It’s fitting that John Wayne would have two excellent westerns to act as bookends for his 40 years as a Hollywood legend. Monday, March 22nd, Turner Classic Movies will present Wayne’s final screen appearance, “The Shootist” (1976) at 9 pm, followed at 11 pm by “Stagecoach” (1939), the film that made the “Duke” a star. Appearing with Wayne in “The Shootist” are Lauren Bacall Ron Howard, and James Stewart, while “Stagecoach” features Claire Trevor and George Bancroft.
“The Shootist” centers around J.B. Books (Wayne), an aging gunfighter who arrives in Carson City seeking the medical opinion of Doc Hostetler (Stewart). Advised that he is dying, Books rents a room from a widow (Bacall) and tries to put all of his affairs in order. As he befriends the widow and her young son (Howard), Books’ presence begins to attract both enemies with scores to settle as well as gunmen seeking fame. Before long, it becomes apparent that Books will probably not be dying in a bed. The opening sequence in “The Shootist” is a clip montage of earlier John Wayne films, meant as a flashback of Books’ life.
In “Stagecoach,” a mixed bag of passengers on a stage bound for Lordsburg are joined midway by a fugitive called the Ringo Kid (Wayne) whose horse has gone lame, forcing him to hitch a ride. Riding shotgun on the stagecoach is Marshal Curly Wilcox (Bancroft), a friend of Ringo’s, who reluctantly places him into custody. As all of the stage’s riders soon learn, reaching Lordsburg will not be easy, as the Apaches are on the warpath.
Although John Wayne and director John Ford had been friends for a number of years, prior to “Stagecoach” Ford had never included Wayne in any of his projects, allowing the Duke to languish in low budget films throughout the 1930’s. After “Stagecoach” became a huge success, Ford directed Wayne in over 20 additional pictures, including “Fort Apache,” “The Quiet Man” and “The Searchers.” Aside from establishing John Wayne as a star, “Stagecoach” is credited with putting big budgeted Hollywood westerns back in style. “Stagecoach” received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won twice, for Best Music Scoring and Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell).