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  • "The Shootist" was John Wayne's swan song as a film legend and, to put it mildly, he hit a home run. It is a terrific end to a legendary career.

    After a brief prologue made up of film clips of Wayne in his career prime, we meet his cinematic alter ego, John Bernard Books, an aging gunfighter who rides into Carson City, Nevada in the early 1900's looking for Doc Hostetler (James Stewart), the old sawbones who once saved his life and apparently the only man he trusts. It seems the old guy has prostate cancer and only a few weeks to live, and as Hostetler tells him, it will not be a pleasant death. Books, with no where else to go, checks into Bond Rogers' (Lauren Bacall) boarding house to live out his final days in peace under the alias "William Hickok." When Bond's delinquent son Gillom (Ron Howard, in a nice change-of-pace performance and his last major film appearance before becoming a director) informs her of his true identity, she tries to throw him out but relents when she finds out his condition and agrees to help him die in peace.

    Unfortunately, things don't go as planned as everyone from the town mortician (John Carradine) to an old girlfriend (Sheree North) to a newspaper editor (Richard Lenz) try to take advantage of his situation and turn a fast buck. And then there are several lowlifes (Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brien, Bill McKinney, etc.) who want to seal their reputations by taking him out. Since it's obvious that no one will leave him alone in his final days, and since he grows fond (to put it mildly) of both Bond and Gillom and wishes them no harm, Books decides to go out in style and on his own terms, and to take a few scumbags along with him.

    "The Shootist" is one of those rare films that seems to have gotten better with age. It wasn't particularly successful with critics or audiences at the time, as they were apparently put off by its leisurely pace and relative lack of action. Typical of the reaction was a TV guide critic (who shall remain nameless), who once derided it and its stars as coming across as "relics of the old West." (Wasn't that the point?) However, it is now pretty much considered a classic, and rightfully so, especially when viewed next to some of the lesser films of Wayne's 1970's period ("Cahill," "Rooster Cogburn," "The Cowboys"). In fact, it is now hard to believe that Wayne was not nominated for an Oscar here, as Books is clearly one of the best performances of his career and definitely eclipses his extravagantly praised, Oscar-winning mugging in "True Grit." Indeed, "The Shootist" deserves to stand alongside Clint Eastwood's "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and Oscar-winning "Unforgiven" as the last three great Westerns in cinema history. Everything about it is immaculate--the sets, the costumes, the supporting cast (including Harry Morgan in a terrific cameo as an unsympathetic sheriff who tells Books, "What I put on your grave won't pass for roses."), the script, and the chemistry between Wayne and Bacall, teaming up for the first time since "Blood Alley." And everything is held together by old pro director Donald Siegel who, aside from the late Hal Ashby, may very well be the most underappreciated director in cinema history.

    But "The Shootist" is John Wayne's film all the way. He is simply sensational, and BRAVE, since he apparently knew at the time his cancer was back and that this would probably be his last film. It's not every film legend who gets to end his/her career on a high note, but Wayne did just that. I just hope he knew it before his death barely three years later. ****1/2 (out of *****)
  • This was John Wayne's last film, and it sees the Duke as an aging, ailing but still tough as steel gunslinger named John Bernard Books. Wayne's character rides into town at the start of the film and visits James Stewart's pleasant Doc Hostetler, who tells him that he has terminal cancer and will die within two months. After this, Wayne goes and rents a room with widow Lauren Bacall, and begins to reflect on his situation, trying to figure a way to die retaining the dignity he has fought all his life to keep unscathed.

    The film is a particularly appropriate one for Wayne's last picture. The protagonist he plays is a man at the top of his profession with nowhere left to go. Any opponent who has ever fought him has died at the end of Books' barrel; but now, he is fighting an enemy he cannot hope to face and beat like a man. Whatever he does to fight the cancer, it will just take him anyway. And so, Books searches for a way to go down fighting and to die with dignity, not dying a slow crippling death in his bed.

    Books is a character that has many faults. He is a man who has killed thirty men and shows no remorse. As he puts it himself, `I never killed a man who didn't deserve it'. However, despite all his faults, he shows himself to a gentleman of the old school. He is like a knight in armour transplanted to the last days of the Wild West, trying hard to keep all the old values of a dignity and honour alive. He is a man who lives by a code which he believes in, and which he applies to others: `I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.'

    There is no real villain in this film. Books, with all his flaws, is not a bad man. The real villains here are the ordinary people who are all around him in the city, willing to exploit him and use his fame, illness and even his death to further their own wealth. The whole town, from reporters to undertakers, are only too eager to exploit him, with only a few good people being an exception to this tragic rule.

    There is no mistaking that this is the Duke's final picture, and not anybody else's film. It is his persona and his charisma that carries and controls the film. The character of Books – a rough, tough, but by no means bad, man – is very much similar to that of Wayne's own and this film is essentially a vehicle allowing him to have a dramatic swansong befitting a star of his magnitude.

    That isn't to say, however, that the others involved with this don't pull their weight. Lauren Bacall delivers well up to her usual standard of acting, presenting a character both strong-spirited and tenderly gentle at once, something which she does extremely well. Ron Howard also acquits himself admirably as her son, turning in a performance which has the same strength and heart as that of his screen-mother Bacall. James Stewart turns in a powerful cameo, adding to the overall poignancy of the whole affair, and Harry Morgan turns in a repellent performance as the contemptible Marshal Thibado. Dirty Harry director Don Seigel directs with skill and ensures that the film remains poignant, but never sentimental. For a western, this film does not have a great deal of action, but such is the quality of acting, direction and scriptwriting, that this doesn't really matter. When the violence does erupt, however, it is occasionally graphic but always exciting. The film's climactic gunfight is a particular highlight and is one of the Duke's best shoot-outs.

    This is a powerful, entertaining and enjoyable film, regardless; however, it is further ennobled by it being the Duke's final performance. There is something curiously heart-warming about the whole affair, not least the fact that he is enabled to go out in such great style. This is a must for fans of the western genre, for fans of the Duke, or for anyone who just wants to see a well made, poignant film. Highly recommended. [8]
  • driver_821 December 2004
    All of the credit in the world goes to John Wayne for making this film. Here you have the biggest star in Hollywood history, making a film that symbolizes his life. You have an aging actor, whose best days were past him, portraying an aging gunfighter, whose best days were behind him. You have a character trying to fit into a world that had changed too much. Much like Wayne was trying to fit into a changing America. Lastly, you had a character, dying of cancer, trying to accomplish one last thing. Wayne, who was also dying of cancer, like the character, was trying to accomplish one last thing, a great film. To me, this film is special, because you are seeing in real life, a dying icon make his farewell. Like the character JB Books, Wayne was trying to put a brave face on his final days. He was vulnerable and uncertain about what awaited him, but he sought to accomplish one last goal. I don't care if you like Wayne or not, but how someone could not be emotionally effected by seeing this legend on screen for his last time, well, I feel sorry for you. This film is very special to me.
  • A stirring story of an old-timer reconsiderating his life and who holds a personal code of honor . John Wayne's touching last role , here performs a legendary gunslinger afflicted with Cancer who seeks solace , tranquility and peace and to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity . But town bad guys as Richard Boone and Hugh O'Brian , aren't about to let him rest and are determined to gun him down to revenge past events .

    One of Wayne's best in which from the opening edition of clips from Wayne's earliest movies as ¨Rio Rojo , Rio Bravo¨ , to the ending impressive shootout in the cavernous saloon , Siegel film is moving , quiet and subtle . The picture pays tribute to John Wayne with none of the indulgences , humor and irony that permeated ¨True Grit and Rogster Cogburn ¨ . John Wayne heads the top-drawer main and support cast , he gives a very good as well as dignified acting as a dying gunfighter who spends his last days looking for a way to die rightly but prevented from doing so various younger gunmen out for vendetta or to prove their worth against him . However , Paul Newman, Charles Bronson, Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood turned down the lead role before John Wayne was cast. Infused with an appropriately wintry feel ,the admitted sentimentality and sadness is maintained througly and in keeping with the elegiatic style . This one results to be a valedictory tribute to both , the Western in general and the great Wayne , the Duke , in particular . The interpretations are uniformly top-notch , standing out an awesome plethora of secondaries as James Stewart , Lauren Bacall , Ron Howard ,John Carradine , Sheree North , Bill McKinney , Harry Morgan , among others . It contains an enjoyable and thrilling musical score by Elmer Bernstein in his usual style . Atmospheric and evocative cinematography by Bruce Surtees.

    The motion picture was well directed by Donad Siegel who handles both tone and pace wonderfully . Donald made his reputation in the early and mid-'50s with a series of tightly made , expertly crafted , tough but intelligent "B" pictures , among them : The Lineup (1958), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) , then graduated to major "A" films in the 1960s and early 1970s . Director Siegel brought an entirely new approach to the Sci-Fi field Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) . He made several "side trips" to television, mostly as a producer . Siegel directed what is generally considered to be Elvis Presley's best picture , Flamingo Star (1960). All of Eastwood's later Western and his ¨Dirty Harry¨ movies owe a considerable debt to Sergio Leone and Donald Siegel . As Donald directed Eastwood in various films , such as : ¨Coogan's bluff , The beguiled , Dirty Harry , Escape from Alcatraz and Two mules and sister Sara¨. He had a long professional relationship and personal friendship with Clint Eastwood , who has often said that everything he knows about filmmaking he learned from Don Siegel .
  • In his last movie, John Wayne plays J B Books, an ageing former gunfighter who arrives in Carson City. Books has in the past killed thirty men in gunfights and has become a legend of the West, but this hard-won status has brought him unwelcome attention from would-be gunslingers hoping to gain their own place in history as `the man who shot J B Books'. Early on, Books is told by his old friend Dr Hostetler that he is dying of terminal cancer, and the film chronicles the last week of his life, from 22nd to 29th January 1901, his search for a dignified death in accordance with his own code of honour.

    The film is about both endings and new beginnings, so it is significant that the action takes place in the first month of a new century. January 1901 marked not only the beginning of a century, but also the end of an era, because it was the month in which Queen Victoria died; this event is referred to several times in the film. The days of the `Old West' were also coming to an end; under the influence of new inventions such as the motor car and the telephone (both of which appear in the film) it was becoming a quieter and less lawless place.

