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
Based onThe Shootist
by Glendon Swarthout
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byDouglas Stewart
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 20, 1976 (1976-08-20)
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 an 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


The film begins with clips of John Wayne's past films.

Aging gunfighter John Bernard "J.B." Books arrives in Carson City, Nevada, on the same date as Queen Victoria's death: January 22, 1901. Books' life is also ending soon, as his diagnosis of terminal cancer is confirmed by "Doc" Hostetler. Doc directs Books to a boarding house owned by Bond Rogers, a widow who lives with her teenaged son, Gillom.

Books' attempt to remain anonymous fails and Bond, unreceptive to Books, summons Marshal Thibido. Thibido orders Books to leave town until Books says he will die soon. Thibido allows him to stay, but wishes him a quick death.

Word spreads that Books is in town, causing him all manner of trouble, from those seeking to profit off his name to those seeking to kill him. Doc prescribes laudanum to ease Books' pain, and advises him to choose how he dies, as dying from cancer would be agonizing and undignified. 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 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. She is also concerned the fatherless Gillom will be tempted by violence and alcohol. Books and Gillom have a dispute over Gillom procuring a buyer for Books' horse without his permission, but resolve their differences and their relationship improves after a shooting lesson.

Books asks Gillom to tell three men - Mike Sweeney, Jack Pulford, and Jay Cobb - that he will be at the Metropole Saloon at 11 am on January 29, Books' birthday. Sweeney seeks revenge for Books' killing of his brother, Pulford owns the saloon and gambles professionally, and Cobb, Gillom's employer, is a local troublemaker. On January 29, the headstone arrives, which includes Books' death year as "1901", but no day carved. Books gives Gillom his horse, bids farewell to Bond, who has grown to like him, then boards a trolley for the saloon. The room is deserted except for the four men and the bartender. Books orders a drink and raises a toast to his birthday and his three "guests". First Cobb, then Sweeney, and finally Pulford all attempt to shoot Books, who shoots and kills all three, but is wounded in the gunfight. Gillom enters the bar in time to see the bartender fire a shotgun into Books' back as Books turns to leave. Gillom kills the bartender with Books' gun, then throws the pistol across the saloon. Books smiles, nods approval, and dies. Gillom covers Books' face and leaves the bar in silence as Doc arrives.



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 ft (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 began with the scene in which Wayne's 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 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 a fatally wounded Books, in turn, was 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, 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 Wayne and he 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 minor success, grossing $13,406,138 domestically,[1] About $6 million were 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 86% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 22 reviews.[18] The film was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the best Western films in 2008.[19]

Quentin Tarantino later 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 its 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. 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. ^ Tarantino, Quentin (December 24, 2019). "The Shootist". New Beverly Cinema.
  21. ^ "NY Times: The Shootist". NY Times. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  22. ^ "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]