Today’s post is for the great James Stewart Blogathon. Hosted by an excellent blog that I enjoy reading, Classic Film and TV Cafe. Be sure to click on the provided link to read other bloggers’ posts about Jimmy Stewart and his various acting roles. When I saw that Classic Film and TV Cafe was going to host this blogathon, I thought for a while as to which role of Stewart’s to write about. I decided on The Shootist, a movie that came in the latter days of Stewart’s movie acting. The Shootist, originally a novel written by Glendon Swarthout and published in 1975, was sought out by Paramount Pictures and Dino De Laurentiis Company to be made into a movie. The author’s son, Miles, and Scott Hale wrote the screenplay. Don Siegel was tapped to direct. The movie’s plot is about an aging gunfighter, John Bernard, J.B. Books, who learns he has cancer. He also learns that despite liking this new town of Carson City, Nevada to live in, he only has 2 months at the most before the cancer will kill him. Word gets out that the famous Shootist, Books, is in Carson City and old foes and friends appear, all wanting to cash in on the fame that surrounds this dying gunman or to just get final revenge. It is Books’ dilemma, how to die with dignity amidst the turmoil that is happening around him due to these malcontents and fortune-seekers who are looking for him in Carson City.
Who better to portray the aging gunslinger than John Wayne, the most famous of Western heroes in film? In 1964, Wayne had surgery to remove a cancerous lung. Now, in 1976, when The Shootist was made, it would become an ironic fact that Wayne would act the part of the dying gunslinger, and he himself would also die of cancer in 1979. Wayne had to lobby for the role of J.B. Books since the producers originally wanted George C. Scott! Wayne did get the part and then proceeded to request that former cast members of other films he had made be cast in this film. He specifically requested James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, and John Carradine.
James Stewart, by the 1960’s, was taking on more paternalistic roles. He had played opposite Wayne in another great Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, released in 1962. Although the two actors didn’t run around in the same circle of friends, they both admired each other’s abilities in conveying characters on screen and had a great respect for one another. Stewart, in The Shootist, plays Dr. Hostetler who J. B. Books makes an appointment with in order to get a second opinion about his back pains. The clip of that scene can be viewed here. It is a warm and friendly scene of two old aquaintances re-meeting one another again. Then the cold, factual Medical Man emerges as Dr. Hostetler gives Books the bad news: the back pains are a symptom of cancer. Then there is more bad news, that Books only has 2 more months to live. The doctor tells Books that when it’s time, medicines can be given to him to help ease the pain.
Stewart’s voice is still strong in this film, not quavery as one might expect with an aged actor. The hair is white, the movements of his body as he walks across a room or sits in a chair are slower than that of a younger man, but it doesn’t distract one iota from his role as Dr. Hostetler.
The Shootist is a great ensemble piece. All of the cast brought their A-Game to this movie. Lauren Bacall is Mrs. Bond Rogers, the widowed landlady who rents a room to Books. She tells him that she doesn’t abide with guns, and yet there is a growing fondness between her and Books. Ron Howard(former child actor, teen actor, and now movie director) plays Gillom Rogers, son of the landlady. He looks up to Books because he is a famous gunslinger and Books becomes a mentor/father figure for Gillom. Richard Boone is Mike Sweeney, out to kill Books in order to get revenge for a brother’s death. Hugh O’Brien is Jack Pulford, a gambler and keen shot who wouldn’t mind taking Books down in order to promote himself. Sheree North is an old flame, Serepta, who shows up hoping to get Books to marry her so later she can have a book written by a ghost writer about her life with Books and make money off of his notoriety and death. John Carradine is Carson City’s undertaker Hezekiah Beckem and he pesters Books about having a headstone made. Scatman Crothers is Moses Brown, the livery worker who cares for Books’s horse. Richard Lenz is Dan Dobkins the local newspaper reporter, wanting to write sensationalized versions of Books’s killings. Harry Morgan is Marshall Thibido, who is anxious to have Books leave Carson City.
The Shootist is available via Amazon to either buy or view through Instant Rent. It is also available through TCM’s Shop. To close out my post, here are a few more shots of John Wayne and James Stewart, from The Shootist.