Wednesday, March 28, 2018

John Wayne’s Last Picture Show: The Shootist (1976) (Video and Essay)



[Also at WEJB/NSU: “John Wayne in The Shootist (1976): Swan Song of a Giant”;

Part I: “John Wayne: ‘I believe in white supremacy…’ Wayne’s Famous, Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview, Uncut”;

“How Marion Michael Morrison Became Michael Burn, Duke Morrison and, Eventually, John Wayne; Part II of Wayne’s Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview”; and

“Part III of John Wayne’s Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview.”]

“Don’t Mess with John Wayne”: Secrets from The Shootist with Miles Swarthout

A Word on Westerns
Published on Aug 30, 2014

John Wayne's last movie, "The Shootist," was his first with celebrated director Don Siegel. There [sic] styles clashed! When Wayne got sick, Siegel shot around Duke. When he returned...egos clashed! What was the result? A classic! Hear what happened from screenwriter Miles Swarthout on A WORD ON WESTERNS.


N.S.: Wayne didn’t know that The Shootist would be his last rodeo, but it seems like he was the only one who didn’t know. (Excepting, that is, Elmer Bernstein who, except for the opening, phoned in his score.) A documentary on the making of the picture tells us that some old friends and acquaintances—e.g., the late Hugh O’Brian—offered to work on the picture for free.

The original script, by The Shootist author Glendon Swarthout’s son, Miles, was supposedly horrible, and had to be 86ed and done anew (by actor and dialogue coach Scott Hale?). However, Miles Swarthout came up with a brilliant idea for the movie’s opening.

I don’t know if Books’ famous speech is in the novel, but it is one of those fortunate parallels between art and life. It could have been John Wayne/Duke Morrison talking about himself.
“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.”
One of the reasons the picture was so grand was that in addition to Wayne giving one of his greatest performances, he insisted on the ending being completely changed. In the book and the initial screenplay, apparently, J.B. Books is still alive after being shot in the back in the saloon, and begs the boy (Ron Howard) to put him out of his misery. The boy obliges him.

Wayne reportedly insisted that no John Wayne character would ever die that way. Wayne prevailed, and the rest is history.

Another thing about that ending. You know when J.B. Books leaves the boardinghouse that morning (without his things, except for his omnipresent sidearms and a silly, little red pillow he stole from a bordello), he is going off to his death. His widowed, boardinghouse landlady (Lauren Bacall), who has gone from despising him to being sweet on him, knows that, when he says goodbye to her.

In retrospect, you note that his doctor (Jimmy Stewart) intimated how the story might end, but without spoiling it.

But Wayne plays Books as if he were enjoying a beautiful day, without a care in the world.

A lesser actor would have gone about his business grimly. But Wayne’s restraint and misdirection milked the scenario for every drop of emotional power. (For misdirection, think of how the dying Lou Gehrig pronounced himself, “The luckiest man on the face of the earth.”)

I’m not saying it was Wayne’s greatest performance. We can argue ‘til the cows come home whether that was in Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, The Quiet Man, True Grit, Wings of Eagles, or The Cowboys. (I’ve yet to see Hondo, Tall in the Saddle, or a few others.) But it was a towering performance, nonetheless, better than anyone else could have given, and as great as he could have done it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

“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.”

White supremacist. What else could it be?