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The Shootist "The Shootist" on DVD

Duke's Last Stand

John Wayne gives one of, if not the best, of his many performances in this 1976 Western classic.

Wayne plays John Bernard Books, a legend of the old west, a legend in his own time. He's a famous gunfighter, but his elderly body is now being eaten away by a cancer and he wants a place where he can die quietly and with dignity.

He chooses Carson City, Nevada, and a boardinghouse owned and operated by a widow (Lauren Bacall) and her son (Ron Howard), where there's a nice quiet room in which he can spend his last few days.

Unfortunately, news of his arrival leaks out, and his story becomes front page news in Carson City and elsewhere, and his dream of dying with dignity go up in smoke as everyone and his dog shows up to either exploit his demise or to hurry it along.

There's his old flame, who wants to get married so she can use his name once he's gone - 'cause it would benefit her to be the widow of a famous gunfighter. There's the newspaper reporter who wants to write Books' story - enhanced and spun to make it a more interesting, but less truthful, read. There are the other gunfighters who want a chance to see just how good this Books guy is - or was.

Fortunately, there are a few people around who have character - among them the landlady and her kid, as well as Books' old friend Doc Hostetler (James Stewart). Books and the widow, much to her chagrin, discover common interests and respect, while the kid (suffering from a severe case of stars in his eyes at being so close to the legend) just wants to bask in the reflected glory - while learning a few things that can help him in his life.

The Shootist is a wonderful western, not so much an uplifting story (it's actually quite depressing - though very honest) but because it's more of a marvelous human drama set in a western environment. Wayne is absolutely perfect as the dying old man - possibly because he knew from whence the character came: Wayne had battled cancer before, and was battling it again during the filming of this, his last movie.

Bacall and Howard are also excellently cast and turn in very believable performances. Howard, particularly, was an underrated actor most famous for being Opie on the old "Andy Griffith" show and Richie on "Happy Days." The rest of the supporting cast, including Stewart, Richard Boone, Sheree North, Hugh O'Brian and John Carradine, is also very good. Most of them make you want to slap them, while only a few display the sort of humanity for which this movie cries out.

Director Don Siegel has crafted a wonderful period piece, where the old west meets the horseless carriage, and people are all too human. The film has a great look and feel, too, as well as a marvelous screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale (based on Glendon Swarthout's novel).

Paramount's DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, with Dolby Digital mono sound (placed, as it should be, at the front center speaker), and the audio and video quality are very good. Extras include an excellent documentary on the film that includes various cast/crew interviews, as well as the theatrical trailer.

If you've never been a John Wayne fan, this movie may change your mind.

The Shootist, from Paramount Home Video
98 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brien, John Carradine, Sheree North, Harry Morgan, Scatman Crothers
Produced by M.J. Frankovich and William Self
Written by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale, Directed by Don Siegel.


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Updated May 13, 2006