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The Shootist

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The Shootist
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byDon Siegel
Screenplay by
Based onThe Shootist
by Glendon Swarthout
Produced by
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byDouglas Stewart
Music byElmer Bernstein
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 21, 1976 (1976-07-21)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$13.4 million [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] and written by Miles Hood Swarthout (the son of the author) and Scott Hale. The film stars John Wayne in his last film appearance before his death in 1979, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Richard Lenz, Harry Morgan, Sheree North and Hugh O'Brian.

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 an 81% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Throughout his life, sheriff-turned-gunfighter John Bernard "J.B." Books has committed thirty-plus killings.

Now an older man, Books arrives in Carson City, Nevada, in late January 1901. Soon, he is confronted by an armed robber, who he quickly disarms by wounding him. He later has another confrontation with dairyman Jay Cobb. However, Cobb's assistant, Gillom Rogers, verbally defuses the situation. Books then visits Dr. E.W. "Doc" Hostetler, a physician who treated his gunshot wounds fifteen years before. Books is looking for a second opinion concerning his failing health. Hostetler confirms that Books has terminal cancer and has only a few months to live. Books is prescribed laudanum to ease his pain but learns that his condition will eventually become unbearable. Hostetler remarks that if he had Books's courage, a painful death from cancer is not the one he would choose.

Needing a place to live, Books finds lodgings at a quiet boarding house owned by Bond Rogers, Gillom's widowed mother. Wanting to be left alone, Books gives her a fake name. However, Gillom finds Books' name on his horse's saddle at the local stable and quickly deduces his true identity. Gillom soon runs home and tells his mother that Books is actually a famous gunfighter. Upset that Books has lied to her about who he is, she summons Marshal Walter Thibido. Books defuses the situation by explaining his circumstances and swearing he will likely die soon. Now more sympathetic to his plight, Bond asks Books to accompany her to church to obtain solace and comfort. However, Books maintains he has no need of repentance, stating that he has never harmed anyone who did not deserve it.

Word spreads that Books is in town, causing him trouble from those seeking to profit off his name, or to kill him. After asking for an interview, local journalist Dan Dobkins is chased off by Books. Serepta, an old flame of Books's, shows up asking to marry him. However, Books turns her down after she admits that Dobkins approached her about writing a "biography" of Books' life filled with exaggerated stories of his gunfights. Books orders a headstone, but rejects the undertaker's offer of a free funeral, suspecting he would charge the public admission to view his remains. Two criminals seeking notoriety try to ambush Books as he sleeps, but he kills them. Gillom is impressed, while his mother is both angry at and frightened for Books. She also grows concerned that the fatherless Gillom will try to follow in his footsteps as the two grow closer. Books teaches Gillom how to shoot and shares his personal credo, "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them."

Books asks Gillom to visit three men with violent reputations: Mike Sweeney, an aging outlaw and the brother of a man Books once killed in self-defense; deadly crack shot Jack Pulford, the Faro dealer at the local Metropole Saloon; and Cobb, Gillom's boss. Gillom is to tell each of the three men that Books will be at the Metropole at 11:00 am on January 29, his birthday. On that date, the headstone arrives, which only mentions Books' death as occurring in "1901". Books gives Gillom his beloved horse, Ole Dollar, bids farewell to Bond, and then boards a trolley for the Metropole Saloon.

At the saloon, Books finds the three men waiting for him at different tables. He orders the saloon's finest whiskey, toasting his birthday and his three "guests". Cobb opens fire first, causing Books to dive over the bar. Books throws a bottle of whiskey to distract Cobb, and guns him down. Sweeney wounds Books in the arm, using his table as a shield. Books shoots through the table, killing Sweeney. Pulford shoots one of Books' guns out of his hand, then tries to sneak up on Books, who lays on the floor. Seeing his reflection in a whiskey glass, Books shoots Pulford in the head. A crowd fills the street outside the Metropole after hearing the gunshots, including Gillom, who enters the bar. His shouted warning is too late, and the Metropole's bartender fires his shotgun into Books' back, mortally wounding him. Gillom rushes over, takes up Books' gun, and kills the bartender. When Gillom realizes what he has done, he throws the gun away. Books smiles and nods in approval before dying. Gillom covers Books' body with his coat and walks outside to his waiting mother. He walks past her, his head hung low, and she turns and follows him.



Producer Mike Frankovich announced that he had purchased the movie rights to Glendon Swarthout's novel The Shootist, and Wayne expressed a strong desire to play the title role, reportedly because of similarities to the character Jimmy Ringo in The Gunfighter, a role that he had turned down 25 years earlier.[3][4] He was not initially considered due to the health and stamina issues that he had experienced during filming of 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. His compromised lung capacity made breathing and mobility difficult at Carson City's 4,600 ft (1,400 m) altitude, and production had to be shut down for a week while he recovered from influenza, but 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 terminally ill when the film was made in 1976. He had been a heavy cigarette smoker for most of his life, and he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964. He 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, Wayne appeared in a televised public service announcement for the American Cancer Society that began with the scene in which his character is informed of his cancer. Wayne then added that he had enacted the same scene in real life 12 years earlier.[8]

The film's 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. It was a Paramount production, yet 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 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 moving the location from El Paso to Carson City[11] and the ending. In the book and original screenplay, Books kills his last opponent by shooting him in the back, is fatally wounded by a bartender with a shotgun, and is finally put out of his misery 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 killed 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 were cast at his request, including Bacall, Stewart, Boone, and Carradine. 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 two previous Westerns: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How the West Was Won, both released in 1962.

While filming the sequence 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 he 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]


Box office[edit]

Upon its theatrical release, The Shootist was a modest success, grossing $13,406,138 domestically,[1] About $6 million were earned in 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 (for Best Art Direction, today called Best Production Design), a Golden Globe, a BAFTA film award, and a Writers Guild of America award. The film has an 81% rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews.[18] The film was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the best Western films in 2008.[19]

In 2020, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino wrote:

There’s nothing in The Shootist you haven’t seen done many times before and done better … but what you haven’t seen before is a dying John Wayne give his last performance. And it’s Wayne’s performance, and the performances of some of the surrounding characters (Howard, Richard Boone, Harry Morgan, and Sheree North) that make The Shootist not the classic it wants to be, but memorable nonetheless.[20]

Awards nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Subject Result
1977 Academy Awards[21] 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.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Shootist. Archived March 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine 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" Archived May 12, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Us Magazine, June 27, 1978, retrieved August 19, 2016.
  8. ^ YouTube: "John Wayne & Jimmy Stewart: American Cancer Society - Classic PSA (1970s)" Archived February 16, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Uploaded Sept. 13, 2012; retrieved June 3, 2019. Note: uploader misidentifies the film as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
  9. ^ The Shootist locations Archived August 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. movie-locations.com, 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 Archived June 11, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. 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. Archived May 25, 2014, at the Wayback Machine 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. Archived May 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 1, 2024.
  19. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. ^ Tarantino, Quentin (December 24, 2019). "The Shootist". New Beverly Cinema. Archived from the original on January 24, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  21. ^ "NY Times: The Shootist". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  22. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

External links[edit]