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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

THE SHOOTIST


THE SHOOTIST
Directed by Don Siegel
1976 100 minutes
DVD available as part of Paramount's John Wayne Collection
Extra features: Trailer and interviews

The film opens with a montage of classic moments from Wayne's earlier westerns while the legend of J. B. Books is narrated over the clips. This sets up this story of an aging gunfighter and before we even see Wayne, here in his last role, on screen we know enough about the character to immediately feel we are in familiar territory with the Duke playing one of his trademark tough men.

Wayne plays the aforementioned J. B . Books who rides into Carson City to meet up with a doctor, played by James Stewart. The doctor confirms that Brooks has a cancer that will prove fatal and he gives him anything from six weeks to two months to live.

Brooks takes up lodgings in a boarding house run by Lauren Bacall who has a son played by a young Ron Howard. Books intends to spend what little time he has left in relative peace but when word gets out about his presence every young gunslinger sees killing the aging gunman as a way to earn a reputation.
It was a troubled shoot with Wayne falling ill several times and losing his temper with his director on more than one occasion - co-star Richard Boone told reporters after Wayne's death, that the actor knew in his heart of hearts that this would be his last film and that the damn cough he carried around probably meant that his cancer had returned. Wayne nevertheless carried on playing a gunman dying of cancer while he himself was suffering from the same illness.

The film is set in 1901 and is an effective tribute to the passing of the Old West and John Wayne himself - an early scene sees Brooks reading a newspaper which announces Queen Victoria's death. There are early motorcars and telephones in the movie and this beautiful western sunsets are interrupted by buildings on the skylines.

The film wrapped behind schedule on 5th April 1976 and was rushed through post production so it could be in cinemas in JulY. When Variety reviewed it they said - "it was like the Duke is saying goodbye."

How right they were.

The Shootist is an elegiac tale of an old man coming to terms with the inevitable. The photography gives every scene a wintry feel that perfectly sums up the feel of the movie. If you're one of those people who feel the Duke couldn't act then go watch this and reevaluate your opinion.

2 comments:

Joanne Walpole said...

I remember watching this film and enjoying it as a teenager. Thanks for the reminder.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

This film convinced my wife that John Wayne could act.

I love westerns about the old gunfighter/cowboy/lawman who knows his time--and times--are through. Monte Walsh, The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, et al. It manages to be both elegiac and romantic at the same time.