The Shootist was John Wayne's last movie. Released in 1976 and directed Don Siegel, the film was one version of how art imitates life. Wayne, who died of cancer in June 1978, plays J.B. Books, an aging, notorious gunfighter who is diagnosed with a tumor. He travels to Carson City, Nevada, an up and coming town in the 1901, to meet with Doc Hostetler, an old acquaintance, played by James Stewart. Hostetler confirms the diagnosis, and assures Books his end is inevitable and will be agonizing.
|Wayne as gunfighter J.B. Books. "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them."|
|Wayne and Stewart|
"You know, Books; I'm not an especially brave man. But, if I were you and had lived my entire life the way you have, I don't think that the death I just described to you is not the one I would choose."
Knowing what lies ahead, Books plans for one more gunfight, and rides off into the sunset, in a metaphorical sense.
John Wayne is great in this movie as a proud man, having led a life carefully bound by rules of pride. "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." Forced to confront his imminent mortality, Books must make connections with Hostetler, Bond and Gillom Rogers. He earns their respect, then their friendship, before taking the streetcar to meet his destiny.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Bacall was nominated for a BAFTA award as best actress, and Howard received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. Stewart's Hostetler is honest and forthright as a man who does not flinch at Books' condition.
If there is something missing from the movie, its the development of those Books will battle in the climactic gunfight at the Metropole. Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brien, and Billy McKinney are just cutout characters, lured to the excitement of dispatching a legend of the Old West. We don't really understand their motivation for wanting to shoot it out with Books, but they do anyway.
The Shootist is John Wayne's last movie. It was a fitting and touching memorial to a man that bestrode Hollywood for so many years. For a man whose career was filled with good, not so good and godawful movies, this is definitely one of the better ones