About ten minutes into The Shootist
, Doctor Hostetler (James Stewart
) tells aging Western gunfighter John Bernard Books (John Wayne), "You have a cancer." Knowing that his death will be painful and lingering, Books is determined to be shot in the line of "duty." In his remaining two months, Books settles scores with old enemies, including gambler Pulford (Hugh O'Brian) and Marshall Thibido (Harry Morgan) and reaches out to new friends, including a feisty widow (Lauren Bacall) and her hero-worshipping son (Ron Howard). Throughout the film, Books' imminent demise is compared with the decline of the West, as represented by the automobiles and streetcars that have begun to blight the main street of Books' hometown.