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Worth A Look: 3.03%
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Pretty Bad: 3.03%
Total Crap: 9.09%

1 review, 27 user ratings

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Shootist, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"The Melancholy Demise of the West's Last Gunfighter."
5 stars

Whether you're a fan of John Wayne's work or not, there's no denying the impact he's made on American cinema. Veteran of over 200 features and one of moviedom's most beloved cowboys, John Wayne was a performer who became a legend long before his death (from lung and stomach cancer)in 1979. How fitting that his final role would be that of a turn-of-the-century cowpoke waging a losing war against cancer.

The year is 1901 and the bustling young town of Carson City has a new visitor - the legendary shootist known as J.B. Books. Books' first stop in town is to visit old friend Doc Hostetler (James Stewart), who sadly informs the cowboy that he has a cancer and has perhaps two months to live. In an attempt to end his life in quiet dignity, Books rents a room from the widow Rogers, who initially has no idea who her new boarder really is. Her young son Gillam (Ron Howard) is of course immediately fascinated by having an infamous gunslinger sharing his home. Unfortunately Books' arrival has also caught the attention of a handful of unsavory characters from the past, none of whom have Books' best interests in mind.

It would perhaps be easy to dismiss The Shootist as a forced and manipulative film, except for the fact that the source material (a novel by Glendon Swarthout) was penned long before Wayne ever fell ill with cancer. Given the true-life tragedy that plagued Wayne throughout the filming of this movie, the pain onscreen is all the more touching. Much like the character of Books, Wayne knew his time was short and wanted to go out with a noble gesture.

And that he does.

Wayne's performance alone would make The Shootist a damn solid movie, but this mid-seventies production also features tons of talent on both sides of the screen. The novel was adapted into a melancholy and poignant screenplay by Scott Hale and Miles Hood Swarthout (son of the novelist). The director is Don Siegel, a simply brilliant filmmaker who was also behind such classics as Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Siegel wisely allows his camera to linger on Wayne's performance, although the filmmaker's affinity for exciting set pieces is brilliantly displayed during the famous shootout that ends the film.

Although Wayne displays his patented "cranky and irritated cowpoke" routine a few times, the performance he offers here is nothing short of wonderful. Derided throughout most of his career for not being the most gifted of actors, Wayne's performance here could silence even the staunchest of critics. Even if John Wayne was never your cup of tea, I challenge you not to be touched by what he offers in The Shootist.

The supporting cast is simply wonderful, and it's obvious that many of these actors signed on simply to work with John Wayne one last time. As Books' no-nonsense landlady, Lauren Bacall delivers a great performance and the legendary Jimmy Stewart has a few great scenes alongside The Duke. In an early role, Ron Howard strikes just the right chord of wide-eyed innocence and his scenes with Wayne are among the film's best. As a devious blackjack dealer, Hugh O'Brian is a lot of fun and Scatman Crothers shows up as a stable manager, and an appearance from the Scatman is always a good thing.

One brilliant standout is Harry Morgan as the irritatingly verbose Marshall Thibido. Best known for his TV work on M*A*S*H and Dragnet, Morgan not only stands up well against all of these screen icons, but manages to steal scenes whole and more than once. I'd go as far as saying that Morgan offers one of the most entertaining supporting roles I've ever seen in a Western. He's that good.

Released in 1976 to a lukewarm box-office, The Shootist was dismissed by many as "too slow". And yes, if you're looking for a good ol' Western shoot-'em-up, then you may be disappointed with what this film has to offer. But for fans of Western movies in general and John Wayne specifically, this is a poignant and heart-breaking piece of cinema.

It's tough to watch [b]The Shootist[/b] and not think of the obvious parallels to John Wayne's poor health while filming. Wayne died less than two years after this film's release, and the world of American cinema mourned the loss of a true hero. Rarely does an actor get to end his movie career on their own terms as fittingly as Wayne did with The Shootist.

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originally posted: 10/10/01 11:37:21
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User Comments

5/02/18 Anne could not get into this dry stilted film 1 stars
9/19/10 Jeremy Yes, John Wayne's best role and a damn good movie 5 stars
7/05/10 mr.mike Fitting finale for The Duke. 5 stars
3/16/10 harry lime Terrific ending to a magnificent career 5 stars
8/05/09 chicka great last movie by cinema's greatest superstar 5 stars
5/25/09 bud cham JW"S films in the 70s were diappointing with the exception of the cowboys and this one. 5 stars
7/17/07 David Cohen A hell of a climax to a hell of a career 5 stars
12/29/06 David Pollastrini john wayne's best 5 stars
8/27/05 ES The ending John Wayne deserved 5 stars
6/09/05 Karen I love this movie !!!! Watched it over 50 times... 5 stars
10/21/04 Tina zeitz One of the best western movies 5 stars
12/26/03 tim great 5 stars
12/04/03 john a great film - and the best farewell ever given by an actor 5 stars
10/19/03 Alan I place it just behind "The Searchers" and "True Grit" 5 stars
10/17/03 R.W. Welch Old Timers team up to give Wayne an eerily appropriate send-off. 4 stars
7/19/03 DJF Excellent 5 stars
5/18/03 George Jung Perfect film for the genre. 5 stars
2/18/03 Matt Scott It's interesting to watch, since it is Wayne was actually dying, but the movie itself sucks 2 stars
2/11/03 Ubu the Ripper I dunno. Maybe the cancer was eating away JW's talent as well as his body. A snooooozer. 1 stars
6/19/02 Charles Tatum An incredible swan song 5 stars
4/13/02 daman its a well played out movie for the duke 5 stars
10/16/01 BenTheRehabBoy Ugh 1 stars
7/25/01 pink_panther You can't help but cry at the end of the movie when Wayne dies. I loved it! 5 stars
7/10/01 Peter MacColeman Great Movie. A fantastic message of honor. 5 stars
4/04/01 Katie Hinds An amzing film by the most amazing actor ever. Wayne was emotional, tough, perfect. 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1976 (PG)



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