Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Shootist

What Happens ? 

The film opens with scenery of the open West, which moves on to pistols firing as different time periods are captioned. Narration kicks in over the scenes of the same rugged looking younger cowboy in many gunfights in the 1800's.  "His name was J.B. Books, and he had a matched pair of 45's with antique ivory grips, that were something to behold. He wasn't an outlaw. Fact is, for awhile, he was a lawman. Long before I met Mr. Books, he was a famous man. I guess his fame was why somebody or other was always after him. Wild country had taught him to survive. He lived his life and herded by himself. He had a credo that went [J.B. Books' voice cuts in.] "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them." It's now 1901 and an older Books (John Wayne) is headed to Carson City on horseback. A man on the road attempts to hold him up, but Books shoots him in the gut. The bandit falls to the ground saying "You've murdered me." but Books tells him he'll just have a long bellyache. After Books orders the man to hand him his wallet (which he threw to the ground when pulling his pistol) the bandit says "You're not gonna leave me here?" Books replies "Well, it's quite obvious, that's what you were gonna do to me." before pushing the man away from his horse. Watching the bandit fall into a stream behind him, Books advises him to get into another line of work as "this one sure don't fit your pistol."

Arriving in Carson City, Books picks up a newspaper announcing the death of Queen Victoria, and looks it over, on his horse, in the middle of the road. A hostile man named Jay Cobb (Bill Mckinney) is angered by this, as he can't pass by. Cobb calls out "Hey! Hey you! Hey Methuselah, move that cack out of the way!"
Books: Are you talking to me?
Cobb: Yeah, you dumb bastard. I said move it, or I'll deliver you something to remember me by.
Books: Well now, pardon me all to hell.
Books obliges moving out of the street. As Cobb passes, Books says "Buster..." at which Cobb puts his hand on his pistol. Books says "Try it." but Cobb's passenger, young Gillom Rogers (Ron Howard) tells him to calm down, as "the old man isn't worth a bullet. He looks all tuckered out." Cobb and Gillom have a laugh driving off. Books adds, when they're out of earshot "You're right, there, son."  
Books reaches his destination, the office of Dr. Hostetler (Jimmy Stewart) Hostetler remembers him from many years ago, greeting him warmly. Hostetler helped him back to health 15 years ago "the only time he was ever hit, at the Acme Saloon." Hostetler recalls that he killed two men and Books remembers the second one came out of nowhere and nearly killed him and would've if Hostetler hadn't been there. "You must have the constitution of an ox." Hostetler says. Books reveals that ten days ago, he saw a doctor in Colorado, when he wasn't feeling well, and when the doctor gave him his results, he set off to see Hostetler. He tells Dr. Hostetler that he won't tell him what the first doctor said, until he examines him. Hostetler agrees and tells Books he has an advanced cancer. Books confirms that's what the first doctor had told him. He asks "What can you do?"
Hostetler: There's very little I can do. When the pain gets too bad, I can give you something.
Books: What you're trying to tell me, is that I...
Hostetler: Yeah.
Books: Damn.
Hostetler: I'm sorry, Books.
Books: You told me i was strong as an ox.
Hostetler: Even an ox dies.
Books: How much time do I have?
Hostetler: Two months, six weeks, less...There's no way to tell.
Books: What'll I be able to do?
Hostetler: Well, anything you want at first. Then, later on, you won't want to.
Books: How much later?
Hostetler: You'll know when. You'll have to get off your feet and get some rest.
Hostetler recommends Books see the widow Rogers, for a room in town. Books asks him not to tell anyone he's in town

Books heads to the Roger's place and runs into Gillom again, who's outside sweeping. Books jokingly references Gillom's earlier comment. Gillom's mother, Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) comes out to greet him and agrees to rent him a room. On his way into the house he tells Gillom "Boy, get my gear and saddlebags off that horse and bring them into the house." Gillom gives him a defiant look, but his mother scolds him and he agrees. Books gets a tour of the property. Books asks to take his meals in his room. Bond says "I serve meals in the dining room." He offers to pay extra and she agrees, as he isn't permanent. Books, addresses Gillom as "Boy" again, prompting Gillom to have an outburst. "My names not boy, It's Gillom Rogers and I don't like being ordered around." Books responds "Well, that's fair enough, Gillom Rogers." and asks him nicely to see that his horse gets fed. Gillom agrees. Bond remarks that he seems used to giving orders. and Books says "Well, I guess it is a bad habit of mine.
Bond: I didn't get your name.
Books: [pulling his pistol from his saddlebag] I didn't give it. Is it so important?
Bond: For anyone living under my roof, it is.
Books: Alright, it's...Hickok. William Hickok.
Bond: Where do you hail from, Mr. Hickok?
Books: Abilene, Kansas.
Bond: And, what do you do there?
Books: I'm a U.S. Marshal.
Bond: Oh, that's nice.
Books: No, it isn't.
Bond: I'm glad you're not staying long, Mr. Hickok. I;m not sure I like you.
Books: Not many do, Mrs. Rogers.

Gillom brings Books' horse to the stable, getting a drink of whiskey from the stable manager, Moses (Scatman Crothers) Moses finds "J.B. Books" on the horse's saddle. Gillom is delighted that the famous books is in his house. Moses and Gillom do a gunfight imitation, with Moses pretending to be Books and Gillom pretending to outdraw him. He runs home, excited to tell his mother.He asks if she knows who he is, and she tells him, William Hickok. Gillom tells her that "Wild Bill Hickok was shot before I was born. We got J.B. Books here. He's killed 30 men."  Obviously disturbed, she sends Gillom to his room, and confronts Books. He admits his identity, and she demands he leave. But he tells her he can't. She asks if that's his "Last word." and he says it is. He remarks "You have a fine color when you're on the scrap." Bond rushes to the phone to call the marshal's office. Marshal Thibodo (Harry Morgan) arrives at the Roger's place. He approaches Books cautiously, although Books tries to set him at ease. Thibodo informs him "Books, Carson City's full of hard cases, who'd sell their soul to put your name on the wall. You'll draw trouble like an outhouse draws flies." He reveals he doesn't have anything he can hold Books for, but orders him out of town. Books answers "Maybe I'm not so inclined." Thibodo informs him that he'll have him removed by force, deputizing as many men as he needs. Books reveals that he can't leave, as he's going to die. Thibodo then bursts out in excitement, revealing that he reasoned he might die confronting Books. Books doesn't care for his joy over this news and tells him "You talk too much." Thibodo is unapologetic, but agrees not to tell anyone the news, saying "Alright, just don't take too long to die. Be a gent, convenience everybody and do it soon." Books makes Thibodo jump by pulling a newspaper out from under his gun. He tells him "You've worn out your welcome. Scat." Thibodo obliges, saying "The day they lay you away, what I do on your grave won't pass for flowers." as he leaves.

Books notices something by his window and reaches outside pulling Gillom from outside into his room. He says "You damn little sneak." and tells him to "knock on my door like a man." When pressed Gillom reveals that he's told Jay Cobb about him being in town. Gillom apologizes, telling Books it's an honor to have him in the house. Gillom tells Books that he heard all about his shootout at the Acme Saloon and never thought he'd meet him. Books tells him "There's more to being a man than handling a gun."

Books finds Mrs. Rogers in the kitchen and apologizes for giving a false name. She tells him he can repent by leaving. She adds "Mr. Books, you're a notorious individual, utterly lacking in character or decency. You're an assassin." Books replies "That's according to which end of the gun you're on." He reveals to hear that he's dying of cancer and tells her he won't be a burden and offers to pay her more.

The next morning, Books sees a journalist, Dobkins (Richard Lens) in his room. Dobkins reveals that he's already written a story about him being in town, which is sure to be big news, but he would like to do a series of stories on Books. Dobkins gets carried away listening to his own idea about revealing why Books turned to violence, but is startled when Books holds a pistol to his face and tells him "Make like it's a nipple." He leads Dobkins out the door backwards with the gun in his mouth. Mrs. Rogers is alarmed at the situation, but watches as Books tells Dobkins to bend over on the porch. He then says "Dobkins, you are a prying pip squeaking ass. If you ever come dandying around here again...." He then kicks Dobkins in the ass sending him off the porch. Mrs. Rogers scolds him, but becomes concerned when she realizes he's out of breath.

Books visits Hostetler again. He gives him some Laudanum, telling him to take what he needs when he needs it. Books asks Hostetler what will happen. He says he'd rather not talk about it, but Books insists. Hofsteter says "There'll be an increase in the severity of the pain, in your lower spine, your hips, your groin. Do you want me to go on?" Books nods. "The pain will become unbearable. No drug will moderate it. If you're lucky, you'll lose consciousness, and until then, you'll scream."
Books appears shaken and Hostetler apologizes offering to visit him at Mrs. Roger's place. Hostetler tells him "There's one more thing I'd say. Both of us have had a lot to do with death. I'm not a brave man, but you must be. Now, this is not advice. It's not even a suggestion. It's just something for you to reflect on while your mind's still clear. I would not die a death like I just described. Not if I had your courage.  
Mrs. Rogers comes to see Books in his room, and Books tells her. "I was reading about old Queen Vic. Well, maybe she outlived her time. Maybe she was a museum piece, but she never lost her dignity, nor sold her guns. She hung on to her pride and went out in style. That's the kind of an old gal I'd like to meet." He asks her if she's afraid of him and she admits that she is. She claims to be asking about dinner but he tells her that isn't what she came to say. She relents and apologizes for anything "unchristian she said or did." He asks her to go for a drive with him, and she refuses. They agree to start trying to get along better, and she finally changes her mind and agrees to go with him.

That night we see a man hurrying to the Metropole Saloon to inform a card dealer named Pulford (Hugh O'Brian) that Books is dying. Pulford remarks "Too bad, that's a man I could've taken." One of the players laughs, and Pulford tells him "You have two ways of leaving this establishment, my friend, immediately, or dead." The player leaves, then returns right afterwards with his gun drawn, shooting at Pulford. Pulford, unfazed, guns the man down. They determine that Pulford shot him through the heart from 80 feet away.

The next day Books and Mrs. Rogers go for their drive. They have a personal talk, Books asking her why she hasn't remarried.She tells her she loved her husband and still does. He also asks her about Gillom, and she reveals, that she worries about him. Books says "I wouldn't be too hard on him. Every young man feels the need to let the badger loose now and then." He tells her he feels overall about his life, that he's "had a hell of a good time." Heading back into town, a man greets Mrs. Rogers named Mike Sweeney, (Richard Boone) Sweeney is then flattered that Books remembers him. Books says "You look just like I remember the Sweeney's, mean and ugly."  Sweeney mocks Books' pillow, and remarks that he knows Books is in town for a short time. Books asks her about her association with Sweeney. She says "That man is no friend, quite the reverse. How do you know him?" Books reveals that he killed Mike's brother, Albert. She remarks that these things must worry him. He says "Bond, I don't believe I ever killed a man, that didn't deserve it." She remarks "Surely, only the Lord can judge that."

That night, in bed, Books wakes in the night and sees a man with a gun creeping around his window. It turns out to be two men, both of whom he shoots dead. Gillom hears the noise and comes to check it out finding the bodies. Books tells him to call the Marshal. Gillom is ecstatic about having the shootout in their house. She tells Gillom that Books is dying, and starts crying. Gillom at first doesn't believe it but comforts her. In the morning, the other boarders leave. Thibodo shows up in the morning and offers to post men outside, complaining about what it costs the taxpayers. Thibodo tells him he hopes he's feeling more poorly every day. He tells Books about Pulford's shoot out and offers to send him there. Books says "You do that." Thibodo goes on "The old days are gone, and you don't know it. We've got waterworks, telephones, lights. We'll have our streetcar electrified next year, and we've started to pave the streets. We've still got some weeding to do, but once we're rid of people like you. we'll have a goddamn Garden of Eden here. To put it in a nutshell, you've plain, plumb outlived your time." Books tells him "You're the longest winded bastard I've ever listened to." and points his gun at Thibodo, who leaves.

Books visits the stables and happens upon Moses singing a song he made up "John Bernard Brooks lies amolderin' in his grave. But, his horse keeps galloping on." Books calls to him and asks if he wants to do business. Moses offers Books $100.00 for his horse, telling him the Gillom said that would be fine. Books tells him he needs $300.00 and won't budge on it, although Moses wants to haggle. Books agrees to sell it for $298.00 just so Moses can call himself the best haggler. Books confronts Gillom about his claims to Moses, and Gillom claims he thought Books would sell his horse to help his mother. Books reassures him that he never though of him as a horse thief. Gillom asks for a shooting lesson. Books agrees that he should know how to handle a gun, but asks if he'll tell his mother. Gillom does very well at the shooting lesson. Books asks where he learned to shoot and Gillom tells him he goes shooting with Cobb sometimes. Gillom then jokes about Cobb breaking a salesman's jaw the other day. Books remarks "Nice employer you have." Gillom says he'd like to see Cobb and Pulford go at it. Gillom asks how he killed so many people. Books tells Gillom his code, "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them." Gillom says he doesn't understand how he always came out on top when he nearly tied him shooting. Books says the trees don't shoot back, and adds "It isn't always being fast or even accurate that counts. It's being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren't willing. They blink an eye, or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won't." When Gillom pulls out some whiskey, Books tells him it doesn't go with guns and tosses it away.

That night, Books has a visit from a woman named Serepta (Sheree North) She asks if it's true. and they talk about how they loved each other. He tells her, "We all have our time." They agree that they should've married,and she says they still could and having his name would help her. She tells him that Dobkins the newspaperman had approached her to put her name on a book about him if she got married. She then complains about what she paid to get there and he remarks "You and Dobkins are two sides of a counterfeit coin." but agrees to pay her fare. She has an outburst about him not caring what happens to her. He says "God, and I loved you once." She tells him to "rot to death." before leaving.

Books has breakfast with Mrs. Rogers and asks her to clean up his "Sunday go to meeting" clothes, as he'll need them Monday. He turns down her invitation to go to church saying his soul is what he's already made of it. She reveals she's been praying for him. She asks why he was angry at Gillom yesterday, and he tells her they straightened it out and she should be proud of him. She then offers to have the reverend visit him, but he refuses. He declares that his dying should be private and he's sick of everyone prying. She challenges his glorified image as a "shootist." and he tells her "I'm just a dying man, scared of the dark." Mrs. Rogers is angry and says "Damn you, for the pain you've brought into this house." Books leaves the table, holding his side.

Books gets a shave and a haircut, where the undertaker, Hezekiah Beckum (John Carradine) notices him. He stops in the barbershop to introduce himself. Beckum offers an elaborate funeral. Books asks "How much?" Beckum says he'll do it for nothing, just the privilege. Books says "No, I mean, how much will you make on the deal? Oh Beckum, you're going to do to me, what they did to John Wesley Hardin. You're going to lay me out, let the public come by and gawp at me, for fifty cents a head, 10 cents for the children. When the curiosity peters out you're going to stuff me in a gunny sack and stick me in a hole while you hurry to the bank with your loot." Books proposes that Beckum pay him $50.00 cash and deliver a headstone to his specification Monday morning. Beckum agrees.

At the Roger's house, Books asks Gillom for a favor. He tells him to go to Jack Pulford, Jay Cobb and Mike Sweeney and tell them that he'll be at the Metropole at 11 AM on Monday, without mentioning to each of them that the others were invited.  Gillom agrees, to do it after church in the morning.
The next day Books slips in the tub, and Mrs. Rogers helps him. She told him she should've asked for help to begin with and he says he promised not to be a burden. She tells him it's too late for that. Books mentions that they went a full day without fighting, and she says it's because they didn't see each other all day. She sees that he's out of laudanum and offers to call Dr. Hostetler.He declines and says he'll be fine. She guesses that he's planning to do something, because of his Sunday clothes, haircut and not refilling the laudanum. He asks her to promise not to ask any questions tomorrow when she sees him leaving all dressed up. He says "No tears, Bond." Gillom comes home, and she leaves the room, promising, as he asked.

Gillom closes the door and tells Books he got it done. He reveals that he ran into Thibodo as he had to go to jail to give Cobb the message. Thibodo agreed to let Cobb out for long enough to meet Books tomorrow. Gillom says "You'll never guess how Cobb took that." Books says "I'll bet he jumped with joy." But, Gillom says "He got all white, scared to death." Gillom continues "Pulford was happy. He really respects you. He told me so. And he sure was polite, he said, 'I eagerly await the honor and the privilege of having him try his luck at my faro table. '" Books asks about Sweeny. Gillom says "You watch out for him, Mr. Books. That man is mean and he hates you." Books answers "Well, we'll see if we can't clear that up tomorrow." Gillom wants to ask him something but Books tells him to go to bed. Books says he wants to give him something. Gillom says he won't take pay, but Books tells him he wants to give him his horse, and reveals he bought him back, handing Gillom the bill of sale. It dawns on Gillom what's going to happen and he gets shaky saying goodnight.

In the morning Books puts on his good clothes. Beckum's men deliver the headstone. Books looks it over, seeing simply his name, birthday and "Died 1901" with the day blank. We see Pulford arriving at the Metropole early while Books is getting ready to leave. Mrs. Rogers catches him on his way out and compliments him on how grand he looks. He says that it's his birthday and he's off to have a drink to celebrate. They say goodbye and he leaves. SHe starts crying watching him walk down the road. Thibodo escorts Cobb to the Metropole and Cobb tells him that after he gets books, he's coming for him, but Thibodo isn't bothered. Gillom is at outside the Metropole and sees Sweeney enter. Pulford asks Sweeney if he'd like to try his luck at cards, but Sweeney doesn't bother responding. The three men glare at each other while they wait. Books arrives at the Metropole and walks in as Gillom watches from across the street.
Books tells the bartender it's his birthday and asks for the best in the house. He sees Cobb, Pulford and Sweeney through the bar mirrors and jumps behind the bar when Cobb tries to shoot him in the back. He shoots Cobb while the others watch. Sweeney shoots him and he fires back, missing, while Pulford watches. Sweeny grabs a table and holds it in front of him to approach the bar. Books shoots through the table until Sweeney falls, yelling "I'll tell you, that was for Albert." Pulford takes the opportunity to fire then takes cover while Books stays on the floor behind the bar trying to figure out where Pulford is from a reflection in a glass. He sees Pulford just before Pulford sees him, and shoots him through the forehead. Books gets to his feet and leans on the bar as the bartender comes back out. Gillom can't take the suspense and runs across the street into the Metropole. He sees the bartender sneaking up behind Books with a shotgun, and yells "Look out!" as the bartender starts blasting him. Books falls to the ground and can't quite raise his gun. Gillom takes it and shoots the bartender three times while Books looks on. He then throws the gun away, and Books smiles, nodding just before he dies. Gillom takes off his jacket and covers Books. He takes off his hat and walks out seeing Hostetler at the door watching. Gillom walks away while everyone seems to be running toward the bar. His mother is waiting for him, and they walk home together.

What About It?

The Shootist is a film about the end of an era, and a man that belonged firmly to the time that's left behind. That man could as easily be John Wayne as J.B. Books. an idea supported by the footae in the opening of Wayne in his younger days, his larger than life persona, so obvious in his earlier films. While I've never been the biggest John Wayne fan, there's no denying that he was a film giant, occupying a unique place in the movies. With a few exceptions, his characters were tough and stoic and noble. His off screen persona was as large as his onscreen one. This was the man who made Rio Bravo as a response to High Noon, feeling the Sheriff's asking everyone in town to help him with a showdown was unamerican. I watched all of his movies as a child and they offered a lot to be admired, the stoic, tough, but uncorruptible men he played certainly had their own appeal and I have to think that Wayne greatly helped define the popular perception of Americans as "cowboys" His screen characters are about as close it gets to an actual "hero" figure. Although, as is pointed out in this movie, those characters did an awful lot of killing.  Books' code here could well have fit any of his past characters. "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them." That's the idea of John Wayne. But, there's something added here, a coldness we didn't often see from him, as when he tells Gillom "It isn't always being fast or even accurate that counts. It's being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren't willing. They blink an eye, or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won't." That's not a John Wayne we're used to. He may have had that knowledge but he never would've said it and even here, he can't help but point out to Mrs. Rogers, that he's never killed anyone that didn't deserve it. (Of course Tony Montana said the same thing in Scarface) While I certainly have some issues with John Wayne's personal politics, I'm not concerned with that here, just the image I have of him, that he left on the screen.

