23 May 2007
Print The Legend
While in school, my son used to admit himself to the studios when no one at anything resembling a gate was looking and somehow managed to get himself put to work by the various laborers and technicians on the lots. He had a good time and often ended up in crowd scenes. There is even a fraction of a second in one of the Star Trek films where he can manage to point himself out even if it does take longer to say, "There I went" than he is on the screen.
One day coming home from his latest adventure he brought home a small reel of commercial film that has since gone walk about during one of our many moves. It was one of many editors copies that would have been tossed. What was significant is that it is the opening sequence of John Wayne's last film. The last movie he made before dying from cancer was The Shootist, a movie about an old gunfighter dying of cancer. What makes this opening significant is that no other actor could have made it. It is a sequence of a gunman aging through years while firing his gun. Every shot in it is John Wayne aging through films while firing his gun. The movie closes with a final shootout with many of the legendary "shootists" from motion pictures and television so that the whole film seems like the passing of an era. It is a movie about coming to terms with the past and the future.
James Stewart came out of semi-retirement to support his friend. Wayne and Stewart had appeared together before, in John Ford's 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It's a film lover's delight to see the two stars together again. In Liberty Valence, there is a line, "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. " With The Shootist as his final film, John Wayne proved to be as brave in life as he appeared on the screen.
This would have been John Wayne's 100th birthday. Much has been written about Wayne, his life, his career, his politics and his family. Some of it might have even had a grain of truth. None of it truly matters because this is the west and when legend become fact, print the legend:
The final shootout from "The Shootist"
The shootout from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence