Movie Name: The Last Picture Show
Studio: BBS Productions
Release Date(s): October 22, 1971
MPAA Rating: R
In the lazy Texas town of Anarene, time seems to creep by, but behind closed doors there are other things happening. Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) is having an affair with the gym teacher’s wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) who’s trapped in a loveless marriage while still dreaming of Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) who is dating his best friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). Jacy vows not to end up like her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and questions if Duane is her best option in Anarene as they approach graduation. Meanwhile, Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) watches over the dying town…but change is inevitable.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show is based on Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel. The film was released to critical acclaim and a strong box office. It received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman) with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The film was selectred for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1998 and received a remastered release by Criterion as part of their America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Criterion #549).
Small town scandals are fun…unless you are part of them. The Last Picture Show was a semi-autobiographical novel by Larry McMurtry that had a bit of Peyton Place feel to it. The story feels real because it feels like it is tied to real people…and it remains a sad, beautiful film.
The story is a story of loss of innocence. At the start of the film, the characters are relatively carefree…only wondering how they can score with their girlfriends on a weekend night. As the story progresses, life gets tougher and everything they thought they could count on disappears (including Sam the Lion). By the end of the film, their relationships have changed in the short period of time and even the completely innocent Billy (Sam Bottoms) is gone…it is a hard fact of life.
The cast is young and great in their roles, but even the young actors are outshined by their adult costars. Timothy Bottoms is good as “the lead” who dives into a relationship with an older woman (his brother Sam Bottoms plays Billy) , and Jeff Bridges is his cocky friend who thinks he knows it all. Cybill Shepherd got the role entirely on appearance but ends up being great as the beauty of the small town that thinks she is something more. Randy Quaid, John Hillerman, Clu Gulager, and Eileen Brennan all have small parts. Ben Johnson was convinced to take on a more serious role which won him an Oscar and Ellen Burstyn plays his secret former love. Cloris Leachman has never been better as the wife seeking love because her husband is secretly gay.
Bogdanovich chose to shoot the movie in black-and-white. Not only does it give an even more depressing feel to the town, but it also gives the movie a starkness that both works with the location and the plot. Everything has a coldness to it.
The Last Picture Show is a classic. It is the type of movie that feels like it was a novel but instead of losing the texture of the novel, the script and actors were able to expand upon it and still convey the messages of the novel. Bogdanovich did revisit McMurtry’s sleepy town in Texasville (1990) which takes up The Last Picture Show’s story in 1984 with much of the original cast returning.