A gunslinger with strong moral character (Wayne) is dying of cancer and so spends his final days carrying himself with dignity, preparing his own noble death.
All while wooing a judgmental older woman (Bacall) into knowing his better side, and setting her young boy (Howard) upon the beginning of his own path of righteousness.
Backstory enriches this film as few others; Wayne was himself dying of cancer, ending a strong career built entirely upon the portrayal of lone individuals holding strong ethical fiber, individuals following their own moral/just compasses - in spite of the odds against, in spite the perceptions and judgments of others.
That consistency implied, of course, that Wayne chose his roles so as to complement his own personal ethos. Accordingly, the nobility found within this portrayal of life's end is also Wayne's final tribute to, and portrayal of, his own steadfast values. In telling the story of the difference between a dying man and the legend that surrounds him, Wayne is telling his own story as well. Such a truly textured telling makes this film a far richer object lesson and sets it well within the short list of great Westerns.
RECOMMENDATION: Tell the undertaker to set the table for bad company; Wayne's ridin' into town to set things right - one last time. Strongly recommended viewing