John Bernard Books, a gunfighter approaching his 58th birthday, finds that he has rectal cancer and two months to live. He takes a room with Bond Rogers and her son, Gillom, to wait until death comes. Of course, his very presence starts off events in the town. The Marshal comes, prepared to die in a shootout, Gillom tries to idolize him, Bond first is disgusted and then pities him. Then, realizing that he will die in great pain, he comes up with an idea to go out with a bang.
John Wayne ... John Bernard Books
Lauren Bacall ... Bond Rogers
Ron Howard ... Gillom Rogers
James Stewart ... Dr. E.W. Hostetler
Richard Boone ... Mike Sweeney
Hugh O\'Brian ... Jack Pulford (faro dealer at Metropole Saloon)
Bill McKinney ... Jay Cobb (owner, Cob\'s Creamery)
Harry Morgan ... Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido
John Carradine ... Hezekiah Beckum (undertaker)
Sheree North ... Serepta (Books\' ex-girlfriend)
Rick Lenz ... Dan Dobkins (reporter, \'Morning Appeal\') (as Richard Lenz)
Scatman Crothers ... Moses Brown (liveryman)
Gregg Palmer ... Burly man
Alfred Dennis ... Dearden (barber)
Dick Winslow ... Streetcar driver
\"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...
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.
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.
* James Stewart\'s remark about not having seen John Wayne for 15 years was a reference to their previous collaboration in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
* Contrary to popular belief, John Wayne did not have cancer when he made this film. His entire left lung and several ribs had been removed in surgery on 16 September 1964, and in 1969 he was declared cancer free. It was not until January 1979, almost three years after this movie had been filmed, that the disease was found to have returned.
* When viewing footage of the final gunfight in the bar, John Wayne saw that it was edited to show him shooting a guy in the back. He said, \"I\'ve made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it.\" They did.
* To add a sense of realism to John Wayne\'s character, archive footage from several of his westerns was used to introduce J.B. Books after the beginning credits. Included was footage from Red River (1948), Hondo (1953), Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966).
* When J.B. Books (John Wayne) arrives at Dr. E.W. Hostetler\'s (James Stewart) Office, Dr. Hostetler mentions that it has been 15 years since they last saw each other. John Wayne and James Stewart last worked together on \"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance\", filmed in 1961, 15 years before.
* John Wayne fell ill during the production and was hospitalized for a fortnight. It was uncertain at one point whether the film would actually be completed.
* The original screenplay had Gillom Rogers (\'Ron Howard\' ) shooting and killing J.B. Books (John Wayne). In the screenplay, the killing disturbed Gillom so much that he throws away the pistol and leaves the bar, repulsed by the act. Wayne had the screenplay changed so that Books is killed by the bartender, who is then killed by Rogers.
* John Wayne was great to the Carson City locals while he was staying at the Ormsby House Hotel during the filming. He signed autographs for young people readily, including one signed for future famed Nevada Opera lead mezzo soprano Mary Anna Replogle.
* The title of the film comes from a famous quip by the gunslinger Clay Allison. Allison, a bounty hunter and hired killer whose marksmanship and drunken, homicidal rages made him feared across Texas, would reportedly tell anyone brave enough to ask that he was employed as a \"shootist\".
* John Wayne liked working with Lauren Bacall in their first film, Blood Alley (1955) so much that he hand-picked her as his leading lady for this film.
* George C. Scott was originally offered the role of Books, and accepted it on the condition that not one word of the script be changed. However, the role was given to John Wayne after he expressed interest. The producers claim they had wanted him all along, but did not believe he would be interested in the film.
* An interviewer asked Ron Howard if Wayne had given him any tips on acting. He said that, during the filming of the final shootout, Wayne took him aside and said he had some advice for him. As Howard eagerly awaited some profound advice, Wayne said \"Ron, if you want to look menacing - close your mouth.\"
* Wayne did a TV Public Service Announcement for the American Cancer Society that began with a clip of the scene in which the doctor tells Books he has cancer.
* \'Maureen OHara was considered for the role of Bond Rogers, but director Don Siegel felt she wasn\'t suitable for the part.
* Lauren Bacall\'s character\'s first name was a reference to Ward Bond.
* At the beginning of the seventh day, Gillom whistles a Scott Joplin song made famous to audiences three years earlier in The Sting (1973).