    The time of year is significant in another way. A film which is about both the end of a man's life and the end of an era will inevitably be elegiac in tone, and the standard way of making it would be to film it in autumn, with plenty of shots of falling leaves and grey, misty skies. Don Siegel, however, takes an alternative approach, setting the film during a brief period of brilliant winter sunshine and mild weather known as a `false spring'. This not only provides some strikingly beautiful images, but also has a double symbolic meaning. For Books and for the Old West it is winter; but for the younger generation, spring is coming. One of the most touching features of the film is the relationship between Books and Gillom, the son of his landlady. Gillom idolises Books and treats him as a hero; Books, in the last days of his life, treats the young man as the son he never had and tries to teach him that there is a better way than that of the gun. The Old West may be passing into history, but there are indications that the New West, although it may be less picturesque, will be a better place in which to live. If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

    The film itself also turned out to mark the end of an era in more ways than one. Although there is some doubt whether Wayne actually knew in 1976 that his cancer had returned, we now of course know that it was to be his last film and that he was to die about three years later, and this knowledge makes the film all the more poignant. It was also one of the last of the great Westerns. Although the genre had seemed in reasonable health in the early seventies, it was to suffer, for various reasons, a sharp decline in the second half of the decade and throughout the eighties. Perhaps the standard conventions of the genre had become so familiar that they seemed like clichés; perhaps the post-Vietnam generation had no time for films which often had as their themes honour, glory and courage. (It is notable that the patriotic war film underwent a similar decline at the same time). Certainly, the financial failure of `Heaven's Gate' made investors wary of backing westerns. Even Clint Eastwood, who had seemed to be the heir-apparent to Wayne's crown as King (or should that be Duke?) of the West, abandoned the genre for a time, although he was to return to it triumphantly with `Unforgiven' in the early nineties.

    Wayne's great strength as an actor was his ability to convey the tough but honourable man of action. Both these qualities are present in `The Shootist', but he was able to add further qualities, pathos and as sense of a less honourable past. Although Books is hard-bitten and irascible, he is also fundamentally decent, resorting to force only in self-defence. He can show pity- early in the film he spares the life of a villain who tries to rob him at gunpoint, even though he has the man at his mercy. Nevertheless, we are always well aware that he did not gain his fearsome reputation by a scrupulous observance of the Ten Commandments; although this is not an overtly religious film, the story of his last days can be seen as the story of his search for atonement as well as for dignity. In his last film, Wayne achieves one of his greatest performances; it is remarkable that he was not even nominated for an Oscar.

    The other performance that stands out is that of Ron Howard as Gillom. Howard, of course, is now best known as a director; if his acting career is remembered it is for his role that bland TV series `Happy Days'. Nevertheless, he was also capable of giving good contributions in films (`American Graffiti' is another example), and here he brings a touching youthful innocence to the part. There are also good contributions from James Stewart as the gentle, dignified doctor and from Lauren Bacall as Gillom's mother. (She has the unusual Christian name Bond, possibly symbolic of the close ties that grow between her and Books at the end of his life).

    `The Shootist' is a marvellous film, sombre and elegiac, and yet at the same time with a message of hope. A fitting end to Wayne's career. 9/10.
  • John Wayne is an icon, and so many viewers seem to use his work as a referendum on the larger geo-political issues of our time. I find that distasteful, as this isn't a political movie, and one that doesn't even have an oppressed indigenous person in it. This is a personal story of a man who "has outlived his time", who is dying of cancer, and yet is determined to die with dignity. John Wayne really was dying of cancer when he made this movie... he gathered old friends around him--the widow of Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, John Carradine, and addressed the topic of how legends die. (Selling the rights for his corpse to be displayed by the undertaker for $50 cash in advance was a particularly interesting idea.) I am viewing this film 27 years after it was made, and there is 'something' it had which is absent from movies today. It is a film addressing mature themes for one thing, but it had a pacing, and made time for it's dialouge--it was never dull, never slow, but proceeded towards it's climax with the sort of gravitas you very rarely see in today's cinematic roller coaster rides, which have become little more than special effects vehicles. There is another reason to see this film--it looks back at 1901 with a loving vision. I was impressed with the historical accuracy in which it was filmed--it was impressive to see the town, from the horsedrawn street car and the Stanley Steamer, to little things like the flour dispenser in the kitchen. (Wondered where it was filmed--perhaps the old Old Tucson Studio before it burned down and was rebuilt to be a tourist attraction?) Anyway, this was a lovingly crafted film--I don't know if Hollywood could still pull this off "as real" in 2003. So, for big reasons and small, "The Shootist" is worth your time. It is deeper than it looks.
  • The Shootist is a great swan song to the film career of John Wayne and a great movie on its own merit. The parallels between Wayne's life at the time the film was made and the character(J.B.Brooks) he plays in the movie only add a poignant sadness. This sadness is part of the film, it never lets up. The first jolt of sadness comes when we see Wayne visiting with the town doctor, played by Jimmy Stewart. Wayne is diagnosed with an incurable cancer. This news seems to trouble Stewarts character as much as it does with Waynes. As both characters try to come to grips with this diagnosis, I was left wondering: am I watching the work of two gifted actors play acting in a movie or am I watching two old friends bringing their reality into the movie?. Whatever the case, the scene is very moving.

    Also in the cast is Lauren Bacall as the recently widowed inn keeper. She helps keep Wayne's character fulfilled and feisty during his last days. Ironicly, this job was something she was familiar with, as she did this in real life with her late husband Humphrey Bogart.

    There are many good performances by the rest of the cast. But it is the circumstances under which they were filmed for Wayne, that make his a truly unbelievable performance. There are two of his scenes that stand out for me: 1) Listening to John Wayne and Scatman Crothers haggle over the selling price of Wayne's horse. Yeah, it might not sound like much here in print, but that's just a testimony of how well these two actors pull that scene off. Just great. 2) Seeing John Wayne enter the saloon with a purpose for the last time. Truly one of the most bone chilling cinematic moments of all time.

