on July 28, 2013
I loved this movie. You probably know by now that it is about the last days of an aging and legendary gunfighter who is dying. What you might not know is that John Wayne at the time was an aging and legendary actor who was dying. Very ironic, and very poignant.
If you love westerns that some substance to them (not just a lot of shooting at Indians), with some real characters and feeling, then do yourself two favors: watch this movie, and then read the original book.
The book of course has more detail in it, and a few extra things. But the movie is pretty faithful to it, except that the ending is changed a bit. The book has a lengthy introduction, which outlines how the book became a movie, and how/why the changes were made to it. I actually prefer the movie version but the book is also a favourite of mine.
The movie give Wayne a chance to do more real acting than in most of his other movies. He's not as spry or young anymore, and has to rely more on his face, body, and voice to carry the movie, and he does a great job. Knowing that he's going to die of cancer himself soon make the performance even more powerful. The movie also gives you a chance to see some other gems - like a role for a teenage Ron Howard, and some cameos from other famous older movie stars who apparently came in for less money than usual to help John Wayne in his final film - such as Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, and James Stewart....and Harry Morgan, later of M*A*S*H fame. The scenes between Stewart and Wayne are especially meaningful, since you know they really did have a history together.
on May 9, 2010
This movie is something most westerns are not - a study in character. John Wayne, Ron Howard, Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Hugh O'Brien, Scatman Crothers, Richard Boone and others provide us with varying shades of good and evil, motivation and change. John Wayne (who was dying of cancer) plays a former 'shootist' (gunman, killer, assassin) dying of cancer (this proved to be his final film); he arrives in town to consult an old acquaintance, a physician (Stewart), takes a room in a house owned by a widow (Bacall) who has a son, Gillom (Howard), who is a good kid with a little wild streak, who works for two men, one a blacksmith (Crothers), the other a gunman. Interesting relationships develops between the somewhat mellowing killer, JB Books and the strait-laced widow, Bond, and Gillom; a few of the characters see their chance for fame by killing Books, a possibility known to Books and the sheriff (Harry Morgan) who wants Books out of town; small interplays between Books and the wannabes occur, along with some nice humourous talks between Books and the blacksmith, and a growing positive mentorship of Gillom by Book which helps to grow his awareness of the factuality of death. The ending is clever and involves the only gunplay in the movie, providing Gillom with his grand epiphany. Poignant, humourous, enlightening. The one part that was a bit hokey was the opening, with quick scenes from a few of John Wayne's older movies with the intent of giving JB Books's life story - but it was a good idea. A classic movie, an existential film set in the west.
on March 24, 2004
This is the story of the last eight days in the life of John Bernard Books (John Wayne), a legendary gunfighter who pulls into Carson City, Nevada on January 22, 1901. Books is dying of inoperable prostate cancer. Knowing that all he has to look forward to in the few weeks left him is an undiginfied and agonizing death as his disease progressively worsens, and unwilling to go out that way, Books orchestrates one last glorious gunfight, himself versus the only three men in town who just might be able to kill him.
The Shootist has the cast from Hell: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Hugh O'Brian, Richard Boone, Scatman Crothers, all in the same movie. Made on a shoestring budget of eight million (not a lot of money for a major Hollywood production even in mid-Seventies dollars) the only way The Shootist could afford such a cast was that everyone involved realized this would probably be Wayne's last picture, and wanted to be involved. Hugh O'Brian volunteered to play his part for free.
The only "extras" on the DVD are the original trailer which is mediocre and a "Making Of" feature that's absolutely excellent. In the latter it's revealed the filmmakers changed the ending of the movie from the book on which it was based. In the novel, J.B. Books is killed at the end by young Gillom Rogers (Ron Howard) after surviving the final gun battle. But the powers that were felt it would be awfully hard to have audiences like the Howard character after that. In hindsight they realize their decision weakened the movie. And they're right. That would have been the perfect ending to The Shootist, the ultimate act of love from Gillom to Books, to be the one who ended his pain when no one else could. The way the movie does end is great - The Shootist is fully deserving of its five stars - but it could have been even better.
