The Shootist

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The Shootist
Shootist movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Miles Hood Swarthout
  • Scott Hale
Based on The Shootist 
by Glendon Swarthout
Starring
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Editing by Douglas Stewart
Distributed by
Release dates
  • August 20, 1976 (1976-08-20)
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $13,406,138[1]

The Shootist is a 1976 Western film directed by Don Siegel and starring John Wayne in his final film role.

Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout[2] with a screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout (the son of the author) and Scott Hale, the film is about a dying gunfighter who spends his last days looking for a way to die with the least pain and the most dignity.[3]

The film co-stars Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, and James Stewart. In 1977, The Shootist received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Robert F. Boyle, Arthur Jeph Parker), a BAFTA Film Award nomination for Best Actress (Lauren Bacall), and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Ron Howard), as well as the National Board of Review Award as one of the Top Ten Films of 1976.[4]

Prologue[edit]

The story begins with a clip montage of some of John Wayne's earlier western films, depicting the life of the legendary "shootist" (gunfighter) John Bernard "J. B." Books.[5]

Plot[edit]

The aging Books and the Old West are dying. Arriving in Carson City, Nevada on January 22, 1901, reading reports of the death of Great Britain's Queen Victoria in the newspaper, Books seeks a medical opinion from someone he trusts, E. W. "Doc" Hostetler (Jimmy Stewart). Hostetler confirms a Colorado doctor's prognosis of a painful and undignified death from cancer, so Books rents a room from the widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her teenage son Gillom (Ron Howard) to contemplate his fate.

A distinctly nervous Marshal Walter Thibido (Harry Morgan) visits the house to order the notorious gunfighter to leave town. Books tells him about his terminal illness. The lawman is both relieved and elated, telling him, "Don't take too long to die."

Books' presence in town becomes known. Old enemies and glory seekers are drawn to him. Mike Sweeney (Richard Boone) wants to avenge a brother's death. A newspaperman (Rick Lenz) wants to exaggerate and glorify the violence in Books' life. Others seek fame by killing the gunfighter, Books being forced to shoot two strangers who try to ambush him in his sleep. Gillom is impressed, but his mother loses boarders and is upset by the violence in her home.

Old flame Serepta (Sheree North) shows up to ask Books to marry her. He is touched until he learns that she wants to use his notoriety to make money from the sensationalized ghost-written "memoirs" of his widow. After Doc Hostetler sells Books laudanum to ease his pain and advises him not to die a death like he has described, Books bargains with someone who plans to profit from his death, the undertaker Hezekiah Beckum (John Carradine), from whom he orders a headstone with specific writings on it.

Gillom tries to sell Books' horse to Moses (Scatman Crothers), the local blacksmith to help pay back his mother's loss of boarders, however, Books negotiates a better deal, confronts Gillom, and they work out their differences. Books sets himself up to die on his birthday rather than die of cancer and sends Gillom to three specific men: Mike Sweeney; Jack Pulford (Hugh O'Brian), a professional gambler and pistol shot; and Jay Cobb (Bill McKinney) (each one being unaware that Gillom told the others) with a message saying he will be at the Metropole saloon on January 29, his 58th birthday.

On his birthday, the headstone he ordered arrives and shows 1843 as the year of his birth. Having made a gift of his horse, which he bought back, to Gillom as he has grown fond of him, Books says goodbye to Bond, whom he has gotten friendlier with and departs to meet his fate.

In a changing frontier, Books arrives at the saloon by trolley and Sweeney in an Oldsmobile Curved Dash (which debuted in 1901). It is early in the day, so there are no other customers for the bartender besides the four men. Books orders a drink from the bartender, and lifts his glass to each of the three men who are there at his invitation.

Suddenly, one by one, the men draw their guns and open fire, each taking on Books. In the ensuing shootout, Books kills all of his opponents but is shot twice himself. Gillom arrives after the gunfight to find Books wounded but still alive. The bartender sneaks up on Books and empties a shotgun into his back. Gillom picks up Books' gun and kills the bartender. Gillom looks at Books' gun in horror, then tosses it away. Books looks on, nods his approval, and dies. Saddened, Gillom covers Books's corpse with his coat and takes off his cap in respect for the dead. As Hostetler arrives, Gillom leaves.

Walking through the crowd of people who have heard the gunfire, Gillom meets his mother and they both walk in the direction of home.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The character of J. B. Books foreshadows the final days of John Wayne, who died from stomach cancer three years after production ended. The Shootist would be his final film role, concluding a legendary career that began during the silent film era in 1926. Lauren Bacall had suffered through the 1957 death of her husband Humphrey Bogart, who died of throat cancer, adding further shading to the film's parallels.

At the time the movie rights were purchased, John Wayne was not seriously considered for the role due to questions about his health and his ability to complete the filming. The producers had wanted George C. Scott, but Wayne actively campaigned for the role and made completion of the film a personal mission.

Contrary to popular belief, John Wayne did not have diagnosed cancer when he made this film. His entire left lung and several ribs had been removed in surgery on September 16, 1964, and in 1969 he was declared cancer-free. It was not until January 12, 1979, almost three years after this movie had been filmed, that the disease was found to have returned.

The film was shot on location in Carson City, Nevada and at the Warner Brothers Burbank Studios in California. In Carson City, the Krebs-Peterson House at 500 Mountain Street was used for the widow Bond Rogers rooming house, where J. B. Books stayed.[7] The house is located three doors south of the Nevada governor's mansion. The only change to the house was a portico added on the southern side. Scenes were also shot at Washoe Lake State Park at 4855 Eastlake Boulevard in Carson City.[7]

Besides changing the location from El Paso to Carson City, and having his horse Dollor written in, Wayne also changed the ending of the screenplay. Books was supposed to shoot Jack Pulford in the back, and then Gillom Rogers was to shoot Books. Wayne said, "Mister, I've made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it." He also did not want the young Gillom killing him; this would have made the movie go in a different direction and Gillom's tossing away of the gun, thus rejecting the life of a gunman, gained Wayne's approval.

Wayne was also responsible for much of the film's casting: friends and past co-stars Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Richard Boone and John Carradine were all cast at Wayne's request.

Despite Wayne's influence on the film, Don Siegel denied claims that he and Wayne clashed, saying that "He had plenty of his own ideas... and some I liked which gave me inspirations, and some I didn't like. But we didn't fight over any of it. We liked each other and respected each other."[8]

The horse that J. B. Books rides in the film, Dollor (Ol' Dollor), that he gives to Gillom, had been Wayne's favorite horse for ten years, through several Westerns. The horse shown during the final scene of True Grit was Dollor, a two-year-old in 1969. Wayne had Dollor, a chestnut quarter horse gelding, written into the script (although there is no mention in the book of a specific horse) because of his love for the horse; it was a condition for him working on the project. Wayne would not let anyone else ride the horse. Robert Wagner rode the horse in a segment of the Hart to Hart television show, but this was after Wayne's death.[9]

Reception[edit]

Upon its theatrical release in June 1976, The Shootist was a minor success, grossing $13,406,138 domestically,[1] $6 million of which was earned as US theatrical rentals.[10] It received fair-to-excellent reviews, with enormous praise given to Wayne by many critics. It was named one of the Ten Best Films of 1976 by the National Board of Review, along with Rocky, All the President's Men and Network. Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times ranked the The Shootist #10 on his list of the 10 best films of 1976.[11] The film was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA film award, and a Writers Guild of America award. The film currently has a 93% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[12]

Awards[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Shootist. Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  2. ^ Swarthout, Glendon (1975). The Shootist, New York, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-06099-8
  3. ^ "The Shootist". IMDb. Retrieved April 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Awards for The Shootist". IMDb. Retrieved April 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ In order, the films are Red River, Hondo, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado.
  6. ^ "Full cast and crew for The Shootist". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 26, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Locations for The Shootist". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 26, 2012. 
  8. ^ quoted in Michael Munn, John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, p. 333
  9. ^ Whiteside, John. "The Duke's Horse Keeps Special Bond". Chicago Sun Times. January 19, 1985
  10. ^ Box Office Information for The Shootist. The Numbers. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  11. ^ Roger Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to present. Roger Ebert's Journal. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  12. ^ Movie Reviews for The Shootist. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  13. ^ "NY Times: The Shootist". NY Times. Retrieved December 30, 2008. 

External links[edit]