John Wayne's last movie (he was already dying of cancer when he filmed it), 1976's The Shootist is a tragically underrated western.

Wayne plays J.B. Books, an aging gunfighter who knows he is sick and comes to some town to die peaceably. As character background, old John Wayne footage opens the film--a montage of scenes of him shooting people from way back when. We the viewers get the impression that the character has always been a "shoot now think later" type, but also that he's charismatic and justified.

But now, it's 1901, and Sheriff Thibido (Harry Morgan), is sure to let Books know that, "When you die, what I do on your grave won't pass for flowers." Morgan's portrayal of the mean, happy sheriff--happy because a major troublemaker is soon going to be pushing up the daisies--is good, and sheds light on the "modern" attitude about the out-of-his-element Books. Books is not without his powers, though--especially in one scene where he snatches a newspaper out from under a loaded pistol fast enough to let the sheriff know that he could have grabbed the pistol and fired, if he wanted to.

The other big role in the film is the local doctor, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart. He's the one who diagnoses Books with stomach cancer and tells him, basically, that it's a horrible way to die and that if he can figure out a better one, he ought to do it. Well, Books, of course, has a gunfighter reputation and can easily get himself shot by walking around town. Meantime, he'll take the doc's laudanum and get into relationships with the widow he's boarding with (Lauren Becall) and her son (Ron Howard). Scatman Crothers is also in there as a horse groomer, with wisdom and experience to offer.

An excellent western and film in general, the Duke's swan song ought not to be overlooked. Check it out if you're interested in any of the actors, or the Old West, or the tradition of film it's inspired.

"It's not 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--and I won't."--J.B. Books on gunfighting.

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