The Shootist (1976) [Limited Edition from Arrow Video US] 

An older gunfighter finds his way to a town where he must make decisions regarding his own mortality and his legacy. 

Written by Glendon Swarthout, Miles Hood Swarthout, and Scott Hale, and directed by Don Siegel, The Shootist is the last film star John Wayne ever made, a film that can be seen as “just another film” but also a film that deals with mortality and legacy, something a famed actor could easily connect with while playing a famed gunfighter. The story here is one that is less about its own action sequences and thrills and one that is more about the humanity of the man at the center of it all and how those around him treat him as he ages and is seeing the end coming from himself. The writing here is very much old-school-western. There is something here that could only have been done with a solid star and an experienced director. The writing here is more to the style of the 1970s and Westerns, the direction works well with it, giving a well-done, well-crafted observation of life that applies to more than just gunfighters. 

The film here is all about the lead, all about John Wayne, who’s last film this is. Whether or not they knew it would be his last film while filming, the whole story revolves around his character here and Mr. Wayne does what he does best, he’s a charismatic, no-nonsense, talented actor. Of course, his style of acting would feel a bit out of place out here these days, but for his time period, the man was respected, and this film shows a culmination of his work as an actor. His work here fits the parts and gives the impression that, perhaps, the central themes of the film being about aging, death, and legacy, were hitting home for him. The rest of the cast seems to simply exist for his story, for his work to be surrounded by. That being said, they do good work here especially (but not surprisingly) Lauren Bacall and James Stewart who were pillars of acting for a reason. Also seen here is a super young Ron Howard, playing a kid Wayne’s character who ends up a bit of father figure of sorts to. His work is good here, showing that he had that spark for film early on. 

The cinematography here is lovely to watch, the framing and movements done by Bruce Surtees are on point here, giving the story the room it seems to just be and to be something beautiful to look at, particularly in some of outdoor scenes. The editing by Douglas Stewart works with the images captured quite well and the music by Elmer Bernstein highlights things just right. 

The Shootist is a solid Western with some deeper themes to its center, making the connection between the lead character and the lead actor strong given that the film is the last John Wayne ever did. The acting is solid here, the cinematography is nice, and the score works great.  

As for this new release of the film, the transfer is solid, looking crisp and clear as can be. The sound quality is as good as it can from the source material. When it comes to the extras here, the disc is fairly packed with something for everyone basically. As usual, the favorites here are the archival items, so here The Shootist: The Legend Lives On is a favorite feature along with Laments of the West, a feature all about the score. The visual essays are interesting, and the artwork looks quite good here.