There is a scene in True Grit which presents the essence of the American hero: John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn faces of with a gang of bad guys, all alone, ultimately managing to defeat them all.
It is a splendid shot, in which it is pretty clear who has the best chances of actually getting out alive. And seeing that John Wayne’s character is not exactly the hero type (being actually, in True Grit at least, more like an anti-hero), the viewer is actually feeling the suspense, the genuine kind of suspense.
As said, the scene is shot very beautifully, with the director taking the viewer closer to the scene, or further away. It is not beautiful in the sense that it is a serious and artistic one, but a beautiful scene in the sense that it describes the height and the might of John Wayne.
You couldn’t think seriously at him, this half-blind Rooster Cogburn, as he put the reins in his mouth and – guns blazing – attacked his attackers, with little to no chances of success. He was, in a way, meant to fail at inspiring the viewers (and, as the press noted, the audiences laughed and applauded at the same time when he did this).
As said, John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn wasn’t the hero that the actor portrayed until then – he was something a lot different. But the previous roles of John Wayne helped him achieve the easiness that the role from True Grit demanded.
He is both John Wayne and Rooster Cogburn, towering with his experience over all the other cast members and over all the other characters. Rooster Cogburn becomes real, and that is why a hilarious scene (in any other movie) creates suspense.
Of course, it isn’t just the actor that brings the magic alive, but also the director (Henry Hathaway) that captures what John Wayne had become.