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Shootist, The (DVD)
About ten minutes into The Shootist, Doctor Hostetler (James Stewart) te lls aging western gunfighter John Bernard Books (John Wayne) "You have a cancer." Knowing that his death will be painful and lingering, Books i s determined to be shot in the line of "duty". In his remaining two mon ths, Books settles scores with old enemies, including gambler Pulford (H ugh O'Brian) and Marshall Thibido (Har ry Morgan) and reaches out to new friends (including feisty widow Lauren Bacall and her hero-worshipping son Ron Howard). In the end , is shot to death, but in so doing he is ab le to dissuade another from following his blood-stained example. Through out the film, Bo ok's imminent demise is compared with the decline of th e west, as represented by the automobiles and streetcars that have begun to b light the main street of Wayne's home town. It is unknown if John Wayne was aware that he was dying of cancer when he agreed to film The Shootist; whatever the case, the film is a powerful valedictory to a rem arkable man and a fabulous career.]]>
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I would recommend this movie strongly on the basis of its screen writing, the remarkably penetrating analysis of the characters by the actors, and its (easily misunderstood) concepts of personal responsibility and constructive pride. The fact that it involves guns has little to do with the story, although some might somehow see the entire movie as a pro-gun presentation. The story could just as easily happen to any other category of athlete, and - if one examines the spectrum of cinema - it has. But this particular story-telling spans the dimensions of healthy pride, courage, and responsibility very well.
I try and view films as complete works in and of themselves, and avoid any real life matters tied to the movie. For example, why should I care if two actors were catty to one another, if the director was able to channel that well into the final performance? Yet there's no avoiding the ties both Books and Wayne had, or the sadness it instilled in me, watching the movie come to its conclusion. A man's life, his career, a film genre, and a period of American history seemed to flow together and connect for me. While I do not share Mr. Books view on suffering a painful, slow demise, I can understand why a character such as he made his choice concerning it. That's what matters when it comes to a good drama, after all.
Just watch the movie and put it in context with what was going on in Mr. Waynes life when this movie was shot. He filmed it with great difficulty having to take breaks to intake oxygen as his lung cancer had returned. Even the rather liberal Ron Howard remains astounded at the character and work ethic of the great American icon John Wayne as should we all. Great man and I am honored to have lived during his lifetime.
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