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Don Siegel
John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard
Writing Credits:
Scott Hale, Miles Hood Swarthout

A dying gunfighter spends his last days looking for a way to pass with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/12/2024

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Howard S. Berger
• “The Last Day” Visual Essay
• “A Man-Making Moment” Featurette
• “Laments of the West” Featurette
• “Contemplating John Wayne” Visual Essay
• “The Legend Lives On” Featurette
• Trailer
• Image Gallery


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The Shootist [Blu-Ray] (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 5, 2024)

All great careers come to an end, of course. John Wayne’s storied cinematic run finished with 1976’s The Shootist, and he’d die three years later.

Set in 1901, John Bernard Books (Wayne) maintains fame and notoriety as a legendary gunman. Clearly on the back end of life, he learns that cancer will kill him within a short timespan.

With little time left, Books attempts to find some peace, and he becomes a mentor to young Gillom Rogers (Ron Howard), the son of Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall), the woman who owns the boarding house where he stays. Books’ past continues to haunt him, though, as a variety of folks stalk him for their own purposes.

In an eerie coincidence, Wayne’s death would echo Shootist. Diagnosed with stomach cancer in early 1979, he would pass only a few months later.

This gives Shootist a certainly melancholy vibe that would’ve not immediately seemed obvious in 1976. Indeed, Wayne was only 69 when the film hit screens, so it doesn’t feel inevitable that it would represent his swansong.

Of course, Wayne worked in Westerns that confronted his age prior to Shootist, so the topic doesn’t seem new for him. Still, it feels bold for Wayne to so directly allude to his own mortality. 69 doesn’t imply “death’s door”, but Wayne suffered from ailments that made future films less likely.

Whatever Wayne’s understanding of his mortality was circa 1976, he offers a surprisingly strong performance as our lead. I always felt Wayne offered a forceful screen presence but never came across as much of an actor, as he usually just seemed to play “John Wayne”.

At his core, Books feels like another typical Wayne role, but the impending death brings an added layer to the story that Wayne reflects well. He resists a sense of bravado that might make Books seem too bold or cocky.

Instead, Wayne lends a pensive quality I wouldn’t expect from him. He allows himself to show the character’s beaten-down side and his general weariness in ways that add considerable impact to the proceedings.

Indeed, our long history with the cinematic Wayne makes these choices even more impactful. Because we come into the film with such a sense of Wayne as the stalwart, unstoppable force, a view of him as tired and worn down becomes meaningful.

Not that Shootist turns Wayne into a feeble man with no spirit, as it still allows Books his moments of glory. These fit the tale and don’t feel forced.

Director Don Siegel embraces the gloomy vibe and never attempts to make Books more than just an old man close to death. Even with those sporadic instances during which we see how Books earned his legend, the melancholy vibe remains.

Shootist benefits from an excellent cast. In addition to Wayne, Bacall and Howard, we find talents such as Scatman Crothers, Harry Morgan, James Stewart, John Carradine and others.

They add depth to the proceedings and also once more help reflect our history with Wayne. This becomes particularly true for the actors in the cast who worked with Wayne in earlier films.

A generally low-key tale Western more concerned with mortality than gunfights, The Shootist works pretty well. It turns into a fine swansong for its legendary lead.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

The Shootist appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a positive transfer.

Sharpness appeared clear and concise. On occasion some shots looked slightly soft or hazy, but these instances did not occur frequently, and I suspect they reflected the source photography. Instead, the majority of the film was crisp and detailed.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was minimal at worst. Source flaws stayed absent. This was a clean image without any noticeable print defects.

Shootist featured a fairly sandy palette to suit the Western setting, though it included a blue-green vibe as well. The tones seemed accurate and full.

Black levels appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail also was usually clear and without excessive darkness. Across the board, this became a fine presentation.

The LPCM monaural audio of Shootist held up fairly well over the last 48 years. Speech came across as warm and natural, with no issues of edginess or intelligibility along the way.

Effects appeared fairly full and dynamic, and they didn’t suffer from any distortion or other problems. Music also was reasonably bright and rich, with pretty nice range. For a monaural soundtrack from 1976, Shootist seemed satisfying.

When we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Howard S. Berger. He provides a running, screen-specific view of the source and its adaptation, story/characters, cast and crew, genre domains and some production notes.

The commentary loses some points due to a surprising amount of dead air, as Berger goes silent more than expected given the movie’s fairly brief length. Nonetheless, he covers the movie pretty well and makes this a reasonably solid chat.

Five featurettes follow, and The Last Day goes for 28 minutes, 26 seconds. It provides a visual essay from filmmaker/critic David Cairns.

During “Day”, Cairns looks at the career and style of director Don Siegel as well as thoughts about actor John Wayne and production areas. Some of this repeats from the commentary but “Day” nonetheless gives us a useful summary.

A Man-Making Moment runs 40 minutes, 27 seconds. This one features Western author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner.

We get notes about the source novel and its author as well as elements of the film version and the careers of those involved. Joyner brings an informative discussion.

Next comes Laments of the West, which spans 26 minutes, 30 seconds. Here we locate info from film historian/broadcaster Neil Brand.

“West” focuses on composer Elmer Bernstein as well as his music for Shootist. Brand provides good analysis.

Contemplating John Wayne adds another visual essay. It spans 22 minutes, 32 seconds and offers remarks from filmmaker/critic Scout Tafoya.

This visual essay examines the legacy of Wayne, with a contrast between the Hollywood icon and the real man – well, in theory, as much of the program instead acts for an appreciation of Wayne the actor. Some decent notes emerge but don’t expect a lot of depth.

Finally, The Legend Lives On provides an archival program. It fills 18 minutes, 26 seconds and features details from screenwriter Miles Hood Swarthout, producer’s son/entertainment executive Peter Frankovich, producer William Self, and actor Hugh O’Brian.

“Legend” covers the novel and its path to the screen, cast and production notes

In addition to the film’s trailer, an Image Gallery gives us 48 examples of promo shots and ads. It becomes an appealing compilation.

The trailer for The Shootist bills it as “perhaps the greatest Western of them all”. While it doesn’t live up to that status, it nonetheless gives us something well above average, buoyed by a surprisingly strong lead turn from John Wayne. The Blu-ray boasts very good picture, appropriate audio and an appealing array of bonus materials. The film delivers a satisfying effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 3
0 3:
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