While it would be difficult to make a case against either Once Upon a Time In the West, Red River, or The Outlaw Josey Wales being the best Western ever made, The Shootist is one of the very few movies even worthy to be mentioned in their class. It adds an immense amount of poignancy to Wayne's portrayal of J.B. Books, a strong man in the final stages of terminal cancer, to know the actor was in exactly the same situation at the time. This is arguably Wayne's finest acting job, understated and powerful. While some actors are great for a time, then degenerate into crap roles to finish out their careers (Basil Rathbone's last movie was Hillbillys from Outer Space, if you can believe it), John Wayne was a class act til the very end. The Shootist was the perfect way to cap his career: one last superb Western from the greatest Western star of all.
on March 11, 2004
As movie genres come and go, the American Western was gasping for its last breath when John Wayne starred in "The Shootist" in 1976. This story about a dying gunfighter counting down his last days in the New World is loaded with an extremely heavy dose of symbolism. This is a quiet western, completely emphasizing dialogue over action. Directed by Don Siegel, a master of the western, the overall mood laments the passing of the Old West and its ideology. I agree with other comments that this film has a slightly made-for-TV quality about it, but it's clear this is supposed to be a delicate look at the death of a revered cowboy, and not a wide-open prairie epic. Like the character himself, John Wayne was dying, and provided for us what would be his final performance. The last words Wayne ever said onscreen at the end of this film are the same words I'd say to him if I had ever met him - "Thank you, sir."
Set in Nevada in 1901, Wayne plays John Bernard Books, considered one of the last infamous gunfighters of the Old West. Books settles into Carson City and learns he's dying of cancer. Hoping to live his last few days quietly, he is befriended by a strong-willed widow (Lauren Bacall) who owns a boarding house, and her impressionable son (Ron Howard). His presence becomes known, and enemies from his past emerge looking for a fight, while other so-called friends try to coax the legendary outlaw into letting a little fame rub off. Books soon develops a tender friendship with the Bacall character, while becoming a mentor to her eager son, even though the local Marshall is pressuring him to leave town immediately. Books soon figures out how to rid himself of his enemies and his debilitating condition in one swift stroke. The cast is a large who's-who of western actors and they do an all-around great job; Lauren Bacall looks a little less glamorous than usual, but fits right in as the stern yet feminine widow. Ron Howard gives a brash, "aw shucks" grown-up version of Opie, and Harry Morgan provides a little humor as the cowardly, trash-talking town deputy. There's also a small but fantastic supporting role by the eternal Jimmy Stewart as the doctor who informs Wayne of his ailment.
As the titular dying gunfighter, Wayne's role is not as complex as it was in "The Quiet Man" or "The Searchers", but this is still some of the best acting he's ever done. This is a solemn film, about someone reaching the end of their life and isn't afforded much time to rest and reflect because their past is catching up. The sad perspective of the Old West as an antiquated era also shows how we sometimes have trouble trying to stay with the times when the rest of the world is rapidly moving forward. This movie has grown in appreciation over time with many Wayne fans due to his calm, age-old performance. I can't think of another film that has served as such a fitting goodbye to an actor. "The Shootist" is - both literally and figuratively - the Duke's final bow.
on January 29, 2004
Carson City - John Bernard Books, the shootist who was staying at the Rogers' boarding house, died in a blaze of gunfire today, January 29, 1901, at the Metropole. Before his own demise, being shot numerous times and twice in the back, Books apparently gunned down four others, Mike Sweeney, Jack Pulford, Jay Cobb and Murray, the Metropole's bartender. Dr. E.W. Hostetler was on hand to examine all of the victims. Local police are confused as to how one of Books' ivory-handled revolvers was found near the entrance of the saloon while his body lay dead just a few feet from the end of the bar...
One of John Wayne's greatest roles, THE SHOOTIST tells the story of a chronically ill and fading gunfighter who, after getting a final prognosis from Doc E.W. Hostetler (played by James Stewart in one of his final roles as well), determines that the painful death awaiting him at the hands of cancer is too much to swallow. Accordingly he stages a last stand gunfight against three town toughs. A fitting way for John Wayne to end his career in a blaze of glory in this his last film.
Wonderfully directed by the great Don Siegel, the film begins with a flashback that includes clips from many of John Wayne's greatest films.
THE SHOOTIST is not only a John Wayne masterpiece, it also includes great performances by such notables as James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, John Carradine, Scatman Crothers and Harry Morgan.
on September 21, 2003
John Wayne always played himself in his films. I don't know whether he could 'act', because the characters he played were always the same. I loved him and the stories he played in.
This was probably his best. I loved the Rooster Cogburn parts as well, but this one was, I think, his best.
A tired old gunman discovers he is dying of cancer. In fact, Wayne WAS dying of cancer when he made the film, which makes it the more poignant.
