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Shootist poster

Release Date: 1976-08-11 (NY)

Genre: Western, Drama

Rating: PG

Duration: 1hr 39min


The movie begins with a clip montage of some of John Wayne's earlier western movies, depicting the life of the legendary "shootist" (gunfighter) John Bernard (J. B.) Books. The aging Books and the Old West are dying. Arriving in Carson City, Nevada on January 22, 1901, reading reports of the death of Great Britain's Queen Victoria in the newspaper, Books seeks a medical opinion from someone he trusts, E. W. "Doc" Hostetler (Jimmy Stewart). Hostetler confirms a Colorado doctor's prognosis of a painful and undignified death from cancer, so Books rents a room from the widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son Gillom (Ron Howard) to contemplate his fate. A distinctly nervous Marshal Walter Thibido (Harry Morgan) visits the house to order the notorious gunfighter to leave town. Books tells him about his terminal illness. The lawman is both relieved and elated, telling him, "Don't take too long to die." Books' presence in town becomes known. Old enemies and glory seekers are drawn to him. Mike Sweeney (Richard Boone) wants to avenge a brother's death. A newspaperman (Rick Lenz) wants to exaggerate and glorify the violence in Books' life. Others seek fame by killing the gunfighter, Books being forced to shoot two strangers who try to ambush him in his sleep. Gillom is impressed, but his mother loses boarders and is upset by the violence in her home. Old flame Serepta (Sheree North) shows up to ask Books to marry her. He is touched until he learns that she wants to use his notoriety to make money from the sensationalized ghost-written "memoirs" of his widow. After Doc Hostetler sells Books something to ease his pain and advises him not to die a death like he has described, Books bargains with someone who plans to profit from his death, the undertaker Hezekiah Beckum (John Carradine), from whom he orders a headstone with specific writings on it. Gillom tries to sell Books' horse to Moses (Scatman Crothers), the local blacksmith to help pay back his mother's loss of boarders, however, he gets a better deal and confronts Gillom and they work out their differences. Books sets himself up to die on his birthday rather than die of cancer and sends Gillom to three specific men, Mike Sweeney, Jack Pulford (Hugh O'Brian), a professional gambler and pistol shot, and Jay Cobb (Bill McKinney) (each one being unaware that Gillom told the others) with a message saying he will be at the Metropole saloon on January 29, his 58th birthday. On his birthday, the headstone he ordered arrives and shows 1843 as the year of his birth. Having made a gift of his horse, which he bought back, to Gillom as he has grown fond of him, Books says goodbye to Bond, whom he has gotten friendlier with and departs to meet his fate. In a changing frontier, Books arrives at the saloon by trolley and Sweeney in an Oldsmobile Curved Dash (which debuted in 1901). It is early in the day, so there are no other customers for the bartender besides the four men. Books orders a drink from the bartender, and lifts his glass to each of the three men who are there at his invitation. Suddenly, one by one, the men draw their guns and open fire, each taking on Books. In the ensuing shootout, Books kills all of his opponents but is shot twice himself. Gillom arrives after the gunfight to find Books wounded but still alive. The bartender sneaks up on Books and empties a shotgun into his back. Gillom picks up Books' gun and kills the bartender. Gillom looks at Books' gun in horror, then tosses it away. Books looks on, smiles, and dies.

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