Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Bill McKinney, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Sheree North, Rick Lenz, Scatman Crothers
Written by: Miles Hood Swarthout, Scott Hale, based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout
Directed by: Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 100
Date: 07/21/1976

The Shootist (1976)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dying Breed

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Wayne's final film role was quiet and dignified, but perfect. He's magnificent, a huge, commanding star, and totally comfortable onscreen. He plays J.B. Books, an aging gunfighter diagnosed with cancer; he just wants to out his own way, but younger gunfighters are after him, looking to outshoot him and gain a little bit of glory in the process. (Famously, Wayne died of cancer in real life three year later.)

James Stewart is the old sawbones who breaks the bad news, Lauren Bacall is the widow who rents a room to Books, and John Carradine is an undertaker. Teenage Ron Howard is awestruck by the old man, who teaches him how to shoot (much to the widow's consternation).

Though Wayne's best directors John Ford and Howard Hawks had made their final films by this time, the director of The Shootist was Don Siegel, another studio man who was an expert in the psychological use of space in action films; Siegel turns in some of his finest work here. But by 1976, this film must have seemed terribly old-fashioned and out-of-date. It received only one Oscar nomination, not for Wayne, but for Best Art Direction.

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