    If you love John Wayne then I'm certain that you love this film already. If you can take or leave John Wayne, you might at least like this film. But if you don't care for Wayne or for that matter, if you don't like westerns, you'll probably still like this film. At least I hope so. 9/10.

    Clark Richards
  • "The Shootist" begins with clips from Wayne's previous pictures: "Hondo," "Rio Bravo," "El Dorado" etc...

    Wayne portrays J. B. Books, the most famous lawman in the West who killed thirty men in his life... Books arrives to Carson City in 1901, the day Queen Victoria died in England...

    Wayne went first to get a medical diagnosis known to everyone as cancer.

    Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart) was too practical... He gives Book the most potent pain-killer he gets, and tells him where to stay in town...

    The film is build to one and only purpose: To let Wayne die with dignity, without physical pain, at the Metropole gambling saloon, in a showdown with three heavies: Richard Boone, a bad-tempered ugly man who wants to avenge his brother's death; Hugh O'Brien, a skilled dealer and a presumptuous gunfighter; and Bill McKinney, an unpleasant provoking gunman just released from prison...

    Ron Howard plays the crude graceless adolescent, the first to meet Wayne in the street: 'The old man ain't worth a bullet,' he says, 'he looks all tuckered out.' In this particular scene, it comes to my mind the insolent young punk, Skip Homeir, who tries to prove something when he confronts Gregory Peck in the psychological Western "The Gunfighter."

    Wayne seems surprised by the visit of Serepta (Sheree North), an unscrupulous aging lady-love who tries to take advantage of him, asking him to marry her simply for a marriage certificate, and a famous name... She surely was not the woman of quality, the good prostitute (Claire Trevor) in "Stagecoach."

    John Carradine, who plays the mysterious passenger, also in "Stagecoach," makes a brief appearance as the undertaker...

    Tying to overcome his bloody past, John Wayne shows, in the film, the other side of the 'Shootist,' his human side... We find him pleasantly amusing when he reveals to Stewart the truth about the red fancy cushion he carries in the film...

    Filmed in Carson City, Nevada, and with a fine supporting cast, this untraditional motion picture is a lyrical elegiac Western of the highest quality, a moving tribute to a legendary actor and a tender farewell to a Super Star...
  • tightspotkilo29 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    A remarkable movie. Why? Mainly because it is John Wayne's last, and it is packaged and delivered with that thought in mind. John Wayne was clearly anticipating his own real-life demise here, and on a very fundamental level that's what the movie is all about.

    But don't go in thinking that this is merely some kind of schmaltzy gimmick, a movie made just for the purpose of paying corny homage to John Wayne. It stands as a fine movie in its own right, well-written and well-acted. In fact, it may be John Wayne's overall finest performance (and you can put me down as one who considers the man to have been a talented actor), especially given that he was in considerable real-life discomfort and pain throughout filming. The story is chock-full of pearls of wisdom and memorable lines. It is also chock-full of symbolism on many levels, about history and the final days of the settling of the west, about movies and the end of the western genre in Hollywood, and, of course, about John Wayne personally, facing death, and of how he would be remembered --and exploited-- in death. All that and more is finely woven into the story, and few tricks were missed. As I said, well written.


    One striking piece of symbolism was the exact manner of death of Wayne's character, the notorious gunslinger J.B. Books. In a prearranged a face-to-face simultaneous meeting with three of his worst enemies, a dying Books intended to fight them all at once to the death. Advised by his doctor that he was going to die a suffering death from the cancer that was eating his insides, Books presupposed that not even he could face down three these formidable foes at once and prevail. Books's own personal death with dignity. But then, against all odds, Books proceeds to out-duel and kill each, the message seeming to be that the even most difficult of life's tasks can be faced and conquered if done forthrightly and in earnest. Meanwhile, it was the sneaky bartender, symbolic of life's vices, that got him, shooting him in the back when he wasn't looking and not expecting it. And when you think about it, that's what took down John Wayne too. His vices. And while maybe he should have been expecting it, maybe he wasn't. Just like many of us aren't thinking about our mortality while we partake in the enjoyment of our vices.

    Another compelling aspect of the film is the stellar cast that was assembled. It reads like a veritable who's who. Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brien, Harry Morgan, Scatman Crothers, John Carradine, along with several cameos, and others that weren't credited. The inclusion of Ron Howard for his pivotal role was a stroke of prophetic genius, intended or not. All of this talent sublimates itself neatly into the recesses of the story, where the real texture lies.

    This is a movie that I've seen at least a dozen times, and I never get tired of watching it. Every time I view it I see some little subtlety that I never noticed in previous viewings. Suffice it to say that it's a good film. I recommend it.
  • It was strange to watch this movie knowing that this was John Wayne's last. Even stranger was it because the character he plays is dying of cancer just like John Wayne himself was at the moment. It gave the movie a deeper meaning and made some of the scene's more emotional.

    The story is told in a absolutely fantastic way. The story is slow but the mixture of good old western style and drama makes the movie always interesting to watch. The movie had so many deeper meanings. The movie is set in 1901, the time when the time of the good old west was almost at its end. Only thing that stands in between of the good old west and modern times are characters such as John Bernard Books (John Wayne), an old gunslinger from the good old days. His character is coping with his inevitable coming death but also coping with the fact that the good old days of gunfights at the O.K. Corral and saloons are over for good. He basically is the only remaining person still alive from the good old days with a reputation, so when he dies the old west dies with him. In a way this also shows some parallels with Wayne's death, when he died a piece of the genre Western died with him as well.

    Beside 'The Duke' the movie also has some fine other great actors such as: Lauren Bacall, James Stewart (also his last Western as an actor, he however later still provided one of the voices for his final movie "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West".), Scatman Crothers and John Carradine. Still it was kind of an odd sight to see John Wayne and Ron Howard acting in scene's together. I don't know for some reason it just felt unreal.

    The movie also has a fine and a bit of underrated musical score from composer Elmer Bernstein. The movie itself is also kind of underrated, not in terms of the rating it gets but in terms of how well known it is to the general public. This is really a movie that deserves to be seen by more, if only also because of the fact that its Wayne's last role before his death in 1979. Don Siegel movie's are often underrated for some reason, he was a great director that made some real classics but yet he never won any big awards and he is probably only known to the general public for making "Dirty Harry".

    Don't watch this movie expecting spectacular gunfight and other Western clichés. Yes there is some shooting in this movie but really, this movie is more of a drama than a Western. Still fans of the Western genre will also not be disappointed because of the atmosphere and also mainly just simply because of Wayne's character.

    An extremely worthy last movie for 'movie-legend' John Wayne.

  • "The Shootist" is a great film. I really, really like this movie a lot and have liked it from the first time I saw it. What I really admire about this film is it's cast, who knew that it was probably going to be John Wayne's last film. They brought out the best for this film.

    Let's look at the director, Don Siegel, a really top notch director of action films that are more than action films, like "Dirty Harry" and "Escape from Alcatraz." Mr. Siegel seems to really have the talent to blend a story with action.

    Let's look at the leads. John Wayne - what can you say the man always will be known as an icon. A true professional - he had little patience with actors who did not show up on time and did not know their lines. Look at the standing ovation he got for his Best Actor Oscar for "True Grit." Hollywood loved this guy! Lauren Bacall - awesome, as always. She always delivers in any part. She's such a reliable, remarkable actress. She's a direct link to another era of Hollywood, when stars weren't jockeying for position at the Sundance Film Festival or showing up in "Us Magazine." Bacall shows up prepared for a role and she gets the job done. And done well. Lauren, you're a great actress and great in this film! Bogie would be proud. Ron Howard - good to see him leave the comfort zone of Happy Days and play a really great character with many facets to his character. You can see the real admiration and respect he has not only for Wayne but for the other actors.

    And then there's the rest. I mean, come on - where are you going to find a film like this in the '70s with so many really good actors. Not Charo, John Davidson, Jimmie Walker - people trying to survive a disaster - this is a real movie with an awesome story. Jimmy Stewart, Harry Morgan, Sheree North, John Carradine, Richard Boone - awesome! Awesome! What's really touching about this film is that you know that major, major actors took smaller roles in order to be in a movie with Duke Wayne. Amazing. Enjoy the movie, it's great!
  • bkoganbing9 September 2006
    I've always felt that John Wayne at one point might have meant The Cowboys to be his farewell film. I'm sure that at some time we will learn he was having a health crisis then as he clearly is on this film, but that he recovered. Either The Shootist or The Cowboys could serve as his monument.

    But in John Bernard Books, Wayne gives us one of his finest acted roles ever on screen, legendary gunfighter from the Old West who arrives in Carson City, Nevada to get a second opinion from Doctor James Stewart. It's a terminal cancer all right and it's going to be rough final trip.

    News of Queen Victoria's dying is in the papers the day Wayne arrives in town. He admires the way she left the mortal coil and he resolves in his own mind a plan to go out the same way.

    Wayne put a great cast together for The Shootist, some of them friends and colleagues he worked with over the years like James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, John Carradine, Harry Morgan, Hugh O'Brian and Richard Boone. If you read Lauren Bacall's memoirs you will be touched at the affection she felt for John Wayne, though their politics were light years apart. James Stewart was quoted as saying he was just honored to be in this film with the Duke.

    One of John Wayne's best acted scenes ever in any of his films is with Sheree North who plays a former girl friend. She visits him and proposes marriage, but a little later it's learned that she's in cahoots with a 19th century tabloid writer Rick Lenz who wants to exploit his legend in a tell all memoir. To quote the Bard it was "the unkindest cut of all." I was more emotionally moved by that scene than with the final gunfight.

    Which in itself is something. Wayne challenges local tough Bill McKinney, old enemy Richard Boone, and faro dealer and dead shot Hugh O'Brian to meet him. What happens you have to see the film for, but let's say that Wayne meets the dignified and courageous end we would expect of him.

    In the three years left to him on earth it was rumored that John Wayne was interested in a few film projects, like maybe he was being saved for something even better. It didn't happen, sad to say, but they don't get better than The Shootist.

    If they do, that'll be the day.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An odd thing for the Duke to say, but then *The Shootist* is an odd movie when viewed from most critical angles. The movie is just damn unusual, but given the circumstances -- the final performance by one of the most famous actors (one of the most famous Americans, really) in all history -- a truly unique effort was required. Wayne had already had a lung removed before the movie was shot, and during the shoot was having heart trouble. It was clear that the man didn't have too much longer to go (though he surprised everyone by sticking it out for 3 more torturous years), so the director and the writers reshaped the well-regarded old pulp Western novel on which the story is based to fit the living legend like a glove. The results are fairly glorious, but keep the slight caveat in mind that it's a one-man show, here.

    And what a man! Recall that Wayne had once befriended Wyatt Earp (yes, THAT Wyatt Earp) on the back-lot of MGM Studios back in the late Twenties. I'm not sure if that really means anything, except for the notion that if Wayne merited the opprobrium of the Achilles of the Wild West, then Wayne himself must have been infused with a mythic touch as well. In many ways, this sense is made clearer in his final film than in any of his others. Despite how obviously unwell he is, there's something lordly, almost god-like, about his presence here. And, for once, and despite the lordliness, the Duke is entirely lovable. Gone is the reactionary, crotchety posturing of such late-career films as *The Green Berets* and *True Grit*. In *The Shootist*, the actor is facing much more compelling circumstances that changing political and social attitudes. Impending mortality apparently made him serene enough about the small stuff that he could take the post-modern Seventies head-on, climbing aboard the revisionist-Western bandwagon with absolutely no difficulty.

    And this IS a post-modern Western, despite the cozy late-Victorian interiors and Wayne standing in for all the Old-Fashioned Values. One can only shake one's head in disbelief when Wayne says things like, "A man should be able to die privately" -- our knowledge of the actor's condition makes a meta-fictive mockery of the dialog. On the other hand, the well-earned sentimentality plays a harmonious chord with the post-modern cinematic ideas about the Old West. Don Siegel directed this movie -- a post-modern enough guy, I suppose, but even so, not the most intuitive choice for this relatively non-violent project, though there are occasional splashes of Peckinpahian bright-orange blood, and Siegel DOES evince his usual editorial brilliance with the exciting final shootout in the bar. Speaking of the climax, its ambiguity is startling: Wayne, after dispatching his final foes, ends up shot in the back by a bar-keep. And what final screen image of John Wayne does Siegel give us? Wayne dead on his back in the bar, covered in a blanket, isolated in death, with ironic commentary provided by a gilded stand, in the shape of an eagle, for a potted plant standing a few feet behind the corpse. Preceding this, Ron Howard's character has tossed away the pistol he used to exact revenge on the bar-keep. Wayne nods in philosophical assent just before he dies. What does this mean, anyway? -- a repudiation of the actor's own legend? Had Wayne become a "peacenik"? Who knows. The ambiguities, in any case, are strange and marvelous. Art, in other words.

    Just a quick note on the more mundane aspects. The production design is top-notch. Filmed in Carson City, NV, the scouts clearly noted that particular town's unsullied architecture -- Carson is a place that has stayed firmly rooted in its aesthetic origins. There are many subtle touches, such as when the bar-keep has to turn on the ceiling fan -- powered by a rotary leather belt -- with a long stick that resembles a pool cue with a small wrench at the tip. The multifarious and ungainly-looking telegraph poles are appropriate, as are the tremulous "horseless carriages" from circa 1901. All of which, of course, underscores the idea that Wayne's character is way out-of-date, an absurd final remnant of a vanished breed. But magnificent for all that, regardless. Finally, several other Golden Age heroes -- Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, and even John Carradine (who had played Wayne's rival in *Stagecoach* almost 40 years prior) -- provide loving support, even if their roles aren't characters as such, instead showing up as mere satellites that orbit around the Duke.

    *The Shootist* belongs in that special, and very small, group of films -- like Huston's *The Misfits* -- that allow us to pay our respects to performers who not only portray what is best and worst in our own selves, but indeed shape our entire popular culture. A must-own if you care about the movies. 8 stars out of 10.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Is there any other kind of film that John Wayne worked in that wasn't great? (OK there's a couple). This is the last film that John Wayne made before he died. There is a bit of irony in the film in that his character is told at the beginning of the film that he has cancer and, of course, it was cancer that killed him. The acting in this film is really good by Wayne, but also by the superb supporting cast consisting of Richard Boone, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard and Hugh O'Brian. Very few films have so many big names in them! Everyone wanted to be in a film with John Wayne. The story's been covered by other commenters so I'll not bore you with another synopsis. Suffice it to say that the story is good, but not really the film's strong point. The strength is the ACTING. I really love this film and I think you will too.
  • The legendary John Wayne gives a fantastic understated performance as J.B. Books an aging gunfighter suffering from stomach cancer and looking to live out the final days of his life in peace. Of course, the entire existence of the gunfighter is predicated on the inevitability that once you reach top there is always going to be someone looking to knock you off your pedestal. Here that means J.B.'s retirement won't be so peaceful. Besides this plot point, there is the mature twilight romance between J.B. and Bond (Lauren Bacall) and his mentor relationship with Gillom (Ron Howard). James Stewart (who co-starred with Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) puts in a cameo as J.B.'s physician. Recommended.
  • It is virtually impossible to watch The Shootist, the story of an aging gunfighter dying of cancer, without being frequently reminded that it was John Wayne's last movie and that he was dying of cancer himself. This gives several scenes a real lump-in-the-throat quality, such as when Wayne tells Lauren Bacall "I'm a dying man afraid of the dark."

    But even when viewed without that knowledge, The Shootist is a thoughtful, sad and very well acted film. Although I've seen only a handful of Wayne's 200-plus movies, it's hard for me to believe that he ever turned in a better performance than he did here. His portrayal of a terminally ill man wanting to end his life on his own terms is moving and totally convincing. The supporting cast is also outstanding, and Wayne has several great scenes with actors like Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard and even Scatman Crothers. I found Harry Morgan, whom I usually like, to be a bit cartoonish as the marshall who was anxious to see Wayne's character die as quickly as possible, but that's a minor quibble.

    Since the movie takes place in 1901, there are naturally references to the end of the old west and the coming of a new age, and how the time of gunfighters like Wayne's character have come to an end. Again, it is difficult to view these scenes without thinking of the twilight of Wayne's career and the declining popularity of western films, just as you can't help but connect the plight of his character in this film with his own death from cancer a few years later.

    It's hard to imagine that any other significant actor ever made a more appropriate and moving farewell film. You don't need to be a fan of westerns, or even a fan of John Wayne, to appreciate The Shootist.
  • I've never had much use for the swaggering, tough-as-nails `heroic' John Wayne. Perhaps that style of heroism was all one needed to get by in the ‘old west', but even then, death was not an easy thing to face (I bet most gunslingers and sheriffs' boots were filled with liquid just moments before they bit the dust). Finally, here is a film that looks at what courage is really made up of: the ability to accept limitations, to accept change, to have humility, and to be able to say, `I'm afraid'. The Duke is dying of cancer, in reality and within the plot of this film. He is also a living myth in reality and within the plot of this film. That he chose to play out his swan song as a human legend instead of as a mythic one, must have taken a lot of courage. Imagine the Duke propped on a dainty red pillow upon his saddle! Imagine him showing all the physical signs of the wear and tear that illness and age have bestowed on him. Imagine him allowing us to hear the weakness of his infirm body slipping in the bathtub. Imagine his groans of agony. `Death is a very private thing', his character John Books says, but he is man enough to show us how to do it and do it with dignity, despite the fear. Just imagine The Duke admitting that he's afraid of the dark!

    At the period in which this film is set, gunslingers – or `shootists' – were soon to go the way of the horse and buggy. The queen (Victoria) had just died. Electricity, modern plumbing, modern commerce, modern transportation, and creature comforts were beginning to take over (check out the electric ceiling fans and mosaic tiles in the saloon!). Forward to ‘real life'. It is 1976. One by one, the mythic legends created by dime novels and Hollywood movies are being demystified. From Billy The Kid to Buffalo Bill, to Bonnie and Clyde, audiences have been shown for over decade how legends have always been manufactured. There are some who may see this demystification as a negative thing, but when people start adoring soldiers, celebrities and gangsters as something more than human, it's time to set the record straight. That's what all the best films of the seventies did. They broke the myths but they did not break the spirit, for what they did was let US, not the supermen on the screen, become the heroes. We could be afraid, old, young, ill, or weak, and we could feel pain and humiliation. In the process of confronting our limitations we become stronger. To be a stronger human being is to become civilized. Like this film shows us, we CAN reject the gun and join civilization. This film is John Wayne's gift to us. He is enabling us to grow up, to look at the past with respect, but to face the future with responsibility. His John Books is worth more to us than all his superheroes put together. We're all gonna die, we're all afraid, and pain is very, very real. It is in the process of surrendering to this fact with dignity and humility that we in a sense become immortal. To try to live as a superman is to die a fool. Only cowards (and very dangerous people) embrace myths over reality. That dainty red pillow has made The Duke sit very tall in his saddle indeed!
  • "The Shootist" was John Wayne's last film. He died of cancer shortly after its release. Ironic, then, that his character in the movie is a "shootist" dying of cancer out west in 1901. His doctor (James Stewart) gives him a short period of time to live. He decides to take an easier route, and returns to his old stomping grounds in order to find a quick and painless death.

    Along the way he meets The Son (Ron Howard in one of his early roles), and a various assortment of other characters, in his search for suicide.

    Don Siegel ("Dirty Harry") has always been one of my favorite directors -- he's made some truly terrific films in his career. "The Shootist" is one of his best. The last thing we expect in a John Wayne film is a dying, frail, pessimistic human being. We get it.

    Books, the titular "shootist," is arguably Wayne's deepest character he would ever play; and his story is one of the most compelling of Wayne's entire career. The acting is top-notch, the direction low-key, subtle, and effective. It's hard-edged, just like "Dirty Harry" (1971): bloody, violent, a bit over-the-top (if it were made in Hollywood today it would probably look a lot like "Kill Bill").

    Yet the film's best moments are those involving its character, Books, and his strange quest for death. This movie strikes chords on many different levels. It's a really good film, one of the best of the 1970s, one of Don Siegel's best, and one of John Wayne's best, too.

    And that's saying quite a lot.
  • John Wayne managed to save his best performance for last. Not only was this his greatest acting achievement (surpassing The Cowboys in which he was also very, very good) it is also one of the best films ever produced in the Western genre. This movie benefitted from an excellent script and superb casting, but was brought to perfection by the sterling performances of three great stars, Wayne, Bacall and Stewart.

    Wayne's interactions with Stewart, Bacall and Howard are moving and powerful. The depth of character in Books is set in contrast to the shallowness and opportunism of others, particularly Dobkins and Serepta, but also Cobb. Becoming, briefly, the father figure needed by Gillom, Books more than makes up in his last week of life for the "havoc" he brought to "society" in his earlier life (as viewed by Mrs. Rogers). Of course, part of the tension in the plot is created by the different evaluations Books and Rogers would assign to Books' life. Both stand in contrast to the view of that life held by Gillom and Moses.

    Back in 1969, the Academy, realizing it had never appropriately honored John Wayne and fearful that time was running out to do so, gave him Best Actor for one of his weaker performances and poorer scripts. It is unfortunate his colleagues did not make up for that error by repeating the honor for what was truly a great performance in The Shootist. Nonetheless, the proof of the pudding is still in the eating, and the availability of The Shootist on tape and (hopefully) DVD will allow us to keep eating this one over and over.

    John Wayne fans should be encouraging their non-Wayne-fan friends to see this movie. Respect for this great American would grow thereby.
  • There's no point in repeating what other viewers have mentioned about the poignancy of Wayne's own losing battle with cancer while making this film. It's clear from the casting that, even before the Duke's condition was known, the producers and director were casting icons of film (Jimmy Stewart) and TV (Richard Boone, Paladin in "Have Gun, Will Travel" and Hugh O'Brian, the lead in "Wyatt Earp") westerns, as well as just fine, older actors (Lauren Bacall [not so old, really, when this was made], John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Harry Morgan).

    More than anything else, this film is about respect: the flawed code of honor that has led Books to kill so many men over honor, respect for the old, respect for the wishes of the dying. An unusual focus for an American film, to say the least.

    Finally, I have to say a word for Richard Boone's performance: it's amazing. In a few words and bizarre gestures, he creates a character who has lived for revenge for years, and been terribly twisted by it, while remaining of this world enough to advance to motor cars --- and be hilarious at the same time! This, and his voicing of Smaug in the animated "Hobbit," are brilliant pieces of character acting late in his life.
  • As a guy you cannot fail to look up to John Wayne. He is not exactly a pretty boy actor he has a real "middle aged spread" ( He always seems to have had it) And for me the greatest quote of Johns was "It isn't always about being fast or even accurate... It about being WILLING.* You believe every thing he says, Now THAT is what makes a great actor. Pretty boy actors ... Please note. There is a wonderful scene with Moses Brown when they haggle over a horse deal. You can tell that John is really enjoying himself and Moses is every bit the voice of "Hong Kong Fuey" (The super crime fighter)( remember that ?) This film is doubly sad as it was John Waynes last Movie, But I think he would have liked it as an epitaph. John paid a visit to a Colllege campus in the states where they were plotting to make fun of him by calling him "old Iron Balls" but when they finally met him they ended up carrying him on their shoulders. and cheering him. A REAL hero.
  • As an (English) Western enthusiast with an interest in the real characters and events durng the years 1865 to 1900 and Western films going back to Tyrone Power in 'Jesse James'(1939), I looked forward to seeing ' The Shootist' having previously read the book. Words can hardly convey the elegiac quality of this beautifully acted mini-masterpiece, with John Wayne playing a part that was surely meant only for him.The whole effect enhanced by superbly filmed locations,authentic period detail (forget the car!) and strong supporting performances from the rest of the cast.It would be pedantic for me to point out that very few Western gunfighters reached the seniority typified by Wayne's character (Wyatt Earp and Frank James excepted) but J B Books apparently survived presumably because of his unrivalled skills in his chosen profession, as demonstrated at the beginning of the film. A special word for the cameo performances of Richard Boone and Hugh O'Brian, whose characters could have stepped from the pages of history of the Old West. Enjoyable,believable and one for the admirers of a perennial Western hero who will surely never be forgotten !
  • This should have been the Duke's Oscar. He maintains dignity after a life of violence, without apology, if not without regrets. The supporting cast does well with their mostly unpleasant characters (even Gillom succumbs to greed and liquor). Hugh O'Brian's small role is the one honorable player. But its Wayne's movie, as it should be. And he does a great job with it.
  • This movie reminds me of Ted Williams. On Williams' last at bat as a ballplayer, he hit a home run--what a great way to go out on top! This movie is John Wayne's version of this same event. In his final movie before succumbing to cancer, he created one of his best and deepest movies. Gone is the 100% predictable and bullet-proof cowboy of yesterday. Instead, we see Wayne as an old gunslinger who is dying from cancer (ironic, huh?!). But, he doesn't just kick butt and act the macho role, but instead is more thoughtful and in search of leaving a positive legacy with young Ron Howard. Overall, the movie is intelligent, beautiful and satisfying. It kind of gets you feeling rather misty-eyed, doesn't it?!
  • I have sort of a love-hate relationship with John Wayne (mostly love). He has done one of my absolute least favorite films (The Green Beret's... my dad was a Vietnam vet, and he loved this film, but I just never could... oh, and he did the conquerer... blecchh), but he also did the Shootist (along with a bunch of other fantastic westerns... not really a big fan of most of his war movies, too blatantly jingoistic for me).

    The Shootist is quite simply one of the most beautiful and sad films ever made, showing the dying killer attempting to redeem himself, but ultimately failing. Wayne is quite simply perfect (of course he was also dying while the film was being made, which adds another level of poinancy to the story). He plays a character who has lead a shady life at best, but at the end of it, he wants to avoid dying in bed, but he also wants to avoid inspiring other people to follow in his footsteps (particularly the young boy played by Ron Howard). This odd duality is played out perfectly by Wayne (who has played such characters before, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence).

    There are NO flaws in this film, it is simply perfect cinema. Anyone who loves film NEEDS to see this one at least once. Also, it has a tendency to recharge the batteries of those who have been overwhelmed by the violence in contemporary cinema. I try to see The Shootist at least once every couple of years.
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