The Shootist (Limited Edition) – Blu-ray Review

5 Stars John Wayne's swan song finally debuts on US Blu-ray
The Shootist Review

Today, The Shootist. By 1976, John Wayne had become not just synonymous with the Western genre, he was also one of the most recognized movie stars of the 20th Century. Around the same time, Don Siegel had firmly established himself as a go-to guy for directing action movies and had just completed both Charley Varrick (1973) and The Black Windmill (1974) for Universal Pictures. However, Wayne and Siegel would team up for the first and only time in the cinematic adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel The Shootist. Previously released on DVD by Paramount, Arrow Video has licensed the movie from the studio for its US Blu-ray debut.

The Shootist (1976)
Released: 21 Jul 1976
Rated: PG
Runtime: 100 min
Director: Don Siegel
Genre: Drama, Romance, Western
Cast: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard
Writer(s): Glendon Swarthout, Miles Hood Swarthout, Scott Hale
Plot: A dying gunfighter spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity.
IMDB rating: 7.6
MetaScore: 77

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Arrow Video
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 40 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Other
Case Type: Clear keep case with reversible cover and slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/12/2024
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 4.5/5

“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”

He started out as a lawman, but John Bernard “J.B.” Books (John Wayne) soon became one of the West’s most renowned and legendary “shootists” of the late 19th Century. However, by the time Books arrives in Carson City in January of 1901, he’s notified by Doc Hostetler (James Stewart) that he’s dying of terminal cancer. Hoping to spend the final days of his life in some comfort, he finds shelter in the boarding house run by widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son Gillom (Ron Howard). But when word of his reputation spreads like wildfire across Carson City, Books will have to confront his past while settling a score with three men with violent reputations in a final shootout on his birthday in the Metropole Saloon.

While it follows through the same well-worn paths that many Westerns took prior to this movie, The Shootist has an aura of special beauty surrounding it. In this cinematic translation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel, some of the story’s darker elements are jettisoned by screenwriters Miles Hood Swarthout (Glendon’s son) and Scott Hale in favor of John Wayne’s belief that Books should have a more dignified than dark end to his existence. Under Don Siegel’s direction, the film is elegiac in its pacing, mixing some gallows humor – courtesy of the town marshal (Harry Morgan) – and sentimentality to the proceedings to complement Bruce Surtees’ wonderful cinematography and period authentic (and Oscar-nominated) production design by Robert F. Boyle and Arthur Jeph Parker. However, the real plus here is not just Elmer Bernstein’s usual evocative and powerful music, but the great performances from the ensemble cast Wayne and Siegel assembled here. In the end, The Shootist is not just one of John Wayne’s best movies – and a fitting sendoff to a legend – but also one of the best Westerns of the 1970’s that functions as an ode to both the genre and star.

As mentioned, this movie contains John Wayne’s final performance on film – and one of his best overall – but the performances of the supporting cast should not be overlooked. Lauren Bacall – reuniting with Wayne after their last appearance together in Blood Alley (1955) – also has one of her best roles as Bond Rogers, the widow who strikes up a romance with the dying Books; as Gillom – Bond’s son who looks up to Books – Ron Howard also has one of his best roles as an actor before transferring full time to directing movies, starting that transition with Grand Theft Auto the year after this movie. In his third collaboration with Wayne (following The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance & How the West Was Won, despite not sharing any scenes in the latter), James Stewart lends poignancy to his part of Doc Hostetler, who informs Books that he’s running on borrowed time. As each of the three violent men whom Books “invites” to the Metropole for his birthday, Richard Boone, Hugh O’Brian and Bill McKinney each fit their parts to the tee as those who’ve crossed paths with the famous shootist; of the three actors, Boone (The Alamo, 1960) and O’Brian (In Harm’s Way, 1965) had previously worked with Wayne prior to this movie. Rounding out the ensemble cast here are Harry Morgan as the Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido, John Carradine as the undertaker, Sheree North as Books’ old flame, Rick Lenz as the reporter who tries – and fails – to get more details on Books’ past, Scatman Crothers as the blacksmith Moses, Gregg Palmer as the burly man who gets a bullet in his gut for trying to steal Books’ wallet at the beginning of the movie, Jonathan Goldsmith (later “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in Dos Equis ads) as one of the upstarts who fails to gun down Books, Dick Winslow as a streetcar driver, Melody Thomas Scott as the little girl on the streetcar and Charles G. Martin as the Metropole’s bartender; Johnny Crawford, Christopher George, Leo Gordon, Ricky Nelson and Bob Steele turn up in archive footage from Red River (1948), Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1967) representing Books’ past in the opening prologue.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer created from the original 35mm camera negative. Film grain structure, color palette (and gray scale in the opening prologue) and fine details are all presented faithfully with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses the previous Paramount DVD.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Elmer Bernstein’s music score are all presented faithfully with only minimal cases of distortion present like crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and easily surpasses the previous Paramount DVD.

Special Features: 5/5

Commentary by critic/filmmaker/film historian Howard S. Berger – Recorded for this release, Berger goes into great detail about the film’s production and differences between the film and the novel.

The Last Day (28:26) – Film critic David Cairns goes deep into the themes of the movie in this brand new visual essay.

A Man Making Moment (40:27) – In this new and extensive interview, Western author, screenwriter and film historian C. Courtney Joyner looks at the converging paths that Glendon Swarthout, John Wayne and Don Siegel took that led them here to this film.

Laments of the West (26:30) – Film historian, broadcaster and composer Neil Brand shares his appreciation of Elmer Bernstein’s music for the movie in this brand new featurette.

Contemplating John Wayne: The Death of a Cowboy (22:32) – Filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya examines the complex nature of the famed star in this brand new visual essay.

The Shootist: The Legend Lives On (18:26) – Carried over from the 2001 Paramount DVD, the retrospective making-of featurette that looks back on how the film came together; featuring interviews with producer William Self, actor Hugh O’Brian, co-screenwriter Miles Hood Swarthout (son of author Glendon Swarthout) and Peter Frankovich (son of producer M.J. Frankovich).

Image Gallery (48 stills)

Theatrical Trailer (3:19)

6 postcard sized lobby card reproductions

Double sided foldout poster featuring the original Richard Amsel artwork and newly commissioned artwork Juan Esteban Rodríguez

Booklet feat. an essay by film critic Philip Kemp

Overall: 5/5

A modest box office success and garnering critical acclaim, The Shootist serves as a fitting coda to John Wayne’s career and one of director Don Siegel’s best films overall. Arrow Video has likely delivered the definitive home video release of the movie, with a stellar HD transfer and a terrific slate of special features and additional goodies in this Limited Edition release. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous DVD release.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Peter Apruzzese

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Thank you for the review, looking forward to getting mine tomorrow.

John Carradine also worked with John Wayne previously in Stagecoach.
 

Robin9

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Thank you for this review of a film I admire as well as like. I'm puzzled by one thing. If there are "scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer" then there is scope for improvement, so how can we be certain that " This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video?"
 

Josh Steinberg

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Probably because it’s extremely unlikely that any of these titles will be remastered again.
 

Lee Sandersen

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One of the two movies I can think of where The Duke dies. This and the Cowboys. Anyone think of any others? I miss ya John Boy! Despite some of your personal life drama, your movies were the best.
 

Robert Crawford

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One of the two movies I can think of where The Duke dies. This and the Cowboys. Anyone think of any others? I miss ya John Boy! Despite some of your personal life drama, your movies were the best.
Sands of Iwo Jima and The Fighting Seabees. Also Wake of the Red Witch and Reap the Wild Wind.
 
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