Capsule Review of the Week: The Shootist (1976)

There must have been a line out the casting director’s door when shooting for this film was announced, because the list of stars is long indeed: James Stewart (John Wayne’s co-star in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Lauren Bacall (whose last appearance with Wayne was two decades years earlier in 1955’s Blood Alley), Ron Howard, John Carradine, Hugh O’Brian, Harry Morgan, Scatman Crothers, Sheree North, and big bad Richard Boone. This is the movie that one could only dream would be Duke’s swan song. Poignantly, this film about an aging gunslinger dying of cancer was released only three years before Wayne himself succumbed to the disease. If you were to sit down and watch every John Wayne movie, this moving film is the one you would want to watch last. The plot begins in Carson City, Nevada, in 1901. The Old West of story and myth is on its decline, and so, as it turns out, is our hero, former lawman and notorious gunman J.B. Books. The old shootist learns from his doctor (Stewart) that he has a terminal disease, and not long to live. Books’s only wish is to run out his final days with dignity and, ideally, as little pain as possible. But a man who lives by the gun rarely is allowed to die in bed, so when word gets out that Books is near the end, the bad guys come out to claim the famous pistolero as a notch on their gun belt. Say what you will about any imperfections in production, casting, storyline, or continuity (not that a close viewer would find much to criticize anyway), this is the way Duke wanted to go out, even though his loyal fans hate to see him leave. You don’t have to wait until you’ve watched every other John Wayne film before you watch this one. But after you’ve viewed all the others, watch The Shootist once again, and say a final adiós to the legend. Duke, our trails fork here, old compañero.

Featured actors: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Bill McKinney, James Stewart, Richard Boone, John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Richard Lenz (Rick Lenz), Harry Morgan, Sheree North, and Hugh O’Brian,

Screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale

Based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout

Directed by Don Siegel

Produced by the Dino De Laurentiis Company and Paramount Pictures

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release date: July 16, 1976

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