The Last Picture Show


The Last Picture Show Review

Peter Bogdanovich's seminal The Last Picture Show is a world where the parental figures are never the real parents and almost everyone in plain view is still in some way a kid, regardless of the number of years they've lived. Set in some dustbin town on the edge of Texas, there's a smattering of heckles about an incapable football player in the film's initial measures that rightly anticipates both the town's maturity level and its gossipy nature. The only true adult's name -- Sam the Lion -- suggests mythical lore, if not majestic royalty.

The town where Sam (Ben Johnson) reigns is one of complete despair. He owns a pool hall where they sell candy and soda pop; he also owns the local movie theater where they play Father of the Bride, Sands of Iwo Jima, and John Ford movies. He looks after Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and a retarded boy named Billie (Sam Bottoms, Tim's younger brother) who spends all his time uselessly sweeping the streets and watching the picture shows. There is one pretty girl, Jacey (Cybill Shepard), but she dates Sonny's dough-brained buddy Duane (Jeff Bridges). Jacey acts exactly like her mother (Ellen Burstyn) which is a dreadful fate in both cases. There's also Ruth Popper (an excellent Cloris Leachman), the PE teacher's wife who begins a quicksilver affair with Sonny.

Everyone sleeps with everyone else, soundtracked to Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart" and draped in Robert Surtees' pristine black-and-white cinematography. Toiling in the shadow of the Korean War, the entire town is restless: The teenagers are waiting for life to start and so are the adults, who thought marriage would make life livable while securing regular sex and safe passage into the pearly gates. Bogdanovich's form and Larry McMurtry's poignant screenplay, adapted from his novel, feel aimless but that is very much the point. Dreams and goals have little business in this town and morals, Catholic or otherwise, are purely for show.

There's a pagan streak running through these encounters, elevating some of its Catholic imagery -- Jacey holds onto the pocket lining of a pool table as if she were being lashed -- to dizzying levels of depravity. Ruth's husband may be a homosexual; Sonny's father acts like a stranger with his son; the preacher boy kidnaps little girls; for a dollar and some change, you can stick it in Jimmie Sue. None of it compares to the delirious baptism of Jacey at the behest of the town troublemaker (Randy Quaid, who else?) with Pat Harris' abnormal gimmick tune "The Thing" bopping in the background. Bogdanovich saves his most romantic shot for an embrace between a teenager and a 40-year-old woman while his most smoldering sequence involves a girl being taken by the man who is sleeping with her mother. A shot of Ruth alone on a bed, waiting for Sonny, wouldn't be out of place in Ophüls' oeuvre.

Bogdanovich made Picture Show the same year he completed Directed by John Ford, a documentary on the legendary Irish filmmaker and Bogdanovich's mentor; there is a poster for Wagon Master, Ford's favorite of his own films, hanging in Sam's theater. Along its formal curiosity and its enveloping heartache, there lies a buttress of cinematic devotion in Bogdanovich's film that is evident in everything from its allegiance to black-and-white to its upending of teen-movie archetypes. The name of the town, Anarene, is an open nod to a town in Howard Hawks' Red River, the last movie Duane, Billie, and Sonny watch together. It begs the question: Why waste such a pretty name on a town that shouldn't even be on a map?

Facts and Figures

Run time: 118 mins

In Theaters: Friday 22nd October 1971

Box Office Worldwide: $29.1M

Budget: $1.3M

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Production compaines: Columbia Pictures Corporation, BBS Productions

Reviews 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 47

IMDB: 8.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Stephen J. Friedman

Starring: as Sonny Crawford, as Duane Jackson, as Jacy Farrow, as Sam the Lion, as Ruth Popper, as Lois Farrow, as Genevieve, as Abilene, as Billy, Sharon Ullrick as Charlene Duggs, as Lester Marlow, Bill Thurman as Coach Popper, as Miss Mosey, Helena Humann as Jimmie Sue, Barc Doyle as Joe Bob Blanton, Gary Brockette as Bobby Sheen, as English teacher, Joe Heathcock as Sheriff, Kimberly Hyde as Annie-Annie, as Chester, Janice O'Malley as Mrs. Clarg, Grover Lewis as Sonny's father

Also starring: