John Wayne's unseen film released
Before now John Wayne's last film had never been released, and most believed it to be the superb The Shootist, one of my favourite films featuring the iconic actor which portrays an aged gunslinger knowing that he's dying of cancer and has little time left, a real reflection of Wayne's life at the time.
However it appears Thunder Riders of the Golden West, an independent film, will now be the last released film featuring John Wayne, even if it won't claim credit as his last film.
That's something I'm really glad of, as reading the article the first time I took the impression that this film was made using footage he shot after The Shootist, footage that would technically make it his last film. However that's not so, it seems that the footage of John Wayne for the film was made before The Shootist, leaving that as the crowning glory of his career.
"It's not the last movie he acted in, but it's the last performance to be released…"
Despite the film featuring scenes that John Wayne filmed before The Shootist, so that means before 1976, it was only produced in 1984. The film is a science fiction western that features friends and family of Burleson who was a friend of John Wayne and stunt double to many stars.
Thunder Riders of the Golden West is set in the modern day and tells the story of cowboy truckers who hit the trail in search of three million worth dollars worth of gold which just happens to be situated in the middle of an atomic bomb test site.
The film was never released theatrically, and it seems that it struggled until late because of the technology required for distribution, which I think means that the film is going to be self distributed.
Burleson is very humble about his own career, as he played a bit part and double for so many big stars but was never written about himself, something he's quite happy with. Now though it's all about his film, and even then Burleson puts that to the side.
"After all these years, it's great to finally get my film out there…But it's really something for people to see one last John Wayne performance."
MTV pull something out of the People archives that draws an interesting parallel with the story in the film though, as The Shootist tells the story of an aging gunslinger knowing he's about to die of cancer, so this story shows a man heading into the middle of an atomic bomb test site, something he did for the film The Conqueror which filmed close to the atomic bomb sites in Utah and is credited with being a possible cause of his cancer.
From the article we find out that there's a strong belief that the filming of the Genghis Kahn biographical film The Conqueror in 1956 just a one hundred and thirty seven miles from the radioactive test site was responsible for a number of deaths in the film cast and crew and the town of Saint George.
Seventeen years after the tests stopped the town has a high rate of cancer, and amongst the two hundred and twenty strong cast and crew of the film some ninety-one have contracted cancer with forty-six of them dying of the disease, including John Wayne.
The article quotes Doctor Robert C. Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah, who says:
"With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law."
An interesting parallel and aside, and undoubtedly something to bring more controversy to the release of the film, yet no matter how well Thunder Riders of the Golden West turns out, for me the final John Wayne film will always be The Shootist, an incredibly poignant and moving performance from the iconic actor and one always to be treasured.