The Shootist (1976)

Film and Plot Synopsis

A dying gunfighter spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity.

‘The Shootist’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Shootist (1976) The date is January 22, 1901. Legendary gunfighter John Bernard “J.B.” Books is riding his way towards a booming Carson City, NV. Books immediately make his way to the office of Dr. E.W. “Doc” Hostetler, an experienced physician who helped Books survive gunshot wounds more than a decade earlier. Books, who has been experiencing crippling lower back pains of late, is seeking a second opinion from Dr. Hostetler. Hostetler diagnoses Books with terminal cancer and informs the gunslinger that he has only a couple of months to live, at most. The good doctor gives Books a bottle of laudanum and a fluffy red pillow to help ease the pain in his back. However, Books’ condition will continue to deteriorate and Hostetler warns his patient that a painful death from this form of cancer is not something Books will want to experience.

Hostetler tells Books that he should be able to find comfortable lodgings at a very respectable boarding house owned by Mrs. Bond Rogers, a widow, who owns the house with her young son, Gillom. Not wanting his gunslinger reputation to overshadow his time at the boarding house, Books attempts to hide his true identity from the widow. Unfortunately, Gillom and the local horse trader, Moses, find Books’ name engraved into his horse’s saddle. Gillom quickly informs his mother that Books is not “Wild” Bill Hickock, Books’ comical alias. Widow Rogers seeks the help of Carson City’s Marshal, Walter Thibido, to keep Books at bay. Books informs Thibido that he has a fatal form of cancer and promised to die in the near future. The Marshal informs Mrs. Rodgers that Books will soon be passing on, so the widow, knowing very well how death has affected her family, decides to help Books find grace and solace in his dying days.

Books’ stay in Carson City, along with his extraordinary diagnosis, spreads throughout the town. A sleazy, local news reporter, Dan Dopkins, wants to profit off of Books by documenting the gunslingers life and publishing a tell all report. The only problem, Dopkins has not respect for the truth and will create many of the facts as he goes along. The next day, Books encounters a rival of his by the name of Mike Sweeney. Sweeney wants revenge on Books for killing his brother Albert. Sweeney invites Books to visit his home on the outskirts of town, but Books knows it is a setup and declines the offer. Later that evening, two men, Shoop and Norton, attempt to assassinate Books in his sleep, but the former sheriff has cat-like instincts and is one step ahead of the criminals, killing them first. Unfortunately for Mrs. Rodgers, this deadly gunfight causes her other tenants to leave her home and lose out on the much needed rent income.

The next day, Serepta, Books’s former lover, shows up at the boarding house, seeking to tie the knot with Books. J.B. gets his former flame to confess that Dan Dobkins offered to pay for Books’ life story. This selfish witch cared about Books, and was sad that he was dying, but felt she should profit off of his legend since she would continue to live on this Earth, while Books was buried six feet under.

On January 27th, Books decides to start getting all of this affairs in order and meets with the local undertaker to order a tombstone. Knowing the undertaker will charge an admission to view J.B.’s dead corpse, Books gets $50 out of the undertaker all while setting up a funeral. After executing the two criminals, J.B. has a heart to heart with Gillom while teaching Gillom how to shoot a pistol. Books attempt to imprint his personal credo on Gilom by telling the lad, “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.”

Books sends Gillom to visit the three most violent men in Carson City and set up a meeting between them and Books for 11AM, on January 29, 1901, at the Metropole Saloon. The invitees are the previously mentioned Mike Sweeney, Jack Pulford, a Metropole Saloon Faro dealer and deadly sharpshooter, and Gillom’s dairyman boss, Jay Cobb. January 29 will be Books’ 58th birthday, so he plans to have a going away party with these men.

On January 29th, before going to the Metropole, Books gifts Gillom his horse, Ole Dollar, says goodbye to Mrs. Rodgers, sets his tombstone and remaining cash to the side for the widow, and hops onto a horse drawn trolley for the Metropole Saloon. Books arrives to find his three guests waiting for him at different tables throughout the saloon. J.B. mozies up to the bar and orders the “best in the house,” before toasting his three guests. The bartender walks out from behind the bar after giving Books his drink. A very agitated Cobb shoots at J.B first, which causes Books to dive behind the bar. Books tosses a whiskey bottle at Cobb, then guns down the milkman while he is distracted. However, Sweeney takes advantage of the exchange, wounding Books with a shot to the arm. A crafty Mike Sweeney picks up a table, uses it as a shield, and charges at Books. J.B. shoots directly into the table and kills Sweeney with a double round of bullets. Eagle eye Pulford then shoots Books, causing him to lose one of his two guns and drop to the floor behind the bar. Pulford tries to crawl his way to the end of the bar and surprise Books, but J.B. sees the Faro dealer’s reflection in a whiskey glass and prepares himself for a killshot. Books shoots Pulford in center of his forehead as Pulford peaks his way around the bar, ending the shootout with the trio. GIllom moves his way through a crowd of townsfolk who have surrounded the saloon and enters the bar. Just as Books spots the boy, Gillom screams to J.B. to look out. While Gillom tries to help his mentor, the Metropole’s bartender unloads both barrels of a double barreled shotgun into Books’ back, killing him. Gillom grabs one of Books’ guns from the floor, then immediately kills the bartender with the remaining rounds. Gillom realizes his is now a killer and the gun across the room. Books gives the lad a smile before dying from the gunshot wounds. Gillom places his coat over Books’ body, then walks past Dr. Hostetler as he head outside towards his concerned mother. The pair walks home through the town with heavy hearts and their live affected forever by “The Shootist,” Mr. J.B. Books.

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Paramount Pictures released The Shootist on July 21, 1976. Don Siegel directed the film starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, and Ron Howard.

User Rating: 2.8 ( 1 votes)
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