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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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on October 19, 2002
I recently had the opportunity to see this film at a local movie theatre. There are only three theatrical prints available for public showings and the owner of the theatre is a huge John Wayne fan and was able to get his hands on one of the prints for a nightly showing for one week. I only mention this because this was the first time I saw THE SHOOTIST and seeing it in the theatre for the first time made the film even more impressive to me.
I enjoy John Wayne films and Westerns, but am not a huge fan of either. However, out of all the Wayne films I have seen, this is with out a doubt the best picture The Duke ever made. The movie was also the last film John Wayne ever made and he couldn't have gone out with a better eulogy.
Wayne stars as a gunfighter in the twilight of his years named J.B. Books. Books arrives in Carson City, Nevada to seek the medical opinion of a trusted doctor (Jimmy Stewart) who lives there. The doctor doesn't have good news for Books, he has a cancer and is going to die soon. Books wishes to die in relative peace and seeks a room at a local boarding house. However, word spreads that the famous gunfighter is in town and is dying and every trigger-happy man from miles around seeks to get in on the action before Books kicks the bucket.
The acting in this film is superb. John Wayne gives the most emotional intense performance of his career and he is backed by a strong supporting cast of Lauren Becall, Ron Howard, and Jimmy Stewart among others.
The writing is great and the film contains some great lines. The film is full of the comedy of life, but all set against the backdrop of the serious drama of a dying man's last days. The scenery, sets, and location eloquently capture the beauty, promise, and chaos that existed at the the beginning of the 20th century.
The film is a great example of filmmaking done right and is a fitting finale to the career of the great John Wayne. It is a movie that just about anyway can enjoy, from older tykes on up.
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on November 22, 2000
As has probably been echoed in many other reviews, this movie was a pretty painful depiction of the real life struggle John was having with his own ill health at time of production. The storyline is somewhat simple - a dying infamous gunfighter is finally facing fear, but not at the hands of another gunman, rather at a painful and debilitating illness. James Stewart adds grace to the aging town doctor who tells Wayne "I would not die a death like I described, if I were brave like you", lending to a story of one final showdown. Some interesting cameos add to the plot, and an early performance from Ron Howard as an impressionable teenager blend well. I think what sets this apart from many Wayne movies, is his versatility - often rebuked for writing his own character over other roles, here he is both believable and accomplished. Amazing as it is that he only ever won a single academy award (True Grit), he genuinely deserved one for this movie. Stirring and realistic, a very very good movie.
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on November 4, 2000
I grew up as a child hating John Wayne because of his stance on the Vietnam war. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that I began to watch and appreciate Wayne's movies and now I genuinely love his legacy and many of his films. This is Duke's last film and truly one of his best. His acting prowess is shown to its best advantage here. There is no doubt that Wayne's acting talent deepened with age and was always best expressed when he was surrounded by other quality actors.
As most people know, Wayne was already diagnosed with cancer as he made this film. There are few more poignant scenes in any movie than when Wayne's character describes the pains in his back to physician Jimmy Stewart, and Stewart returns with his verdict: "You have a cancer." The viewer knows that John Wayne really *did* have cancer and would die from it in a year. Only those who loathe Wayne could watch this scene and not have tears swimming in their eyes.
There are, of course, better John Wayne movies, but few that pack the emotional wallop of this one. All of his scenes with Lauren Bacall are deftly made and touching. Their screen chemistry is gentle and charming. His scenes with Ron Howard are less pleasing, since Howard's acting talents were marginal, at best.
I recommend this movie to those who still hate John Wayne or regard him as a lousy actor. This will convert you to believing he was an American icon and a moving, memorable presence in American movies for half a century.
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on January 21, 2000
I want to agree with the excellent comments offered here already about this very fine film.
I became a huge John Wayne fan when I was five years old. It was 1976 and I watched "The Sands of Iwo Jima" on TV. I've since watched alot of John Wayne movies with my personal favorite being "The Searchers"; but I cannot say any them were a more emotionally moving experience than the first time I saw "The Shootist."
I darn near cried. As another reviewer stated, this movie probably will not effect people who are not John Wayne fans the way it will those who are. The fact that this was his last movie and that he was already starting to suffer the effects of the cancer that would kill him three years later add a poignancy to the film for Duke Wayne fans. Combine that real life drama with a truly compelling story of an dying gunfighter, who has outlived his time, and the wonderful performances that bring that story to life and the result is a truly great film.
I can think of no better "swan song" for the career of an American icon than "The Shootist." In 1975, John Wayne was JB Books. An icon. A legend. Yes, John Wayne was never a sheriff. He was never a soldier. He was never a cowboy. Yet he represented the American ideal so well that people believed he was all those things. His outspoken patriotism during the Vietnam era made him a hero to millions of Americans. He was also a man who had outlived his genre as had JB Books outlived his era. In 1975, the western film genre was dying. With exception of Clint Eastwood(who has made just 3 westerns since '75), John Wayne was the only actor in the '70s who still made westerns respectful of the genre. The rest of Hollywood either ignored the genre or made fun of it in revisionist films. Like JB Books who felt out of place in the turn of the century West, John Wayne was an anacronism in 1970's Hollywood. John Wayne is JB Books. If you watch "The Shootist" with that in mind it will surely add poignancy to an already moving film.
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on September 10, 1999
Wayne plays a man who has outlived his time, and his life, as he is dying of cancer. Making the film even more poignant, is the fact Wayne WAS dying of cancer and this was his last film. It is obvious he was drawing upon his own experiences and was injecting them into his role.
Wayne's character "J.B. Books" had risen to "fame" as a man who is quick and deadly with a gun. This follows him to the end as fortune hunters seek to kill him and gain fame in the deed when word is out that he is dying. Descending upon him like a pack of wolves are a variety of low-lifes who can "make a buck" or gain fame from his demise ~ murderers, newsreporters, morticians, and more. To watch his handling of each is very entertaining.
The other actors all do a superb job with a well written script in which several wonderful sub stories run through:
a) The man who just wants to die quietly but has to defend himself from killers.
b) The man who finally finds love, only too late and ill timed.
c) The man who decides instead of dying alone and in pain will die with dignity and honor.
This is Wayne's FINEST acting job worthy of ANY award you can name. Wayne's interplay with Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, and many more notably famous actors is exceptional. All of the performances are stellar.
The insight into the mind of the "Shootist", let alone the mind of a dying man, that Wayne plays is every bit as engrossing as the final 10 minutes (which will have your full attention and have you sitting on the edge of your seat!).
A moving film, with appropriate action scenes that are not overdone, and a sense of what honor means to someone who takes responsibility for their actions in their every day deeds, as well as their life.
HIGHLY RECOMMEND for any Western Enthusiast to add to his collection of films.
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on March 18, 1999
John Wayne's last film serves as an epitaph of his enormously popular career in film.
"The Shootist", directed by Don Siegel in 1976, went through numerous delays and battles before the film was finished. But what the audience is left here is nothing short of a masterpiece. This should serve (and in my opinion, it does serve)as the pinnacle of both John Wayne's and Don Siegel's careers.
Many people who are not John Wayne fans will get the exact same enjoyment out of this film as much as his biggest fans do. Simply because the film is beautifully shot and is deeply heartfelt and moving.
John Wayne plays J.B. Books, a gunfighter looking to retire. When he returns to Carson City 15 years after one of his greatest gunfights, he is a changed man. He is also an ill man. Doc Hostetler (played be Jimmy Stewart) is forced to tell Books the bad news that he is dying of cancer. (Unfortunately, Wayne truly was dying of lung cancer during the filming of the motion picture). Obeying Hostetler's orders, Books gets a room at Widow Rogers' (Lauren Bacall) boarding house and intends to live out the rest of his life in peace. This does not happen however as the rumour spreads quickly around the town that Books is dying and every gunfighter trying to make a name for themselves unsuccessfully try to shoot him down.
With just days before his 58th birthday, Books decides to "go out in style" (guns blazing). He gets Widow Rogers' son, Gillom (played by Ron Howard) to tell local gunfighters Cobb, Pulford and Sweeney that he will meet them at the Metropole Saloon on his birthday. It's just hours before the Rogers' realize what Books is planning to do.
The film does tend to become depressingly downbeat at times but in the end, this proves to be John Wayne's finest work. Wayne gives the performance of his career with this film and it's probably just as well that the "Duke" went out with this blaze of glory than say the sequel to "True Grit". (Not that "Rooster Cogburn" is a bad movie, but it doesn't even compare to this magnificent piece).
Also watch for excellent performances by Richard Boone (Sweeney), Hugh O'Brian (Pulford), Harry Morgan (Thibido), Scatman Crothers (Moses) and especially John Carradine as Beckum, the undertaker. (Surprise, surprise!!!) The scene in the barber shop between Books and Beckum is truly wonderful.
Parents, if you intend to show this film to your children, let them know there is some bloody violence and strong language (for a John Wayne movie). Otherwise, show them this fine work of art. That's right, this is art.
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