The Shootist (1976)
A terminally-ill gunfighter (John Wayne) retires to a small town to die in peace…however things go anything but smoothly.
Wayne’s last movie is a fitting tribute to his legendary career.
It’s a moving tale of a dying man and his final wishes. For anyone who thinks Wayne was an inflexible or wooden actor suited only to testosterone filled ‘popcorn’ roles, then this picture will set you straight.
The cast behind Wayne is great. The inclusion of Jimmy Stewart as the town’s doctor is a real treat; Richard Boone positively stews as Wayne’s smutty old foe and the duo of Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard, as the mother and son who care for Wayne, seem to glide effortlessly through the whole thing in true style . But for me, the best part about this film is Siegel’s attempt, most blatant during the opening titles sequence, to say goodbye to the Western genre and specifically, those old-fashioned westerns of which Wayne – perhaps unfairly – is the poster boy. You really get the feeling that this movie is drawing a curtain down on the old west and it is this sense of emotion which haunts every scene.
If you were to pick holes in this, you could say that it’s a predictable movie – and it is – but the same is true of so many films in this genre. So, it would seem unfair to make a meal of such a criticism. You could also say that the film was out-dated even on release in 1976 and you would be right, there is something nostalgic about the proceedings here. By the 1970s, Westerns had become both stylish (the italo/spaghetti western era drove this change) and violent (Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch set the trend). The Shootist is neither. Nor is it easy, as some critics have done, to place this movie alongside the likes of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo or The Outlaw. Hawks’s films were about tales of the west – he was a storyteller above all else and eschewed the idea of directors as auteurs – whilst The Shootist is about one man and his character – that man being John Wayne; and he plays it perfectly. A film that could only have been made with Wayne and as an audience, we are lucky that it was.
In a nutshell, a must-see picture for 2 key reasons: (1) It’s Wayne’s goodbye to the silver screen and (2) it’s bloody good.
hotdog rating: 8.5/10