Warren Oates as the legendary, one-eyed old west lawman Rooster Cogburn?
That was the idea behind True Grit: A Further Adventure, a made-for-TV movie that was meant to serve as a pilot for a potential television series. The film is a direct sequel to 1969’s True Grit and it features Warren Oates stepping into the role of Rooster Cogburn, the character that John Wayne famously played in the original film and who Jeff Bridges later played in the 2010 remake. In A Further Adventure, Cogburn is once again hired to escort teenager Mattie Ross (Lisa Pelikan) across the country. Along the way, Rooster gambles away all their money, meets an attractive widow (Lee Meriwether), and gets a job in a mining town. With the help of Mattie, he also gets a job as a bounty hunter and the two of them go after a group of wanted outlaws. Mattie tries to reform Rooster and make him act like more of a traditional western hero while Rooster drinks and gambles and complains.
I am a huge Warren Oates fan but even I have to admit that he’s miscast of Rooster Cogburn. In both Charles Portis’s original novel and the two films that were adapted from it, Rooster was overweight and physically imposing, He wasn’t book-smart but he was wise in the ways of the frontier. Physically, Warren Oates is too slightly built and his trademark nervous energy feels out of place in the role of Rooster. Wayne and Bridges were both believable as men who would draw first and ask questions later but Oates was a natural-born talker. That’s one of the things that made him one of the best actors of the 70s but it doesn’t serve him well in the role of Rooster Cogburn.
On the plus side, Lisa Pelikan is a considerable improvement on Kim Darby in the role of Mattie, though she’s nowhere near as good as Hailee Steinfeld would later be in the 2010 film. Lee Meriwether and Warren Oates shares some good scenes together but the film’s made-for-TV origins makes Meriwether’s overall performance feel like a special guest star diversion. True Grit: A Further Adventure is a throw-back to the type of formulaic western television programs that were popular in the late 60s. It’s easy to see why the pilot didn’t get picked up. It was miscast and it was too late. If it had aired a few years earlier, it’s possible to imagine Oates and Pelikan traveling to a different town and getting involved in a different story on a weekly basis and perhaps the role would have been changed to better suit Oates’s style of acting. But, by 1978, television was heading in the direction of Hill Street Blues and the days of the western were over.
Unfortunately. Warren Oates would die just four years after this film aired, a tragically early passing that robbed the world of a unique actor who was in his prime. Though Oates may not have been right for Rooster Cogburn, he will always be remembered for films like Badlands, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Stripes, Dillinger, and Two-Lane Blacktop. He was truly a one of a kind talent.