Classic Cinema #37: The Shootist (1976) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and my father was one of the biggest John Wayne fan ever and I’d like to dedicate this month’s Classic Cinema article to the memory of my father Rev. W. Scott Lockard Bth. This month star of the month John Wayne and the film his last The Shootist!

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison; May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa. His middle name was soon changed from Robert to Mitchell when his parents decided to name their next son Robert. A local fireman at the station on his route to school in Glendale started calling him "Little Duke" because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier dog, Duke. He preferred "Duke" to "Marion," and the name stuck for the rest of his life.

Wayne began working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles, in 1929 he was given his first on-screen credit as "Duke Morrison", but only once, in "Words and Music". It wasn’t long till John Wayne began staring in films. While Wayne is mostly known for his westerns, he did many war pictures, dramas and even some comedies.

Wayne had been a chain-smoker of cigarettes since young adulthood. In 1964, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer, and underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung and four ribs. Than in 1976 he made his final film, our film of the month The Shootist.

The Shootist was directed by Don Siegel, based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout. The screen play for the film was written by the novelist’s son Miles Hood Swarthout. The film begins with a clip montage of some of John Wayne’s earlier western movies, depicting the life of the legendary "shootist” John Bernard Books (Wayne). The aging Books is just like the Old West; they’re both dying. He arrives in Carson City, Nevada on January 22, 1901. He is there for one reason and one reason alone, He is seeking a second opinion from a doctor he trusts E.W. “Doc” Hostetler portrayed by the great Jimmy Stewart. Doc confirms that prognosis of a painful and undignified death from cancer.

Books than rents a room from a widow named Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son Gillom (Ron Howard). Soon after Books arrives in town and settled into his room the town marshal Walter Thibido (Harry Morgan) arrives and orders him to leave town, but when Book informs him of his terminal illness the Marshall is relived and elated to say the least.

You would think this is about how the film ends, no way! Instead of the dying gunfighter being able to die in peace; his presence becomes known by many fortune hunters and by Mike Sweeney (Richard Boone) who is drawn to Carson City to avenge his brother’s death. Than on Book’s 58th birthday instead of preparing for the last hours of his life. He must face one last shootout at the Metropole saloon.

While The Shootist is not your typical John Wayne western, it has a little romance and a lot of heart; it still stands as one of his best! Very few actor’s final films are great cinema achievements. The Shootist ranks up there with Clark Gable’s The Mistfits and Henry Fonda’s On Golden Pond!

John Wayne hated the way Hollywood had become exploiting sex and violence, deploring the vulgarity. Wayne tried not to make those kinds of films and turned down many roles for that very reason! During his career his movies (of which he made nearly 200) grossed an estimated half a billion dollars worldwide; not bad for a man who took a stand against what Hollywood was becoming!

Wayne enrolled in a cancer vaccine study in an attempt to ward off the disease, but he died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center. According to his son Patrick, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before his death.

Academy Awards, Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, A Star on the Hollywood walk of fame. On May 26, 2007 The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who cited, "Wayne as a role model from his childhood." issued a proclamation that day was "John Wayne Day" in California. John Wayne will always be one of the biggest parts of American Cinema. So treat yourself to his final film, a great film, The Shootist!

Until next month this is Jason S. Lockard reminding you, if you want to see a good film check out a classic!

Moral Rating: Violence and Language
Audience: Parental Guidance
Genre: Western
Length: 98 min.
Released: 1976
Our Rating: A-