Wayne's Books is not really a likable man. He's used to barking orders and to people making way when he comes through. He's the greatest celebrity of the old west, and it's big news when he visits Carson City. Books is a guy that knew Bill Hickok and Bat Masterson and outlived them too. He's fine with not being liked and not surprised when trouble finds him. Trouble is taken to show that he isn't a callous killer, as when the man attempts to rob him at the beginning, he could've easily and perhaps justifiably killed the bandit, but somewhere in his code, he determines that the man didn't deserve it. While an able killer, he doesn't celebrate cruelty. This explains why he selects Cobb as part of the final showdown. Cobb isn't a character with much screen time, but Bill McKinney gives him a scowl and a temperament that makes him supremely unlikeable, but not so far removed from many inconsiderate motorists in a hurry. We know all we need to know about Cobb, by how he talks to a stranger, dropping threats without thinking twice. But, I think it's Gillom's revelation that Cobb was bragging about breaking a salesman's jaw that confirms Book's opinion of the man. He comments "Nice employer you have there." and we have to wonder if he isn't noticing Gillom's amusement at the anecdote, more than the facts themselves, and in his choosing Cobb, perhaps he's trying to spare Gillom the bad influence that Cobb surely is (which Books witnessed himself when Gillom joined in in making fun of him at the beginning.)   
Ron Howard's portrayal of Gillom is an interesting one and his history of acting roles, certainly gives it some interesting depth. We associate Howard with wholesome characters like Opie from the Andy Griffith show and Richie from Happy Days, so it's easier to see that goodness in Gillom,  although we're also shown his potential to steer away from that. He's clearly influenced by Cobb, and convinced he has something to prove, as we see when he challenges Books before realizing who he is. In a sense, the main struggle of the movie is to determine the direction Gillom chooses. I think it's not accidental that Cobb drives a horse driven cart, while Books has only his horse. Cobb is the impatient, supremely entitled modern man, supremely concerned with his own convenience, giving us a period example of road rage, while Books is the patience of sitting out in open and unforgiving spaces, capable of violence, but mainly in the interest of survival. It's fitting that they meet in Carson City, an almost mythological piece of the old West. Although here, it's not entirely Books' Carson City. The Acme Saloon has given way to the modern "Metropole."  While Cobb represents  it, Thibodo is the champion of this shift. He gives us the situation pretty clearly, telling Books "The old days are gone, and you don't know it. We've got waterworks, telephones, lights. We'll have our streetcar electrified next year, and we've started to pave the streets. We've still got some weeding to do, but once we're rid of people like you. we'll have a goddamn Garden of Eden here. To put it in a nutshell, you've plain, plumb outlived your time." Like Cobb, Thibodo carries an easy cruelty, as when he whoops for joy, being informed that Books is going to die soon. Thibodo is the law but he certainly isn't a good man. Harry Morgan portrays him well, and unapologetically.

Progress doesn't happen overnight however, and there are always those who remember the old days. When Books decides to venture to Carson City, it's to see Dr. Hostetler, a an who was there when he was, and witnessed the only time, he almost died in a gunfight. He saved Books' life and Books has never forgotten. For his limited screen time, Stewart is invaluable in the depth of history that he adds to Books. They're both products of the "old days." in this movie and in actuality, seeing them together recalls their screen time in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." another film about the changing times, and another film where Wayne played his "larger than life cowboy" role with a bit of a knowing wink. Stewart like Wayne is from another area, but he exemplified something different in his roles, not the tough guy like Wayne, but the average man who strived to be decent. Like Wayne, his persona was bigger than his screen time. It's easy to believe that the two are old friends and who but Hostetler could give Books the news that he's going to die. He advises Books to consider going out another way, advice that a modern man might not offer, and fittingly Hostetler is there to witness the end, as Gillom walks away.
Lauren Bacall is the perfect choice as Bond Rogers. Like Stewart and Wayne, she represents the past era and fills her role well, giving Wayne a feminine interest but never veering into romantic parody. She is self sufficient and tough in her own way, but not uncaring. While she dislikes the old ways perhaps as much as Thibodo does, she is also a product of them, and possesses a good deal of compassion. Books can reveal things to her that he couldn't to other men, as when they argue over church and he puts aside all bravado and tells her "I'm just a dying man, scared of the dark." WHile she doesn't approve of his ways, she does see a manliness in him, that she senses could be valuable to Gillom, who has been without a father figure (except for Cobb perhaps) for some time. Wayne and Bacall play off each other perfectly and her scene saying a cheery good bye and not crying until he's well out of the house is touching and telling of her character.  

