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
There's no point in repeating what other viewers have mentioned about the poignancy of Wayne's own losing battle with cancer while making this film. It's clear from the casting that, even before the Duke's condition was known, the producers and director were casting icons of film (Jimmy Stewart) and TV (Richard Boone, Paladin in "Have Gun, Will Travel" and Hugh O'Brian, the lead in "Wyatt Earp") westerns, as well as just fine, older actors (Lauren Bacall [not so old, really, when this was made], John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Harry Morgan).
More than anything else, this film is about respect: the flawed code of honor that has led Books to kill so many men over honor, respect for the old, respect for the wishes of the dying. An unusual focus for an American film, to say the least.
Finally, I have to say a word for Richard Boone's performance: it's amazing. In a few words and bizarre gestures, he creates a character who has lived for revenge for years, and been terribly twisted by it, while remaining of this world enough to advance to motor cars --- and be hilarious at the same time! This, and his voicing of Smaug in the animated "Hobbit," are brilliant pieces of character acting late in his life.
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