gang make camp overlooking the meadow where Rooster finally has his epic confrontation with the four remaining outlaws, is on the Charles R Ranch, 36 Blue Sky Road, south of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The infamous pit of rattlers into which Mattie falls is the Charles R Ranch Cave, an old turquoise mine. The interior, not surprisingly, was a huge set built on a soundstage in Austin.

The Charles R Ranch was also seen in Billy Bob Thornton’s 2000 film of Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, which also starred Matt Damon.

Charles Portis found the inspiration for this sequence in the story of Deputy Marshal John Spencer, who came across a pack of rattlesnakes among human remains while gathering evidence for a murder trial in the late 1800s in the real Rattlesnake Cave, which you'll find outside the real Fort Smith in Arkansas.

True Grit film location: Austin Club, East Ninth Street, Austin, Texas
True Grit film location: the older Mattie arrives in 'Memphis': Austin Club, East Ninth Street, Austin, Texas | Photograph: Google Maps

The film’s epilogue is set 25 years later as the adult Mattie travels to meet the aging Cogburn at a Wild West Show in ‘Memphis, Tennessee’. This was filmed in Austin, Texas, with the city’s State Capitol Building standing in for the barely-glimpsed rail station (I suspect the sequence was cut down) and the Austin Club (originally the Millett Opera House) 110 East Ninth Street forming the backdrop for the ‘Memphis’ street.

If you're interested in the real Fort Smith, on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, this was established as a western frontier military post, and a fur trading centre, in 1817. It’s now is the second-largest city in Arkansas.

Fort Smith National Historic Site includes the remains of the original 1817 fort and the restored courtroom of the famed ‘Hangin' Judge’ Isaac C Parker.