The Shootist

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Synopsis

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

Legendary director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) directs the iconic John Wayne as an ageing gunfighter dying of cancer in his final screen appearance, a superb adaptation of Glendon Swarthout's classic western novel, The Shootist.

John Bernard Books is the stuff of legend, a renowned 'shootist' whose reputation looms large. But it's 1901, and like the old west, John is dying and a reputation like his draws trouble like an outhouse draws flies. As word spreads that the famous gunfighter is on his last legs, the vultures begin to gather; old enemies, the marshal, newspaper men, an undertaker, all eager to see him dead. Other men might die quietly in bed or take their own lives, but J. B. Books will choose his executioner and face down death with a pistol in each hand.

With an outstanding cast that features not only Wayne, but James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Scatman Crothers and John Carradine, The Shootist is an elegiac ode to a monumental screen presence and to the Western genre itself.

Picture 9/10

Arrow Video brings Don Siegel’s The Shootist to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 2K restoration performed by Arrow, taken from a 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative.

Arrow has done one hell of a job with this new restoration, with the film never looking anywhere near as good as it does here. The new scan has pulled out substantial detail, and the encoding does a spectacular job rendering it. Film grain looks clean and natural, giving the image a terrific film-like texture, and artifacts are never an issue. The film’s color scheme isn’t all that vast, limited chiefly to earth tones and such, but there are some brilliant pops of violet and red, like that cushion John Wayne’s J.B. Books carries around. Black levels are solid enough, though crush creeps into some of those darker scenes, which is probably baked into the elements and photography.

The restoration work has also been remarkable; outside of some slight fluctuations, the image is free of any heavy damage. It looks fantastic and is a significant upgrade from the dated DVD presentation.

Audio 7/10

The monaural soundtrack is presented in lossless single-channel PCM. It’s incredibly sharp and clear. The dynamic range is impressive, best tested by Elmer Bernstein’s score and the film’s gunshots, which reach decent highs without cracking. Dialogue sounds clear, and there is no distortion to speak of.

Extras 10/10

Considering the film ended up being John Wayne’s Swan Song, I was always surprised that Paramount never bothered with any special edition commemorating that, only releasing a standard DVD. Arrow corrects that by pulling together a terrific set of features, starting with a brand-new audio commentary featuring Howard S. Berger. The track concentrates on director Don Siegel and his approach to the film, Berger continually breaking down how scenes are constructed, from placement and movement of the camera to editing. He also talks about the production, including the possibly contentious relationship between Wayne and Siegel, issues around Wayne’s health that led to having to film the final shootout twice, and then the planning that went into that shootout, Berger quoting the director and others throughout. There are a few lengthy silent gaps, though it’s usually due to Berger allowing a scene to play out before commenting on it, and he impressively manages to avoid giving simple play-by-plays outside of when he references the construction.

It's a good track, though I was initially surprised at how little there was around the book, Wayne, and even Elmer Bernstein’s score (outside of a few stretches), and I have to wonder if that was by design to avoid repetition because the other video supplements end up taking on those subjects individually. C. Courtney Joyner’s 40-minute interview focuses on author Glendon Swarthout and his novel The Shootist, though not before giving an extensive run down on his other work and their respective film adaptations, including They Came to Cordura and Where the Boys Are (accompanied by their full theatrical trailers). This takes him into Siegel’s adaptation, addressing some changes and pointing out its many strengths. He even takes the opportunity to point out how Wayne publicly addressed his cancer diagnosis head-on, something considered a no-no in the industry at the time.

It’s a deep exploration of the novel, its author, and the film, yet impressively, there’s more to cover. David Cairns provides an excellent 28-minute video essay entitled The Last Day, focusing on Siegel’s career before offering further details about the film’s production, set design, violence, and Wayne’s collaboration with Siegel. This is followed by an interview with Neil Brand, who discusses Elmer Bernstein's score (for 26 minutes) in exhaustive detail, breaking down cues and admiring its avoidance of sentiment. Filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya then has the thankless task of Contemplating John Wayne through the modern lens with a 22-minute video essay, exploring his onscreen legacy and juxtaposing that with his abhorrent politics. I get a sense some fans of the actor will not take to this, wishing to ignore that part of the man (and this essay doesn’t sugarcoat that aspect, as it shouldn’t), but I thought this was well done. It takes a fair look at his work and performances before addressing how his frustrations with how the world around him was changing influenced the types of films he would make later in his career.

Arrow then ports over the 18-minute 2001 featurette The Shootist: The Legacy Lives On, created for Paramount’s DVD. Featuring interviews with the sons of the author and producer, as well as Hugh O’Brian (who worked for free!), it’s one of the better quickie making-ofs of the period, but it only skims the surface. Arrow’s new material is far better.

The disc then closes with the film’s 3-minute trailer and an image gallery featuring a handful of production photos alongside a wealth of posters and lobby cards from around the world. The limited edition then includes a booklet with Philip Kemp's essay examining the film’s growth in stature since its disappointing release, alongside a foldout poster (featuring the original art on one side, the new art on the other) and six postcard-size lobby card reproductions.

I was a little surprised Arrow went after this one (despite the one-two punch of Siegel and Wayne), but they've done it right, showing the film a tremendous amount of love through a superb set of academic supplements.

Closing

Arrow delivers a fantastic edition with wonderful features and a gorgeous new high-def presentation—a very easy recommendation.

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Directed by: Don Siegel
Year: 1976
Time: 100 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Licensor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 12 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and critic Howard S. Berger   The Last Day, a new visual essay by film critic David Cairns   A Man-Making Moment, a new interview with Western author C. Courtney Joyner   Laments of the West, a new appreciation of Elmer Bernstein's score by film historian and composer Neil Brand   Contemplating John Wayne: The Death of a Cowboy, a new visual essay by filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya   The Shootist: The Legend Lives On, archival featurette   Theatrical trailer   Image gallery   Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Juan Esteban Rodríguez   Six postcard-sized lobby card reproductions   Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing by film critic Philip Kemp