The supporting cast was excellent as well, each in their own role, and the casting was superb. Ron Howard fit the role of a snot-nosed kid who eventually developed some character, and Lauren Bacall was perfect as the widow--at first outraged, and finally sympathetic to Wayne. Hugh O'Brien was great as the conniving gunslick gambler, and Richard Boone was perfectly cast as a rotten bastard. I never cared for him in the part of Paladin, in the series, but this part was made for him. Harry Morgan acted the part of the marshal as if it were written for him.
All in all, this was a great film, and a fitting end to the great John Wayne's career.
Joseph (Joe) Pierre
author of Handguns and Freedom...their care and maintenance
and other books
on June 11, 2003
In my opinion, this is one of John Wayne's most underrated films. Oh, people like it well enough, but few see it for what it really is: the twilight of a great epoch in American cinema. In it, Wayne gives one of his finest and most believable performances, and stars opposite a great cast of old contemporaries (like James Stewart) and up-and-comers (like Ron Howard).
This final film of the Duke could not have been more fitting. Wayne plays an old gunfighter who's dying of cancer. He knows he's dying, and tries to live out his final days in peace. The real tragedy of the story is that no one will let him--he is constantly harassed by would-be heroes, newspapermen, and people seeking to play a part in the death of a legend. The role is a different one for the Duke--he doesn't play the tough-as-nails cowboy this time--and yet he seems to fit it perfectly.
This is perhaps the most fitting farewell of a Hollywood legend conceivable. No matter what people think of him, few can deny the everlasting impact that John Wayne has had on American society. This film is the last hurrah, the blaze of glory. Wayne's character, and Wayne himself, senses the end of his era, and goes out with style.
on May 26, 2003
This is from the heart....
I grew up with a generation of kids who had never seen all the "B" westerns that Mr. Wayne made when he was a strapping young man who was hired because he COULD do all those things you couldn't afford to pay stunt men to do if you were a small studio....
My generation never saw him REALLY ride horses, jump on bad men, have 3 minute fist fights, rescue run away stages and all the other daring things he could do that regular actors just couldn't do.....my generation saw him after he was a huge national treasure, an icon and so valuable he had to let others do the stunt work: they thought he was "just a star"...a really big star, but just a star.....not a bigger than life, man's man who could do everything he did in films, for real.....
John Wayne was everything we in America cherished, before the liberals began to fear personal responsibilty and "self esteem" problems that allow a kid to think 2+2=5 so his feelings aren't hurt, even thought he learns nothing....John Wayne and the characters he played had all the virtues that make America the great land is was to become.....(sometimes I look at what we are today and I worry for our future, but my prayers are that the Good Lord will watch over this great nation and prevent it from giving away services to illegal aliens and other such wrong things, and return us to the age of hard work, smaller government hand outs and right and wrong......)
When I saw this film I knew it was Mr. Wayne's last, it was a feeling that came over me: I knew this was the last time we'd ever see him on film, a way of saying good bye to his fans around the world and kind of explaining what was happening to him at the same time......you could see it in Jimmy Stewart's eyes....Jimmy knew.....
The good news is there are some new heroes in America today, not the least is the fine creator of Amazon.com, who faced a new frontier and earned the success he deserves from his efforts.......
My point is this: we need Mr. Wayne more today than we have in a long time, (especially after the clinton era) and this good film shows some insight into a great man, not just a great actor.
This film is worth owning because it was Mr. Wayne's last, and with "Liberty Valance" for the opening, this is the perfect ending to a double feature that could teach a lot of Americans just what actually being an American means...
But then I guess just about any movie he was ever in could do that...right pilgrim?
on April 15, 2003
As surely as THE SEARCHERS and STAGECOACH are required for anyone wanting to see John Wayne in his prime, THE SHOOTIST is essential not only as latter-day Duke, but as the curtain call of the western. While the Academy recognized the Duke for his over the top portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in 69's wonderful TRUE GRIT, it was in this picture which I believe the man gave his most heartfelt performance.
