Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Shootist

Last Weekend, or maybe the weekend before, I finally got the chance to watch The Shootist. It's coming up on Encore Westerns today ta 11:30 AM and again at 11:25 PM, and is available on DVD anyway, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Wayne plays J.B. Books, who comes riding in to Carson City, NV, in January 1901. We're at the start of the 20th century, whcih implies that a change is coming, something highlighted by the fact the newspaper is announcing the death of the UK's Queen Victoria. On top of that, Wayne's Books looks an old and tired man. (This was, of course, Wayne's final film; more on that later.) Books is indeed old, and it's that getting old that's brought him to Carson City. He wants to see his old doctor friend Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart). Hostetler examines Books, and gives him the bad news: it's the Big C. This being the early 20th century, cancer was pretty much a swift death sentence. But then, Books already knew he was dying. He had been diagnosed over in Wyoming, and only came out to Carson City for a second opinion. That, and the possibility of dying in a place where perhaps not so many people know him.

Books doesn't want people who know him around for a pretty darn good reason, one which you could probably figure out from the title, and if not that, from the opening scene when Books is heading for Carson City. He was a "shootist", or a gunfighter. Not only that, he was pretty good at what he did and pretty darn famous. He shot a couple dozen men and is obviously still not dead. That notoriety means that there are going to be a lot of people out there who would love to be the man who shot J.B. Books. I suppose it's like shooting Liberty Valance or something. Anyhow, to that latter end of finding nice quite places, Hostetler recommends the rooming-house run by the widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall).

Bond doesn't know much about this sort of thing, but she's got an adult son Gillom (Ron Howard) who is interested in it, and is certain to be thrilled to have such a famous guest as Books. Can he keep a secret? Well, that's not necessary since the authorities in the form of Sheriff Thibido (Harry Morgan) already know, as does the press in the form of reporter Dobkins (Rick Lenz). If the press knows, you can be sure everybody else in town who needs to know will. This includes a bunch of people who not only would like to be the one to shoot Books, but also have grudges they're bearing against him.

Meanwhile, Books is trying to die in dignity, and developing a bit of a friendship with Bond, even if it's not a particularly warm friendship. To be fair, when some would be killers try to kill Books at the Rogers place, who could blame Bond for not liking this? Gillom, of course, has a rather different opinion of Books than his mother. And a bunch of people around town who don't want to kill Books just want to cash in on his fame.

I mentioned fairly early in the post that The Shootist was John Wayne's final film, and I think that's what it's generally best known for. That, I think, is a shame, since the movie is actually better than that and could stand on its own. Everybody gives a good performance, doing material where it feels as though they've already done the stuff a whole bunch of times and are familiar enough with the themes to be as comfortable with them as they would be with an old shoe or something. In addition to the people I've mentioned above, there's Scatman Crothers as the livery stable worker; Sheree North as a woman trying to get Wayne to marry her; and John Carradine as an undertaker; and Hugh O'Brian and Richard Boone as bad guys.

If you haven't seen The Shootist before, do yourself a favor and see it. It's a pretty darn good movie.

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