Film / The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry.

Set in a small town in north Texas between November 1951 and October 1952, it is about the coming of age of Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). The cast includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid in his film debut and John Hillerman. For aesthetic and technical reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for its time.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and four nominations for acting: Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. It won two: Johnson and Leachman.

This film provides examples of:

  • Cool Old Guy: Sam the Lion, who acts a mentor to the boys and doesn't talk down to them.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The football game played the night before the film starts was apparently a hugely humiliating loss for the Anarene team.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam the Lion, and Genevieve the waitress.
  • Downer Ending
    "Never you mind, honey... never you mind."
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Upon selecting the town of Archer City, Texas, as a filming location, production designer Polly Platt and Bogdanovich decided that the town should have a bleak, colorless look about it. After considering several options, such as painting all the buildings gray, Platt and Bogdanovich consulted close friend Orson Welles about the viability of shooting the film in black and white. Welles simply said, "Of COURSE you'll shoot it in black and white!"
  • Dying Town: Anarene, Texas; changed from Thalia, Texas in the novel.
  • Fille Fatale: Jacy, "the only pretty girl in town" according to Genevieve, is no stranger to using her looks to manipulate the males in her life.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Almost the case with Jacy and Sonny. Seemed to be the right thing to do in The '50s.
  • Glass Eye: Sonny ends up with one after Duane hits him with a beer bottle in a fight
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted hard. Jimmie Sue, the town hooker, is probably the single most loathsome character in the film, for her downright rude treatment of Billy.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It takes place on the dusty Texas plains, so this gets averted.
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Happens to Duane when he first tries to deflower Jacy.
  • Love Dodecahedron: There's the core triangle of Duane/Jacy/Sonny, then things branch far and wide from there.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: On a snooker table.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Sonny starts a relationship with Ruth Popper, the middle-aged wife of the high school basketball coach. It's also implied that Jacy's mother Lois might be attracted to him.
  • New Old West: Though the film doesn't deal with a lot of the classic themes and plot elements of The Western, it was clearly influenced by the films of Howard Hawks and John Ford. Having familiar Western character actors in the cast like Ben Johnson (Sam) and Clu Gulager (Abilene) also adds to this feel.
  • Nothing but Hits: This was a Trope Maker for using hit songs as a way to establish a period feel in a film, but there's an admirably eclectic choice of pop and Country Music hits from the early 1950s, ranging from ballads to uptempo numbers to novelty songs.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The film has no score, but lots of songs from The '50s played on radios and record players, with Hank Williams as the dominant artist.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ruth gives one of these to Sonny at the end.
  • Re Cut: Columbia Pictures mandated that the film had to be under two hours in its original release (it ended up as 118 minutes). In The '90s Peter Bogdanovich did a director's cut with eight additional minutes, which is the version that currently circulates
  • Running Gag: The townsfolk ribbing the guys for their inability to tackle during football games.
  • Sequel: Texasville, McMurtry's sequel to the original novel, was itself adapted for the screen by Bogdanovich in 1990. Bridges, Shepherd, Leachman, Bottoms, Quaid, and Brennan all reprised their roles.
  • Sex Is Liberation: Heavily deconstructed. Almost all the film's sexual pairings end up complicating things for the people involved, though Ruth, who's very shy and uptight before her affair with Sonny, is close to a straight example.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The two main characters watch Red River during the titular "last picture show" at the town's soon-to-be-closing cinema.
    • Another film advertised earlier on the cinema marquee is Winchester '73, starring James Stewart, who, as noted on the Trivia page, was Bogdanovich's first choice to play Sam the Lion.
    • Opening the film with a silent white-on-black title card was a nod to Citizen Kane, as was the frequent use of deep focus shots.
  • Signature Move: For Sam the Lion, rolling cigarettes.
  • Small Town Boredom: Anarene has around 1,000 people, and the only real economy in town is the dying oil industry. The teens and the adults live restless lives. As summed up by Roger Ebert, it's a story "about a town with no reason to exist, and people with no reason to live there. The only hope is in transgression."
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The intense final scene with Sonny and Ruth has the goofy comedy record "It's in the Book" playing in the background.
  • Video Credits: All main characters are shown with face and name in the closing credits.
  • Virgin-Shaming: Jacy and Billy are both recipients of this.
  • The Voiceless: Billy never says a word throughout the film.