The summary of this movie can be read elsewhere. The importance of this film is undeniable, not only in the context of John Wayne's final role, but in a way, as the swan song of the western itself. Surely there have been flashes of brilliance since, but I really think THE SHOOTIST sounded a kind of death toll for the American Western. Up until this point the genre was a viable money maker. Crowds still lined up to see the latest Duke offering, or to watch Paul Newman saunter in high heeled boots. But around the time of this film some elusive quality was lost. It seemed the closing of the west or the end of the west was the dominant theme in Westerns of the sixties. RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY saw the end of Randolph Scott, LITTLE BIG MAN saw the end of the typical cowboys vs. Indians thread - even Leone was saying his goodbyes in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. That's not to say that the western died with John Wayne - but his death was certainly a kind of manifestation of the waning days of the genre that made him great. THE SHOOTIST definetly dealt a mortal blow. Even through the eighties when SILVERADO and Eastwood's OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (and later TOMBSTONE in the 90s) propped the Western up one final time, it was always a hollow, rickety echo of its past glories. Then in UNFORGIVEN, when Will Munny fired the bullet that killed Little Bill, he was really putting down this grand old pony, the Western.
But THE SHOOTIST was the great end. The blaze of glory. In JB Books' final moments we were seeing the end of an era. Of course, everything is cyclic, so we can hope that there will be a place for this perennial and distinctly American art form once again...someday.
But about THE SHOOTIST - fantastic. Great opening montage of classic Duke films (can you name them? - HONDO's in there, my personal favorite) John Wayne gives a hearty goodbye handshake to his own larger than life persona in a realistic, heartbreaking role. Seeing Books slip in the bathtub is like seeing your Dad in his late hours...indeed, there is an underlying theme of fatherhood in this movie, particularly in the relationship between Wayne's and Howard's character. Maybe Siegel was conscious of the importance of this movie to Wayne and the Western genre as a whole. Maybe in the final act, when Gillam Rogers makes his decision about pursuing a life of bloodshed and Books gives a fatherly nod of approval, in that simple, silent gesture he was saying - `Now that you've seen all this, have you got it? Have you learned?'
Something modern filmmakers who have tried their hand at the Western just don't get is that those of us who hold it dear to our hearts don't go solely for the pistol play and the bloodshed and the high action...Westerns are NOT brainless action movies. They are morality plays which speak to the deepest and highest ideals of our collective American manhood - they show us what we are and what we ought to be. Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON. He could hit the road with his wife and let Frank Miller have the town, but because he is American and this is a Western, we know as well as he does that he cannot. Sgt. Rutledge CAN'T connive or even argue his way out of the charge of rape, no matter what it means to himself and his people - he can only stand tall and state the truth he knows. Ethan Edwards CAN'T let Lucy stay alive in the hands of the Comanches. Butch and Sundance CAN'T be brought in alive. And JB Books CAN'T just slip away - he knows his end must come in blood and thunder. Hollywood today leaves the Western alone because they can't figure out a way to tweak it and make it edgy. The simple fact is, you don't tweak the Western. We love westerns because they ARE old and familiar, and we know what to expect. They are as welcoming as the feel of an old boot, or a broken in hat. THE SHOOTIST is the archetype. If you want to understand the Western, you've got to see THE SHOOTIST.
on April 5, 2003
This is a very good movie though it stands a bit taller than it might otherwise because it is such a fitting end to the life and career to one of the greatest actors of all time. Not everyone holds the Duke in such high esteem but I know that millions share my opinion. There is an outstanding innovation in this movie that I can't recall seeing before. It is when Ron Howard narrates the history of Western legend J B Books (Wayne's character) while the film show clips of Wayne from his early Westerns chronologically through his later ones. There is also very good acting by John Wayne. The plot is a good one; an old gunslinger comes out of the wild into a town emerging into the Twentieth Century. He choses this town because he wants to see an old doctor he knew from the past. The doctor confirms that he has terminal cancer so the outlaw, realizing his death is a foregone conclusion, chooses how it will come about. There are many characters that become a part of his final days, maybe a few too many.
I enjoyed watching this movie again after a number of years. It was (and is) better than I recalled. However, my major objection to the movie is that it has a "made for TV" appearance about it. Perhaps it the inclusion of so many TV actors (Ron Howard, Sherrie North, Harry Morgan, Hugh O'Brien, Richard Boone, etc) as opposed to so few movie actors (James Stewart, Loren Bacall, and John Carradine). Part of it may come from the segues for each new day that seem tailor-made for commercial breaks. Even the photography at times gives you the impression of video-tape. However, if it WERE made for TV it would go down as the greatest made for TV movie of all-time.
As I understand from his biographies, Wayne was pretty sure that he would bounce back again from his latest bout with cancer. Thus, he was already looking at future movie prospects as this one was winding down. Yet he couldn't have chosen a better movie to bow out with than this one.