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.
The story is set in Anarene, a tiny town on the north Texas plains, between November 1951 and October 1952. Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) is a high school senior, and leads a typical life for a teenage boy in his town: he plays on the school football team, goes to movies at the town's only theater, plays pool at the pool hall run by the beloved Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), and pursues relationships with girls.
His best friend is Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges), the charismatic captain of the football team. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd in her film debut), the school's homecoming queen, whose mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) is fiercely protective of her as she grooms her for adulthood.
But as Anarene's young people get ready to become adults, the town's adults are leading lives of desperation, with unhappy marriages and numerous extramarital affairs. Sonny gets drawn into this when he falls in love with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the shy wife of the school's athletic coach. Meanwhile, Jacy's and Duane's relationship gets strained and Jacy and Sonny start seeing each other, which naturally puts a wedge between Sonny and Duane. But as life goes on the relationships between various people in town resolve themselves in unexpected ways.
With a stellar cast that also included Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid (in his film debut), and John Hillerman, it was shot in black and white for aesthetic and technical reasons, 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.
Bogdanovich and most of the cast reunited for the sequel Texasville in 1990.
This film provides examples of:
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Sonny often shows his affection towards Billy by taking his cap off and putting it back on.
- Bittersweet Ending: Pretty close to a Downer Ending. Sonny loses Jacey, who honestly was really not that interested in the first place and used him as a tool to piss off her parents. Duane leaves for the army. The Dying Town gets that much closer to dead as the movie theater closes. And poor Billy is struck and killed in the street by a truck. The only thing that leavens the ending somewhat is the reconciliation between Sonny and Ruth at the end, with her taking his hand and saying "Never you mind."
- Book Ends: The film closes with a reverse of the pan shot seen in the opening.
- Celebrity Paradox: A poster for the film Wagon Master, which starred Ben Johnson, is seen at the theatre.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Sonny leaving childish things behind, as he and the other kids graduate from high school and have to start the adult world.
- 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 a hugely humiliating loss for the Anarene team. 121-14!
- Deadpan Snarker: Sam the Lion, and Genevieve the waitress.
- 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
- Hangover Sensitivity: Duane comes back in rough shape after he and Sonny went on a spree in Mexico.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted. 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 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.
- 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.