The Shootist

The Duke's last stand: John Wayne in The Shootist (dir. Don Siegel, 1976).

The last days of a gunfighter dying of cancer. A key element in the pathos is the setting, Carson City, Nevada, with its horseless carriages and telephone poles. As it readies itself at every corner for the future, Wayne's John Bernard Book readies himself for his own demise. Wayne gives a flawless performance, with able help from Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, Jimmy Stewart, Scatman Crothers, Harry Morgan, and--sublimely--John Carradine as an undertaker ("The early worm gets the bird!"). Ron Howard slows things down a bit with his pipsqueaky self, and there are one or two overly American-Playhouse-type moments, but brother, we're talking about John Wayne acting out an elegy for himself. It is an honor to observe.

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