Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
John Books an aging gunfighter goes to see a doctor he knows for a second opinion after another doctor told him he has a cancer which is terminal. The doctor confirms what the other said. He says Books has a month maybe two left. He takes a room in the boarding house and the son of the woman who runs it recognizes him and tells his mother who he is. She doesn't like his kind but when he tells her of his condition, she empathizes. Her son wants him to teach him how to use a gun. Books tries to tell him that killing is not something he wants to live with. Books, not wanting to go through the agony of dying from cancer, tries to find a quicker way to go.Written by
I've never had much use for the swaggering, tough-as-nails `heroic' John Wayne. Perhaps that style of heroism was all one needed to get by in the old west', but even then, death was not an easy thing to face (I bet most gunslingers and sheriffs' boots were filled with liquid just moments before they bit the dust). Finally, here is a film that looks at what courage is really made up of: the ability to accept limitations, to accept change, to have humility, and to be able to say, `I'm afraid'. The Duke is dying of cancer, in reality and within the plot of this film. He is also a living myth in reality and within the plot of this film. That he chose to play out his swan song as a human legend instead of as a mythic one, must have taken a lot of courage. Imagine the Duke propped on a dainty red pillow upon his saddle! Imagine him showing all the physical signs of the wear and tear that illness and age have bestowed on him. Imagine him allowing us to hear the weakness of his infirm body slipping in the bathtub. Imagine his groans of agony. `Death is a very private thing', his character John Books says, but he is man enough to show us how to do it and do it with dignity, despite the fear. Just imagine The Duke admitting that he's afraid of the dark!
At the period in which this film is set, gunslingers or `shootists' were soon to go the way of the horse and buggy. The queen (Victoria) had just died. Electricity, modern plumbing, modern commerce, modern transportation, and creature comforts were beginning to take over (check out the electric ceiling fans and mosaic tiles in the saloon!). Forward to real life'. It is 1976. One by one, the mythic legends created by dime novels and Hollywood movies are being demystified. From Billy The Kid to Buffalo Bill, to Bonnie and Clyde, audiences have been shown for over decade how legends have always been manufactured. There are some who may see this demystification as a negative thing, but when people start adoring soldiers, celebrities and gangsters as something more than human, it's time to set the record straight. That's what all the best films of the seventies did. They broke the myths but they did not break the spirit, for what they did was let US, not the supermen on the screen, become the heroes. We could be afraid, old, young, ill, or weak, and we could feel pain and humiliation. In the process of confronting our limitations we become stronger. To be a stronger human being is to become civilized. Like this film shows us, we CAN reject the gun and join civilization. This film is John Wayne's gift to us. He is enabling us to grow up, to look at the past with respect, but to face the future with responsibility. His John Books is worth more to us than all his superheroes put together. We're all gonna die, we're all afraid, and pain is very, very real. It is in the process of surrendering to this fact with dignity and humility that we in a sense become immortal. To try to live as a superman is to die a fool. Only cowards (and very dangerous people) embrace myths over reality. That dainty red pillow has made The Duke sit very tall in his saddle indeed!
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