The Shootist

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The Shootist
Shootist movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byDon Siegel
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Miles Hood Swarthout
  • Scott Hale
Based onThe Shootist
by Glendon Swarthout
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byDouglas Stewart
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 11, 1976 (1976-08-11)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$13,406,138[1]

The Shootist is a 1976 American western film directed by Don Siegel and based on Glendon Swarthout's 1975 novel of the same name.[2] It is notable as John Wayne's final film role. The screenplay was written by Miles Hood Swarthout (the son of the author) and Scott Hale. The supporting cast includes Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Sheree North, Scatman Crothers and Rick Lenz.

In 1977, The Shootist received an Oscar 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. The film received widespread critical acclaim, garnering a 95% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


The film opens with a montage of scenes from Wayne's earlier Western films, summarizing the career of John Bernard "J.B." Books, "the most celebrated shootist extant". An aging and obviously pain-ridden Books then arrives in Carson City, Nevada on January 22, 1901, coincidentally the day when Queen Victoria dies. He laments that the Old West is dying—as is he. His old, trusted friend "Doc" Hostetler (Stewart) confirms a Colorado doctor's prognosis of an imminent and painful death from cancer. Hostetler directs him to a nearby boarding house owned by the widow Bond Rogers (Bacall) and her teenage son Gillom (Howard), where he rents a room under a false name, but his true identity is quickly discovered. Mrs. Rogers is alarmed that a notorious gunfighter is living in her house and summons Marshal Thibido (Morgan). Thibido asks Books to leave town, but Books explains that he is dying and intends to die in Carson City. Thibido relents, but warns, "Just don't take too long to die."

Word spreads that Books is in town, and profiteers, young guns, and old friends and enemies gravitate to him. A newspaperman named Dobkins (Rick Lenz) proposes a spectacular series of articles, exaggerating and glorifying Books' tumultuous career, but Books literally kicks him out. A few days later, he is visited by his old flame Serepta (North) who proposes marriage. He is touched until he learns that she and Dobkins plan to co-write a widow's sensational memoir. "Woman," says Books, "I still have some pride."

Hostetler prescribes laudanum to ease Books's worsening pain and reluctantly answers his questions about what will come next: the pain will continue to worsen, eventually becoming unbearable. Hostetler remarks that, if he had Books's courage, the death which he has just described is not the one that he would choose. Undertaker Hezekiah Beckum (Carradine) visits Books and pitches a grand funeral, free of charge, which Books rejects as another profiteering scheme; but he does order a headstone. Two strangers seeking notoriety try to ambush Books as he sleeps, but he kills them. Gillom is impressed, but his mother is losing boarders and she is angry.

During a buggy ride, Books tells Bond that he has never killed a man who didn't deserve it; Bond says that a higher power will decide that. She worries that Gillom is acquiring a taste for violence and drink, lacking a father's guidance. Books negotiates the sale of his horse to blacksmith Moses (Crothers), who remarks that Gillom already tried to sell it to him to compensate for their lost boarders. Books confronts Gillom; after they resolve their differences, Gillom asks for a shooting lesson. To Gillom's surprise, he is nearly as accurate as Books, and wonders aloud how Books won all those gunfights. Books points out that the trees don't shoot back. "It isn't always being fast or even accurate that counts," he says. "It's being willing."

Books asks Gillom to deliver a message to three men: Mike Sweeney (Boone), who has vowed to avenge his brother, killed long ago by Books; Jack Pulford (O'Brian), owner of the Metropole Saloon, a professional gambler, and a pistol marksman; and Jay Cobb (Bill McKinney), Gillom's rude and ill-tempered employer. Gillom informs each of them that Books will be at the Metropole at 11 AM on January 29, his 58th birthday.

On January 29, the headstone arrives bearing Books' name, birth date, and "Died 1901", with the day left blank. Books insists that Gillom accept his horse as a gift, which he has bought back from Moses. Books bids farewell to Bond, whom has grown to like him, then boards a trolley for the Metropole Saloon. The room is deserted except for the four men and the bartender (Charles G. Martin). Books orders a drink and raises a toast to his birthday and his three "guests".

Cobb is the first to draw his gun, but Books easily dispatches him. He then shoots Sweeney through a table which he is hiding behind, but he is wounded in the process. Pulford now fires, hitting Books again as he takes cover behind the bar. Pulford works his way closer, but Books sees him refracted through a glass on the counter and shoots him when he peers around the bar.

Gillom enters and sees the bartender sneaking up behind Books with a shotgun. He shouts a warning, but the bartender blasts Books in the back with both barrels. As he reloads, Gillom picks up Books' gun and shoots the bartender several times. He then throws the pistol across the saloon in disgust. Books smiles, nods approvingly, and dies. After covering Books reverently with his jacket, Gillom silently passes Hostetler in the foyer, and walks home with his mother.



After producer Mike Frankovich announced that he had purchased the movie rights to Glendon Swarthout's novel The Shootist, Wayne expressed a strong desire to play the title role, reportedly because of similarities to the character Jimmy Ringo in The Gunfighter, a role he had turned down 25 years previously.[3][4] He was not initially considered due to the health and stamina issues he had experienced during filming of his penultimate film, Rooster Cogburn.[5] Paul Newman passed on the role, as did George C. Scott, Charles Bronson, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood before it was finally offered to Wayne. Although his compromised lung capacity made breathing and mobility difficult at Carson City's 4,600 foot (1,400 m) altitude, and production had to be shut down for a week while he recovered from influenza, Wayne completed the filming without further significant medical issues.[6]

The Shootist was Wayne's final cinematic role, concluding a 50-year career that began during the silent film era in 1926. Wayne was not, as sometimes reported, terminally ill when the film was made in 1976. A heavy cigarette smoker for most of his life, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964, and underwent surgical removal of his left lung and several ribs. He remained clinically cancer-free until early 1979, when metastases were discovered in his stomach, intestines, and spine; he died in June of that year.[7] Nonetheless, following the release of The Shootist, Wayne appeared in a television public service announcement for the American Cancer Society that incorporated the scene in which Wayne's character is informed of his cancer, with Wayne stating how he enacted the same scene in real life 12 years earlier.[8]

The film's expansive outdoor scenes were filmed on location in Carson City. Bond Rogers' boarding house is the 1914 Krebs-Peterson House, located in Carson City's historic residential district. The buggy ride was shot at Washoe Lake State Park, in the Washoe Valley, between Reno and Carson City. Though it was a Paramount production, the street scenes and most interior shots were filmed at the Warner Bros. backlot and sound stages in Burbank, California.[9] The horse-drawn trolley was an authentic one, once used as a shuttle between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.[10]

Wayne's contract gave him script approval, and he made a number of major and minor changes, including the location (from El Paso to Carson City),[11] and the ending. In the book and original screenplay, Jack Pulford was shot in the back by Books, and Books, in turn, was shot by Gillom; Wayne maintained that over his entire film career, he had never shot an adversary in the back, and would not do so now. He also objected to his character being shot by Gillom, and suggested that the bartender do it, because "no one could ever take John Wayne in a fair fight".[12]

Wayne was also responsible for many casting decisions. Several friends and past co-stars, including Bacall, Stewart, Boone, and Carradine, were cast at his request. James Stewart had not worked in films for a number of years, due in part to a severe hearing impairment, but he accepted the role as a favor to Wayne. Stewart and Wayne had worked together in just two previous films, also westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How the West Was Won, both released in 1962.

While filming the scene in the doctor's office, both Stewart and Wayne repeatedly muffed their lines over a long series of takes, until director Don Siegel finally pleaded with them to try harder. "If you want the scene done better," joked Wayne, "you'd better get yourself a couple of better actors." Later, Wayne commented in private that Stewart knew his lines, but apparently could not hear his cues.[13]

Another casting stipulation was the horse owned and given away by Wayne's character, a favorite sorrel gelding named Dollor that Wayne had ridden in Big Jake, The Cowboys, True Grit, Rooster Cogburn, Chisum, and The Train Robbers. Wayne had negotiated exclusive movie rights to Dollor with the horse's owner, Dick Webb Movie Productions, and requested script changes enabling him to mention Dollor's name several times.[14]

By one account, Wayne's numerous directorial suggestions and script alterations caused considerable friction between director and star;[11] but Siegel said that he and Wayne got along well. "He had plenty of his own ideas ... 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."[15]


Upon its theatrical release, The Shootist was a minor success, grossing $13,406,138 domestically,[1] $6 million was earned as US theatrical rentals.[16] 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 Shootist number 10 on his list of the 10 best films of 1976.[17] 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 90% "Fresh" rating on the Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews.[18] The film was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the best Western films in 2008.[19]

Awards nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Subject Result
1977 Academy Awards[20] Best Art Direction - Set Decoration Robert F. Boyle and Arthur Jeph Parker Nominated
BAFTA Best Leading Actress Lauren Bacall Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Ron Howard Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Scott Hale, Miles Hood Swarthout Nominated
1976 National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films The Shootist Won
  • Novel
    • Western Writers of America, Spur Award Winner - "Best Western Novel" - 1975 (as: "one of the best western novels ever written." and as: "one of the 10 Greatest Western novels written in the 20th century.")

Also in 2008, the American Film Institute nominated this film for its Top 10 Western Films list.[21]

See also[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. ^ Roberts, R. and Olson, S. John Wayne: American. New York: Free Press (1995), pp. 121-2. ISBN 978-0-02-923837-0.
  4. ^ Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), pp. 109-12. ISBN 0831755458
  5. ^ Shepherd, Slatzer, & Grayson (2002), p. 306.
  6. ^ Shepherd D, Slatzer R, Grayson D. Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne. Citadel (2002), pp. 293-5. ISBN 0806523409
  7. ^ Bacon, J. "John Wayne: The Last Cowboy". Us Magazine, June 27, 1978, retrieved August 19, 2016.
  8. ^ YouTube: "John Wayne & Jimmy Stewart: American Cancer Society - Classic PSA (1970s)". Uploaded Sept. 13, 2012; retrieved June 3, 2019. Note: uploader misidentifies the film as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
  9. ^ The Shootist locations., retrieved August 30, 2016.
  10. ^ Shepherd, Slatzer, & Grayson (2002), pp. 300-1
  11. ^ a b Shepherd, Slatzer, & Grayson (2002), p. 298
  12. ^ Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), pp. 214-5. ISBN 0831755458
  13. ^ Shepherd, Slatzer, & Grayson (2002), p. 301.
  14. ^ Texas Couple Tend John Wayne's Horse To See That Fans Get Dollor's Worth. Texas Morning News (January 13, 1985), retrieved August 19, 2016.
  15. ^ Munn, M. John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth. NAL (2005), p. 333
  16. ^ Box Office Information for The Shootist. The Numbers. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  17. ^ Roger Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to present. Archived January 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Roger Ebert's Journal. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  18. ^ Movie Reviews for The Shootist. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  19. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  20. ^ "NY Times: The Shootist". NY Times. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  21. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)

External links[edit]