top of page
  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Shootist Blu-ray Review

Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: March 12, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 99:04

Director: Don Siegel

It's 1901 and, like the old west, J.B. Books (John Wayne) is dying. 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. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following decades as a dominant B-movie and serial genre of choice, American westerns were often relegated to television during the 1950s, matured into revisionist narratives and prestige Hollywood epics, briefly flourished in Europe, and became counterculture fodder during the ‘60s and early ‘70s. So bright was John Wayne’s star that he survived almost every genre mutation and cultural change thrown his way. His brand of conservative cowboy definitely looked stale in the age of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but there was still value in the nostalgia mined from that persona.

The Oscar he won for Henry Hathaway’s True Grit (1969) gave his career one final boost, leading to a victory lap of pleasantly mediocre westerns, including career-capping films from genre giants George Sherman and Howard Hawks (Big Jake [1971] and Rio Lobo [1970], respectively), and John Sturges’ penultimate feature (not a western), McQ (1974). Wayne’s final film was, appropriately, a celebration of his career (including footage from across his filmography playing over the opening credits), the careers of his friends and colleagues, and the very history of the Hollywood western. It was called The Shootist (1976) and, while it was steeped in bittersweetness, it approached the end of the Wild West without the violence and cynicism of the era’s revisionist westerns. 

The Shootist was directed by Don Siegel, a filmmaker who bridged the classic Hollywood era of Hawks & Ford to the New Hollywood and spaghetti eras of Peckinpah and Leone. His career had recently been revitalized by Dirty Harry (1971), which had also given star Clint Eastwood a second lease and marketable character type. Wayne had reportedly turned the role of Dirty Harry down and had twice attempted to kickstart his own Harry-esque character with McQ and Douglas Hickox’s Brannigan the year prior to The Shootist (in 1975), so it makes sense that he would go straight to the source. For his part, Siegel keeps things relatively simple, letting the actors, locations, and handsome production design do the heavy-lifting, at least up until the shootout climax.

Even viewed through the rosiest nostalgia glasses, The Shootist is pretty rusty, at least compared to Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man (1970), Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue (1970), or Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), but it’s closer in spirit of melancholic revisionism than Wayne’s other end of life westerns, aside from maybe Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys (1972), which embraces the gritty violence that partially defines those films. Fortunately, the anachronism is partially the point. This is the movie Wayne wanted to make and he did it to the best of his ability. He was in charge of most aspects of the production, including casting and the script (including changes to Glendon Swarthout's 1975 source novel). He also made it knowing that he was probably going to die soon, which is reflected in the plot. The film’s real value is as a send-off to a career so monumental that it also represents the culmination of multiple filmmaking eras. It doesn’t have to be as good as everything it was made to evoke. 

The Shootist’s cast was stacked with genre royalty beyond just Wayne. It reunited The Duke with James Stewart, his co-star from Henry Hathaway’s How the West Was Won (1962) and John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (also 1962 – the best western either actor ever made). It would’ve also been his final western, had he not finished his own career off with a voice role in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Additionally, supporting cast members Richard Boone and Hugh O’Brian had headlined popular western television series Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-1963) and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961), respectively, Bill McKinney had worked with Clint Eastwood on The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Harry Morgan had roles in early revisionist westerns, including William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952, a film that Wayne notably hated and trashed in the press), and Anthony Mann’s Bend of the River (1952) and The Far Country (1955), both alongside Stewart. Surprisingly, The Shootist was only Lauren Bacall’s second western, following Michael Curtiz’ Bright Leaf in 1950.


Paramount has put out The Shootist on DVD on multiple occasions, but only had physical Blu-ray releases in France (via Sidonis Calysta), Germany (via Pidax), and Japan (via Maxam) all between 2017 and 2018. Stateside fans had to settle for a DVD or import a BD. Arrow’s new BD debut is, according to specs, not the HD transfer used for the older BDs and streaming versions of the film, but rather a new 2K remaster of the original 35mm camera negative, supervised in-house. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer shows its age at times, but is largely impressive in terms of detail, clarity, and its natural filmic look. Grain and fine textures have a hint of machine noise on occasion, but are otherwise crisp without compression or oversharpening artifacts. Color quality is especially vivid and eclectic, bordering on an almost candied quality in some scenes, due to the warmth of neutral tones and pop of primary elements. Contrast levels are decent and darker sequences don’t appear muddy.


The Shootist is presented in its original mono sound in uncompressed LPCM. It’s a nice, clean mix across the board – the kind you’d expect from a major studio picture in the late ‘70s. Sometimes, the dialogue dips a bit low, but this is usually due to aged actors mumbling through their lines, not the original sound crew or folks behind the remaster not doing their job. With some exceptions, all-star composer Elmer Bernstein goes full Magnificent Seven mode for his driving, easily hummable score, which dominates any scene that includes it. There aren’t any notable issues with distortion or compression throughout.


  • Commentary with Howard S. Berger – The filmmaker and film historian (not the KNBFX guy) largely explores the making of the film as a Don Siegel fan and from within the context of the director’s wider career, though, obviously, not without delving into the careers of the rest of the cast & crew, the pervasive themes of western revisionism and exploitation of western icons, and connections to classic westerns.

  • The Last Day (28:26, HD) – A new visual essay by filmmaker and Shadowplay critic David Cairns discusses the roots of Glendon Swarthout’s novel, Siegel’s career from editing to lead directing, the director’s wider career and style, Wayne’s vanity and difficult collaboration with Siegel (compared to collaborations with Ford and Hawks), The Shootist’s place in the ‘60s/’70s revisionist canon, contemporary reviews, and the end of both Siegel and Wayne’s careers.

  • A Man-Making Moment (40:27, HD) – Western author and B-movie director C. Courtney Joyner looks back at Swarthout’s writings and adaptations of his work – including Robert Rossen’s They Came to Cordura (1959), Henry Levin’s Where the Boys Are (1960), Stanley Kramer’s Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971), Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman (2014) – and Swarthout’s son Miles’ screenplay adaptation of The Shootist, much of which was changed at the insistence of Wayne. It features a nice collection of trailer clips and archival photos of the author.

  • Laments of the West (28:30, HD) – Film historian and composer Neil Brand explores Elmer Bernstein's The Shootist score piece by piece, its purpose as Hollywood western nostalgia, and connections to the composer’s other work.

  • Contemplating John Wayne: The Death of a Cowboy (22:32, HD) – A new visual essay by critic, filmmaker, and author of Cinemaphagy: On The Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper (Miniver Press, 2021) Scout Tafoya, who delves into the duality of Wayne’s legacy as an important Hollywood personality and controversial political figure. Following a preamble, Tafoya focuses largely on Wayne’s relationship with John Ford and the labored making of The Shootist.

  • The Shootist: The Legend Lives On (18:26, SD) –  An archival DVD featurette.

  • Trailer

  • Image gallery

The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.



bottom of page