Wednesday Night at the Movies: The Shootist (1976)

(Still waiting for a windfall so I can get a new DVD player, so here's another classic favorite from days past.)

Hard to believe that such a diehard John Wayne fan as myself waited so long to see his swan song, The Shootist, but it was only a couple of years ago that I finally got my chance. Chalk it up to TNT and the other cable stations never showing it at a time that was convenient for me to tune in.

The opening of this movie, featuring scenes from Wayne movies gone by, and a voiceover by Ron Howard (Gillom Rogers), tells the background of one J. B. Books, a gunfighter, or "shootist" of some renown. As the movie starts, Books arrives in El Paso to see a doctor he trusts (played by Jimmy Stewart). It turns out that Books has a cancer and does not have much longer to live.

He rents a room from a local woman, Bond Rogers (Gillom's mother), who does not, at first, realize who he is. When she finds out she immediately demands that he leave, but he refuses, saying that he intends to die in El Paso.

Soon, everyone knows the identity of this stranger in town, including several who are individually rubbing their hands in anticipation of being the one to gain fame by outshooting the legendary shootist. These include a charismatic gambler (played by Hugh O'Brian), a pugnacious merchant (played by Bill McKinney) and another gunfighter (played by Richard Boone).

Personally I think Wayne's performance here tops even his Academy Award winning performance in True Grit, although he was not even nominated for the role. The Academy did nominate the art direction for one, but it lost out to All the President's Men.

For the most part, it is a good movie, although if you read the book it was based on, the character of Gillom has been toned down a bit, obviously to keep Ron Howard's image intact (at the time he was still playing the white bread chacter of Richie Cunningham on Happy Days.)

1 comment:

Howard Bagby said...

I saw The Shootist in theaters when it came out. It is one of my five favorite John Wayne movies. I really can't pick a favorite between that, Hellfighters, Big Jake, True Grit, and Rio Bravo. If you put me on the spot to name one the answer would keep changing. I need to get the DVD of that one.