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The Shootist
Force Entertainment/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . PG . PAL

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Unanimously praised by critics as perhaps John Wayne’s finest film, 1976’s The Shootist proved to be not only a befitting epitaph for an astonishingly prolific career spanning fifty years and over 200 films, but also eerily prophetic. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout and not intended to be interpreted as a direct parallel to Wayne himself, The Shootist seemed to mimic aspects of Wayne’s life and foreshadow his death.

Director Don Siegal’s film features a proud, determined man who is engaged in a silent battle with his most fearsome adversary, cancer. In what was perhaps the ultimate irony, Wayne was diagnosed with the condition just weeks after filming commenced.

In his last and often poignant role, John Wayne is John Bernard Books, an aging gunfighter whose prowess has earned him an almost mythical reputation. In his sixties and in frail condition, Books returns to the small frontier township of Carson City, Nevada to seek the consultation of his old friend, Doctor E. W. Hostetler (James Stewart), after developing a persistent pain in his lower back which is causing him great discomfort.

After a thorough examination, Hostetler informs Books that he has terminal stomach cancer, in a state so advanced that he has a life expectancy of no more than two months. In an effort to escape his dubious celebrity and die peacefully, Books takes residence in a boarding house operated by a reclusive widow, Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall). Her son, Gillom (Ron Howard in a role which saw him nominated for a Golden Globe Award), is fascinated by the stranger’s mystique, and soon forms a tentative relationship with him.

Tormented with intense pain as his condition deteriorates, Books formulates a plan to die with dignity.

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The Shootist is presented in an 1.33:1 screen aspect ratio, and is significantly cropped from its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. Needless to say, this is nothing short of a travesty. Although the film maintains a minimalist approach and, therefore, does not appear to suffer too greatly, The Shootist’s climactic shootout feels somewhat compressed - almost to a degree where it seems claustrophobic.

Sharpness is variable; foreground details are quite clean and well-defined, while objects regulated to the mid and backgrounds are often soft and appear to lack true definition. Grain is clearly visible throughout the film, however, it is not too intrusive. Moiré is present in a few instances, usually seen affecting tweed jackets, and aliasing is periodically detectable. None of this, though, is of major concern.

Due to the film's anaemic colour palette - the result of perhaps a deliberate artistic decision - there is no evident colour-bleeding or oversaturation.

There is a considerable amount of film artefacts, consisting mostly of minute black and white dots, which are the result of dirt and other particles. Within the video stream, there are several moments where artefacts were detected, appearing as linear strips across the screen - most notably two minutes and twenty-nine seconds into the film, and again at fifteen minutes and thirty-four seconds. Although they are not distracting, these are somewhat disconcerting.

MPEG artefacts are at a minimum; however, there is a particularly bad moment occurring at nine minutes and eight seconds as Stewart informs Wayne of his terminal condition. In this pivotal scene, the screen is inundated with brightly-coloured pixels which lasts for no more than a second. Fortunately, it does not manifest itself throughout the rest of the film.

There is only one audio track selection, that of the English Dolby Digital 1.0. Dialogue is clear and very easy to understand; sound, too, is quite distinct. There seemed to be no evidence of sound drop-out or any other anomalies.

The DVD extras consist solely of a twenty-seven page biography of the cast and crew, and is quite comprehensive.

The Shootist is an intelligent and emotive film that, without Siegal’s capable hand and the honourable integrity of its cast, could have easily slipped into turgid melodrama. Siegal’s direction is solid and functional, allowing the film’s characters to have total reign over the film. Despite its seemingly bleak storyline, The Shootist is an ultimately uplifting experience, buoyed by excellent performances - and marred only by an undeserved transfer.


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  •   And I quote...
    "...One of John Wayne’s most personal films and a classic from the man who defined the modern western. However, the transfer is completely undeserved... "
    - Shaun Bennett
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          Panasonic SC-HT80
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          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
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