After two horse-trading scenes in which Mattie outtalks the horse trader and drives him to distraction, the three set out into Indian Territory. Rooster and the ranger can’t get rid of Mattie so she comes along. And we embark on a glorious adventure not far removed from Huck Finn’s trip down the Mississippi, for this is also an American odyssey. Portis wrote his dialog in a formal, enchantingly archaic style that has been retained in Marguerite Roberts’ screenplay.
Campbell, who needs some acting practice, finds it difficult to make the dialog convincing but Hathaway pulls him through. And Miss Darby, especially in the horse-trading scenes, is a wonder. You may even laugh aloud when she observes that geldings, in her experience, are not a good buy if you mean to breed them. And as for Wayne, I believe he can say almost anything and make it sound convincing. (In Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way” he had to say: “I mean to get into harm’s way,” and he even made that convincing.)
Wayne, in fact, towers over this special movie. He is not playing the same Western role he always plays. Instead, he can play Rooster because of all the Western roles he has played. He brings an ease and authority to the character. He never reaches. He never falters. It’s all there, a quiet confidence that grows out of 40 years of acting. God loves the old pros.