Because of his drunkenness and questionable use of firearms, aging U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn has been stripped of his badge. But he's given a chance to redeem himself after a village in Indian Territory is overrun by a gang of violent, ruthless criminals, who've killed an elderly preacher, Rev. George Goodnight. His spinster daughter, Eula Goodnight, wants to track the criminals down and makes Rooster an unwilling partner. But Rooster must use care, because the criminals, led by Hawk and Breed, have stolen a shipment of nitroglycerine.
Rooster Cogburn contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Katharine Hepburn plays an uptight religious woman against a boorish man. Sounds familiar.
- Bad Boss: Hawk belittles his men enough throughout the movie and even throws his drink at another. Breed gets the worst of the treatment considering hes the most talented of the group.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Rooster and Goodnight's bickering gets inevitably flirtatious soon enough.
- Call-Back: Rooster regales his companions with the story of his facing off against the villains in the climax of True Grit.
- Cool Old Guy: Rooster.
- Cool Old Lady: Eula Goodnight
- Eyepatch of Power: Cogburn
- Gatling Good: The gatling gun as part of the wagon full of nitro. Both Rooster and Eula get a chance to fire it.
- Guns Do Not Work That Way: Gatling guns do not fire as fast as shown in the movie.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Breed is by no means a good guy, but he does keep an eye on Rooster and tries to help him stay alive since it's established that they used to be friends.
- The Missionary: Eula Goodnight
- Nitro Express: The Villain Hawk and his outlaws have seized several crates of nitro glycerin, which they intend to use in a payroll train robbery. When Marshall Cogburn absconds their wagon with the nitro, the outlaws chase them, but are loathe to shoot at them lest they detonate the nitro. Much of the film's story centers on this cat-and-mouse game with these munitions.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Marshal Cogburn sits still upon his horse during the rolling credits as Eula Goodnight rides ever further into the distance.
- U.S. Marshal