Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Lauren Bacall blogathon: The Shootist (1976)


Lauren Bacall
(1924 - 2014)

The Lauren Bacall blogathon is hosted by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and runs from September 14 - 16.  Here is the spot you want to be for all the contributions.



Lauren Bacall became a movie star at the age of 19 in her first film role in Howard Hawks To Have and Have Not.  She also became half of a legendary romantic couple/movie team working with first husband Humphrey Bogart in that film.  By 1970 the once widowed and once divorced (from Jason Robards), mother of three began a career of wining Tonys.  Her first award coming for the role of Margo Channing in the Broadway musical version of All About Eve entitled Applause.  In the 80s she would win for the role of Tess Harding in the musical play based on the film Woman of the Year.



Ms. Bacall's films in the 1970s number exactly two.  First in 1974 was the oppulent and multi-Oscar nominated Murder on the Orient Express featuring an all-star cast in the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot story.  In 1976 Lauren Bacall was top-billed with John Wayne in The Shootist, a minimalist character study western which would prove to be Wayne's final screen performance.  The pair had worked together previously in the 1955 adventure film Blood Alley.  It is the film Duke was hawking in his well-remembered guest spots on I Love Lucy.

The Shootist, based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout and directed by Don Siegel, tells the story of the last week in the life of a notorious gunman named J.B. Books (John Wayne).  Books attends a trusted physician in Carson City (James Stewart) to have his cancer diagnosis confirmed.  Estimating a two month remaining life span that will end with wretched pain, Books obtains lodging at a boarding house run by the recently widowed Mrs. Rogers (Lauren Bacall).  Mrs. Rogers son Gillon (Ron Howard) is a youth looking for his way in life who idolizes the famous shootist suddenly in their midst.

Books is advised by Dr. Hostetler that were he a man of courage facing the ravages of cancer that he would seek another ending.  Books sets about putting his affairs in order and arranging a showdown with three villains (Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Bill McKinney) who fancy themselves gunmen of the first order.  In this way Books plans to end their reign of terror and his own life.  

During his final week Books encounters and deals with an ambitious news reporter (Richard Lenz), a two-faced ex-lover (Sheree North), a boorish town Marshall (Harry Morgan), a rascally undertaker (John Carradine) and a fellow haggler (Scatman Crothers).



J.B. Books:  "Bond!  That's a cracker-jack name for a woman."

The most important of these relationships is the one between John Bernard Books and Bond Rogers.  In their few days together, their sparse conversations are mostly terse and antagonistic.  She resent the emotions stirred up by this dying man.  He seeks understanding from someone he instinctively respects.  Such an understanding is reached between the two characters through a series of events.  There is a violent attack on J.B. Books in which his instinct for survival prevails, and his determination to end things his way.  A buggy ride to enjoy scenery brings an ease to the two prickly personalities.  Bond assists John Books as his health begins to fail.  They share a brief interlude of Gilbert and Sullivan.  They accept each other.  They like each other.

J.B. Books:  "Damn!"
Mrs. Rogers:  John Bernard, you swear too much.
J.B. Books:  The hell I do.

The final scene between the two characters is masterfully handled by the veteran performers.  John Bernard Books sets out to meet his destiny after informing Mrs. Rogers that on this, the occasion of his birthday, he plans to attend a saloon for a celebratory drink,  She remarks on the unusually pleasant day for his outing and wishes him the best.  He says good-bye and she watches his retreat through the window with knowledge and concern in her eyes.



What follows is an exciting choreographed shootout with a satisfactory emotional tag, but at this point we feel we have seen the true ending of the film with the good-bye between John Bernard Books and Bond Rogers.


17 comments:

  1. Bacall's take on Margo Channing must've been pretty different than Bette's. And not just because of the singing.

    Did the Duke know that this was gonna be his last film? From the plot, this sounds like it reflected his own life in a way.

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    1. Wayne had planned more films. He wanted to work again with Ron Howard on a project called, I believe, "Beau James". While not in the best of health during the making of "The Shootist", his cancer had yet to recur. The disease is a formidable foe.

      I think "Applause" was filmed for television (maybe PBS), but I've never seen it with Lauren Bacall. There may be a cast album out there. To win the Tony she must have impressed a lot of people.

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    2. Hi Caftan Woman. You picked a good movie to write about. I went to see it in the theater on the first run. Lauren Bacall's expression as she watched him walk away was worth the price of admission. Good essay.

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    3. Thanks, Joe. Like you, I first saw "The Shootist" at the theatre, Going through some ancient scrapbooks I found I still have the ad from the newspaper and it is only slightly yellowed.

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  2. I love Lauren Bacall's performance in this film, especially that scene where she watches John Wayne leave for the last time. I always wished she had more scenes in this film, but we'll take what we can get.

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    1. Lauren Bacall brings so much to the part that it feels like she is in more scenes. We really feel we know this woman.

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  3. This is a great example of a mature western. Wayne gives one of his best performances. I too saw this when it first was released.

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    1. I agree with your assessment of the movie. Such an interesting and fitting bookend to Duke's early western programmers, both in terms of the genre and of a career.

      Funny how these movies are getting older, but we stay the same.

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  4. This must be a fascinating movie. The plot is already great, and it may have a deeper atmospher, considering it is John Wayne's swan song. I only saw Rooster Cogburn from his later years, but senior Wayne hasn't lost his power!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I think there is a lot in the movie that you would appreciate, particularly the performances.

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  5. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon with such a superb article. I love this movie. Very well done.

    Here's my contribution for the blogathon. Hope you like it. The link is below

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/lauren-bacall-a-family-remembrance-2/

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  6. You are very welcome. Thank you for hosting the blogathon. I read many interesting things and enjoyed the opportunity to write about "The Shootist".

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  7. As usual, another great write up. The Shootist was certainly was a well cast movie from Ron Howard to John wayne to L. Bacall. Even Richard Boone shows up and shines. Its a somewhat sad movie since we know Wayne wasn't really 'Acting' about having cancer. Still, one of my favorite Duke movies.

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    1. I know from personal experience that even when you "beat" cancer, there is always the lingering thought that someday you will have to face that battle again. John Wayne as an actor and a cancer fighter continues to be inspiring.

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    2. I agree Miss Paddy. He didn't let "the Big C" get him down. I remember people used to make fun of Wayne's manner of speaking in the 70s but that was because he had 1/2 a lung taken out. He often had oxygen available on the set when a lot of physical activity was required.

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  8. Loved reading this review - not sure why I've never got around to watching this one... perhaps it's because it's A WESTERN. One day I'll learn that my preconceptions mean I miss out on a share of wonderful movies.

    Aside: I can completely see Bacall playing a version of Margo Channing. That would've been quite a show!

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    1. Someday you'll turn into the biggest western convert ever!

      Those Broadway musicals of Bacall's intrigue me. I've seen local productions of "Applause", but to imagine her as Margo is delicious.

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