A great deal of the film deals with Books fending off the celebrity obsessed vultures, Serepta, Dobkins, Beckum the undertaker, everyone sees his death as a public event. When Books compares his coming funeral to that of John Wesley Hardin, he sums it up well. "Oh Beckum, you're going to do to me, what they did to John Wesley Hardin. You're going to lay me out, let the public come by and gawp at me, for fifty cents a head, 10 cents for the children. When the curiosity peters out you're going to stuff me in a gunny sack and stick me in a hole while you hurry to the bank with your loot." Of course, Beckum doesn't argue the point much, as that's exactly what he plans to do. Books, like Wayne is a celebrity, larger than life, and the public wants a piece of him. Books, however, simply wants to maintain his dignity while he goes out, as he points out several times, making an apt comparison to another relic of the past, Queen Victoria  "I was reading about old Queen Vic. Well, maybe she outlived her time. Maybe she was a museum piece, but she never lost her dignity, nor sold her guns. She hung on to her pride and went out in style. That's the kind of an old gal I'd like to meet."That's what Books wants to. He knows it's his time to go, but he wants to do it his own way, like he lived his life.

Don Siegel crafts a compelling story, and uses all of his actors here to their best effects, not only their performances here but our knowledge of each of their histories. Wayne, Stewart, Bacall, Howard, Morgan (and the rest of the supporting cast, Carradine, Crothers, Booth) each of them bring a distinctive body of work with them that informs who they are. These actors were not chosen accidentally and it shows. As a result, we get to know these characters far more than we should reasonably expect to in the time we see them. This is a truly remarkable effect, executed flawlessly, and Siegel has exactly the right touch for it. Siegel is well known as being Clint Eastwood's big influence (The Unforgiven was partially dedicated to him) and that makes sense here, as this is a movie which symbolically hands off the reins (after the fact) from the John Wayne ideal cowboy to the Clint Eastwood realist cowboy in Dirty Harry (which Wayne had actually been offered.) Siegel acts like Gillom here, a link between two eras.

 Books is not a realistic character, he retains much of Wayne's persona, but with a hint of darkness not often seen. Although we see John Wayne shot in the back and killed, we nonetheless have to see this as an affectionate send off, for all his flaws and unbelievability, there was no one quite like John Wayne, and likely won't be again. The Shootist turned out to be Wayne's last movie as the man himself was dying, but it's fitting. In the words from The Man who Shot Liberty Valance  "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Certainly no actor fit that bill better than John Wayne. And here, he proves he is an actor, not just a man playing a caricature of himself. The depth of charcter given to Books is wonderful to see.

Personally I'm happy we see Books die smiling, having witnessed Gillom, momentarily take up the role of righteous killer, only to choose correctly in Books' opinion and throw the gun away. Gillom walks away alone, while everyone runs the opposite direction, determined to see the spectacle and perhaps get a piece of history. Hostetler watches sadly, relieved that Books went in his own way. His time is coming too, certainly. That's as good a triumph as Books could hope for, and one fitting of the Wayne persona which fascinated so many. Carson City will soon belong to the Thibodo's of the world but Gillom remembers, and hopefully he'll take the good parts with him.


TirzahLaughs said...

I didn't dislike this character of Wayne's. I didn't even find him particularly dark. To me, he was a man who had come to terms with who and what he was a long time ago. Not so much dark as accepting of the kind of man he was.

As someone once said---if kindness always got you a kick in the head, you'd have to be damn stupid to be kind to people.

This movie is less exciting than some of Wayne's other films but I enjoyed it just the same.


INDBrent said...

Hi Tirzah! He did seem very accepting of what he was. I love the "kindness" idea, makes sense.

Anonymous said...

This was John Wayne's swan song, he was dying of cancer in real life and he showed the world how to go out on your own terms. when he was in UCLA medical center, he let them test experimental drugs on him. He went out, as he lived, on his own terms