Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Don Siegel|
|Based on||The Shootist
by Glendon Swarthout
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||Douglas Stewart|
The Shootist is a 1976 American western film directed by Don Siegel and starring John Wayne in his final film role. The picture is about a dying gunfighter who spends his last days looking for a way to die with the least pain and the most dignity.
The film is based on a 1975 novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout with a screenplay 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, and Scatman Crothers.
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. The movie also received widespread critical acclaim, garnering a 95% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
After a prologue—a clip montage of scenes from Wayne's earlier Western films—summarizing the career of J.B. Books, "the most celebrated shootist extant", an aging and obviously pain-ridden Books arrives in Carson City, Nevada, on January 22, 1901. He laments that the Old West is dying—as is he. A trusted friend, "Doc" Hostetler (Stewart), confirms a Colorado doctor's prognosis of an imminent and painful death from cancer.
Books rents a room at a boarding house owned by the widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her teenage son Gillom (Ron Howard). Marshal Thibido (Harry Morgan), alarmed at the presence of a notorious gunfighter in his town, asks him to leave. Books explains that he is dying, and intends to die in Carson City. Thibido relents, but says, "Don't take too long to die."
Word spreads that Books is in town; profiteers, young guns, and old friends and enemies are drawn to him. A newspaperman named Dobkins (Rick Lenz) proposes a spectacular series of articles, exaggerating and glorifying Books' tumultuous career. Books kicks him out, only to be visited by an old flame, Serepta (Sheree North), who proposes marriage. He is touched, until he learns that she wants to co-write, with Dobkins, a widow's sensational "memoir". "Woman," says Books, "I still have some pride."
Hostetler prescribes laudanum to ease Books' worsening pain, and reluctantly answers his questions about what will come next: The pain will continue to build, eventually becoming unbearable. Hostetler remarks that if he had Books' courage, the death he has just described is not the one he would choose. The undertaker, Hezekiah Beckum (John Carradine) pitches a grand funeral, which Books rejects as another profiteering scheme; but he does order a headstone. Two strangers seeking notoriety try to ambush him as he sleeps, but Books kills them. Gillom is impressed; his mother, who is losing boarders, is angry.
During a buggy ride, Books tells Bond he has never killed a man who didn't deserve it; Bond says a higher power will decide that. She worries that Gillom, lacking a father's guidance, is acquiring a taste for violence and drink. Books negotiates the sale of his horse to the blacksmith, Moses (Scatman 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 adds. "It's being willing."
Books asks Gillom to deliver a message to three men: Mike Sweeney (Richard Boone), who has vowed to avenge his brother, killed long ago by Books; Jack Pulford (Hugh O'Brian), a professional gambler and pistol marksman; and Jay Cobb (Bill McKinney), Gillom's ill-mannered employer. Gillom informs each of them, separately, that Books will be at the Metropole Saloon on January 29, his 58th birthday. Books insists that Gillom accept his horse, which he has bought back from Moses, as a gift.
On January 29, the headstone arrives, bearing Books' name, birth date, and "Died 1901", with the day left blank. After bidding farewell to Bond, who has grown to like him, he boards a trolley for the Metropole 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".
Cobb is the first to draw his gun, but Books easily dispatches him. He then shoots Sweeney through a table he is hiding behind, but 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 his reflection in a glass and when he peers over the bar, shoots him dead.
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, then drops the gun in disgust. Books smiles, nods approvingly, and dies. After covering Books reverently with his jacket, Gillom walks home with his mother.
- John Wayne as John Bernard "J.B." Books
- Lauren Bacall as Bond Rogers
- Ron Howard as Gillom Rogers
- James Stewart as Dr. E.W. Hostetler
- Richard Boone as Mike Sweeney
- Hugh O'Brian as Jack Pulford
- Harry Morgan as Carson City Marshal Walter J. Thibido
- John Carradine as Hezekiah Beckum, the undertaker
- Sheree North as Serepta
- Scatman Crothers as Moses Brown
- Bill McKinney as Jay Cobb, owner of Cobb's Creamery
- Rick Lenz as Dan Dobkins, reporter for the Morning Appeal
- Gregg Palmer as Burly Man
- Melody Thomas as Girl on Streetcar
- Kathleen O'Malley as School Teacher
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, but was not initially considered due to the health and stamina issues he had experienced during filming of his penultimate film, Rooster Cogburn. 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.
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 later that year.
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. The horse-drawn trolley was an authentic one, once used as a shuttle between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.
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), his character's terminal illness (from bladder cancer, which he considered "unmanly", to prostate cancer), 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".
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. 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. During the filming of his scene in the doctor's office, both he 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.
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.
By one account, Wayne's numerous directorial suggestions and script alterations caused considerable friction between director and star; 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."
Upon its theatrical release in June 1976, The Shootist was a minor success, grossing $13,406,138 domestically, $6 million was earned as US theatrical rentals. 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 Shootist number 10 on his list of the 10 best films of 1976. 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 aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. The film was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the best Western films in 2008.
Awards and honors
- Writers Guild, nomination: "Best Adaptation of a Screenplay" - Scott Hale and Miles Hood Swarthout
- Academy Awards, nomination: "Best Art Direction-Set Decoration" - Robert F. Boyle and Arthur Jeph Parker
- Golden Globes, nomination: "Best Motion Picture Actor in a Supporting Role" - Ron Howard
- BAFTA Film Award, nomination: "Best Actress" - Lauren Bacall
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