Sunday, December 12, 2004

"The Shootist". I recently shared with some of the family my recent interest in handguns. (I will not post what pushed me in this direction.) In connection with this latest of my various enthusiasms, I read a very interesting book called "The Concealed Handgun Manual - How to Choose, Carry, and Shoot a Gun in Self Defense", by Chris Bird, a Texan. Bird's book is in its fourth edition. He appears to me, a total neophyte, to cover the waterfront and do it very well. I would recommend the book.

Subsequently, I took a basic defensive handgun course from an NRA instructor. It included firing 50 cartridges (six at a time) from a revolver, a 38 special, at a range in South Broward. If I had not been so tense and anxious with this first experience with a handgun, I think I would have had fun.

I'm not exactly sure about where I will go next with this, although I will apply for a concealed weapons permit. (The certification I obtained from the NRA instructor is enough to support the application for that permit.) I can say that my middle-of-the-road to leftish views on handguns have been thoroughly revised.

In "The Concealed Handgun Manual", the author writes about how the movies, particularly Westerns, depict handgun shooting. In most of them, he writes, the depictions are not accurate. But Bird recommends one Western, "The Shootist", with John Wayne. According to Bird, the people shooting the handguns in the movie did it the right way. After reading Bird's book and going through the course, I rented the movie and watched it this weekend. I think I see what he means.

"The Shootist" came out in 1976, and was the last Western and the last movie of any kind that Wayne made. It is a beautifully mounted film. It is set in Carson City, Nevada, in 1901, with meticulously crafted sets and wonderful outdoor scenes. John Wayne is comfortable, credible and familiar in his role as a famous, aging gun-fighter, euphemistically known as a "shootist", who is stricken with "the cancer" and comes into town looking for a place to die quietly. Instead, word of his arrival and his condition leaks out, even to the New York Times through the local newspaper editor. That editor and others try to profit in one way or another from the shootist's fame and notoriety.

I grew up watching Westerns in the late 40's, the 50's and the 60's, first on Saturday morning at the Circle Theater in Miami Springs, then on television, when at first the movie Westerns from the 30's and 40's were standard fare, and later when TV developed its own version of the genre in series after series. So I enjoyed the cameos and bit parts of other familiar actors in "The Shootist": Richard Boone ("Have Gun Will Travel"), Henry Morgan, Hugh O'Brian ("Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, Brave Courageous and Bold, Long Live his Fame and Love Live his Glory, and Long May his Story be Told"), Lauren Bacall, John Carradine, Jimmy Stewart ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence", "The Far Country"), and Ron Howard (Opie from the "Andy Griffin Show", not a Western unless you count Western North Carolina).

I can't say that "the Shootist" ranks with Wayne's greatest Westerns. But the opening scene and the last gun-fight were quite satisfactory and Wayne was consistently good, even if the other actors weren't always up to snuff (especially Morgan) and even if some of the writing was bad, bad, bad. (The movie provides yet another example of Hollywood depicting Christians as legalistic, unforgiving, and profoundly in need of their own conversion.)(On second thought . . . )

I did appreciate the shooting. Here is what you do. Even when someone is shooting at you, you take care to aim and squeeze the trigger - site alignment and trigger control. Site alignment and trigger control. And you keep shooting. And you take cover. All those things "the Shootist" did in the last gun-fight. From what little I've learned, it was very well done in that respect.

No comments: