A while ago I wrote about one of my favorite John Wayne Movies, The Quiet Man. The Quiet Man was a romance and a departure from the War and Western films that John Wayne was most well known for. My second favorite John Wayne film, The Shootist is also a departure from his usual role even though it is a western, it is the story of an older gunfighter now battling a greater battle; cancer. Seeking a place to spend his last days, he takes up residence in a boarding house run by a widow who is against everything the gunfighter’s life represents while her teenage son harbors a secret desires to be just like the old shootist .
The cast for The Shootist is among the best. Besides “The Duke” as the shootist J.B. Books, the film features Lauren Bacall as boarding house owner Bond Rodgers and Ron Howard as her son Gillom. Despite the film’s title you won’t find a lot of shoot outs in the film. It’s the story a dying man, who wants to die with dignity and perhaps regain a little taste of the life he could have had if his life had not taken the violent turn it did. Yes, John Wayne is still the tough guy, but his view is now tempered as he faces his cancer and the knowledge that there is nothing he can do to win his battle against it. Each character must in the end examine themselves as they are faced with Books’ mortality and eventual death.