Release Year: 1976
Director: Don Siegel
Writers: Miles Hood Swarthout (screenplay), Scott Hale (screenplay), Glendon Swarthout (based on his 1975 novel The Shootist)
Starring: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O’Brian, Bill McKinney, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Rick Lenz, Scatman Crothers, Gregg Palmer
Rating: Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Art Direction. Nominated for 1 Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Ron Howard).
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #216, week 32 2018
The film chronicles the last week in the life of legendary gunfighter J.B. Books (John Wayne)who rides into town to see his old friend Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart) and receives the terminal cancer diagnosis he had feared. He sets up at a local boarding house to settle his affairs and die in peace, but his past catches up to him and he eyes an opportunity to die with dignity.
When the long career of a beloved and celebrated actor or director comes to an end, we all hope that their final film will be one worthy of the career that had gone before. Hollywood icon John Wayne was lucky enough to end his career with a great film in the genre that had defined him from his early years right up till the end. The story is a perfect fit; an aging western legend out of step with the world reflects on his existence in the final period of his life. It isn’t difficult to see the similarities to Wayne’s own life. J.B. Books is a fine character, one that Wayne (The Searchers, 1956) could play blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, and he is surrounded by a great cast, from a young Ron Howard (American Graffiti, 1973) to Lauren Bacall (Murder on the Orient Express, 1974) as the hostess who warms the heart of the aged gunfighter. The only big name that disappoints slightly is a visibly uncomfortable and old James Stewart (The Flight of the Phoenix, 1965). The story moves along smoothly, with little drama except for one stirring final shootout, a tender and touching final hooray for a legend and an era stepping down.
The final years of John Wayne was dominated by poor health and frustration with a world changing around him and leaving him and his views behind. But perhaps this autumnal melancholia made his final performance that much better for which we can only be grateful. Highly recommended.
John Wayne had himself suffered from lung cancer (and had a lung removed as a result) and stomach cancer, but contrary to popular belief did not have cancer during the shooting of The Shootist. However, his cancer did return three years after the film was made and ultimately caused his death at age 72.
Jimmy Stewart had retired from acting years prior to filming The Shootist and only agreed to appear in this small role because John Wayne specifically requested that he do so. The filming turned out to be trying as the accoustics of the soundstage made his hearing loss worse and made it difficult for Stewart to hear his cues.
When John Wayne’s and Jimmy Stewart’s characters meet for the first time in the film, they talk about the last time they met 15 years earlier, the inside joke being that fifteen years had passed since that last did a film together, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Picture Copyright: UIP