Duke's Last Film Turns 40
“The Shootist” was released to movie theaters 40 years ago on July 19, 1976. He played the role of a gunfighter dying of cancer who spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity. Duke did lose one lung and a few ribs after having a bout with cancer back in 1964. Although he didn’t have any life threatening health problems at the time of this filming he seemed to be feeling his age. As did Jimmy Stewart who was only a year younger than Wayne at the time.
Since this was to be Duke’s last motion picture you may have seen a few special references during the film. First Stewart only did this film because Wayne personally asked him. Jimmy’s career had actually stopped several years before this film. Jimmy was having some hearing problems. At the beginning of the film when Ron Howard is describing J. B. Books legacy we see scenes from 4 of Duke’s previous films: Red River, Hondo, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado. A couple other items you may or may not have caught, when he sees Doc Hostetler/Jimmy Stewart in his office the first time Duke mentions that they hadn’t seen each other for 15 years, now that number is no coincidence. The inside joke is that Wayne and Stewart last worked together on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), nearly 15 years before. Another item is the part of Mrs. Rogers, played by Lauren Bacall. During the film she tells us her first name is “Bond”. This is also no coincidence as it was done as a tribute to Ward Bond who passed away in 1960 and was one of Wayne’s closest friends.
For many people this film is still very hard to watch these days. Those that were close to Duke back then knew his health was failing so it was a tough film to do. Last year we did a LIVE Q&A with Duke’s son Patrick Wayne on Facebook for Patrick’s birthday. One of the fans mentioned that he still missed Duke and that he felt that The Shootist was one of his best. Patrick responded: “I agree with you about The Shootist, for this reason, I couldn’t look at the film for ten years until after my father died. It was just too close to reality. But when I finally watched the film, I would have to say it was my father’s finest performance, purely as an actor. He was more vulnerable in this film than any prior film. And in my opinion, a better candidate for an Oscar than the Rooster Cogburn character in True Grit. Just my opinion.”
I’m sure many of us agree that Wayne should have received several Oscars, that True Grit was not his only award winning role. Personally I feel his roles in Sands of Iwo Jima, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, True Grit and The Shootist are all award winning roles. I’m sure all of you also have your favorites.
This film was released by Warner Bros. to DVD on July 24, 2001.
by MICHAEL WAACK