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There is a certain degree of irony associated with John Wayne's final film THE SHOOTIST ($30), in which the western star portrays a cowboy dying of cancer. At the time Wayne made THE SHOOTIST, he was already fighting his own battle with cancer, a fight that he lost within two years of the film’s production.

THE SHOOTIST is set at the end of the western era, at a time when civilization and technology have begun to sweep always the last vestiges of lawlessness in the west. The year is 1901, and for legendary shootist John Bernard Books (John Wayne), the world has already passed him and his kind by. When Books learns from Doctor Hostetler (James Stewart) that he has terminal cancer, he intends to live out his last few days in Carson City with quiet dignity. When the doctor points Books in the direction of a boarding house run by Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall), he takes a room under an assumed name. Unfortunately, the widow's son Gillom (Ron Howard) discovers Books' true identity, and his bragging about the gunfighter that he idolizes brings old enemies to the door of the boarding house. The cast of THE SHOOTIST also includes Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Bill McKinney, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Sheree North, Rick Lenz and Scatman Crothers.

As the legendary western star's swan song, THE SHOOTIST proves to be a poignant, character rich film that is still full of the macho bravado that the genre is noted for. John Wayne gives one of his very best and most introspective performances of his career, although the caliber of his performance in THE SHOOTIST may be directly related to the fact that he was living this particular role. While the movie absolutely belongs to the Duke, he is surrounded by a first rate supporting cast, all of who were attracted to this project because of their desire to work with Wayne. In fact, Hugh O'Brian offered to work on the film for free, so the producers actually beefed up his role, as to not waste his talent. Director Don Siegel stages the film incredibly well, especially the powerful and beautifully designed climax.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made THE SHOOTIST available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Considering that THE SHOOTIST is a modestly budgeted film from 1976, Paramount has produced a very nice looking transfer. The image is sharp and rather well defined, although it lacks the "snap" of newer productions. Colors have a dusty, somber western character, but are reasonably well saturated. Flesh tones seem a bit subdued, but not what one would call pale. There are no problems with chroma noise or smearing at any time during the presentation. Blacks appear accurate and shadow detail is quite respectable for an older production. The element used for the transfer displays minor blemishes at various times, and mild film grain creeps into the image from time to time. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from hiss and audible distortions. Dialogue is crisp, fully intelligible and the actors' voices maintain a sense of presence. Elmer Bernstein's music is reproduced with respectable fidelity- avoiding the shrill quality found in some other monaural soundtracks. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extras. A very nice extra is the new documentary The Shootist: The Legend Lives On, which was produced for this DVD release. The documentary takes a look back at the production and includes interviews with various surviving members of the production team, although the surviving cast members are not as well represented. A theatrical trailer is also included on the DVD.

John Wayne ended his career on a high note with THE SHOOTIST. It is a strong, character driven film that gave his fans one last chance to appreciate him. Paramount has produced a very solid presentation on DVD, making this disc that every fan will want to add to his or her collection.


The Shootist


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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