The Last Picture Show

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The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Produced by Stephen J. Friedman
Screenplay by Larry McMurtry
Peter Bogdanovich
Starring Timothy Bottoms
Jeff Bridges
Ellen Burstyn
Ben Johnson
Cloris Leachman
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by Donn Cambern
Production
  company
BBS Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • October 22, 1971 (1971-10-22)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.3 million
Box office $29,133,000[1]

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 from November 1951 – 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, with Johnson and Leachman winning.

Plot[edit]

In 1951, Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends in a small declining Texas town. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest (and wealthiest) girl in town. Sonny decides to break up with girlfriend Charlene Duggs (Sharon Taggart).

At Christmastime, Sonny begins an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the depressed, middle-aged wife of his high-school coach, Coach Popper (Bill Thurman). At the Christmas dance, Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette), a wealthy young man who seems a better prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy he isn't interested in virgins and to come back after she's had sex.

The group of boys take their young intellectually disabled friend, Billy (Sam Bottoms), to a prostitute to lose his virginity, but she hits Billy in the face when he ejaculates prematurely. When Duane and Sonny take Billy back home, Sam "the Lion" (Ben Johnson) tells them that since they cannot even take care of a friend, he is barring them from his pool hall, movie theater and cafe. However, Sonny later sneaks into the cafe and accepts the offer of a free hamburger from the waitress, Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), when Sam walks in and discovers him. Once Sam sees Sonny's genuine affection for Billy he accepts his apology and tells him to eat his hamburger before it gets cold.

Duane and Sonny go on a weekend road trip to Mexico, an event that happens entirely off-screen. Before they drive off, Sam comes to encourage them about their trip and gives them some extra money. In the next scene they return hungover and tired and eventually learn that in their absence Sam has died of a stroke. He left the town's movie theater to the woman who ran the concession stand, the café to Genevieve, and the pool hall to Sonny.

Jacy invites Duane to a motel for sex, but he is unable to perform. She loses her virginity to him on their second attempt and then breaks up with him by phone. When Bobby marries another girl, Jacy is disappointed. Out of boredom, she has sex with Abilene (Clu Gulager), her mother's lover, though he is cold to her after their rendezvous. Jacy then sets her sights on Sonny, who drops Ruth without announcement. Duane quarrels with Sonny over Jacy, "his" girl, and hits him over the head with a bottle. Duane then decides to join the Army to fight in Korea.

Jacy suggests to Sonny that they elope. On their way to their honeymoon, they are stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper; Jacy left a note telling her parents all about their plan. The couple are brought back to Anarene. On the trip back, Jacy's mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) admits to Sonny she was Sam the Lion's paramour and tells him he was much better off with Ruth Popper than with Jacy.

Duane returns to town for a visit before shipping out for Korea. He and Sonny are among the meager group attending the final screening at the movie house, which is closing down. The next morning, after Sonny sees Duane off on the Trailways bus, Billy is run over and killed as he sweeps the street. An upset Sonny seeks comfort from Ruth. Her first reaction is to vent her hurt and anger, but then she takes his outstretched hand.

Casting[edit]

  • Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion. According to Bogdanovich, Tex Ritter was almost cast in the role (he was introduced to Bogdanovich by John Ritter, who was being considered for the part of Sonny). Johnson was not keen on the part because of the wordiness of the script; Eileen Brennan recalled that he hated to talk, saying he would rather ride his horse a "thousand miles than say any of these goddamn words." But Bogdanovich had his heart set on Johnson. He called director John Ford, whom he knew well, having previously completed a documentary on him, and Ford persuaded Johnson to take the role by asking him "Do you want to be the Duke's sidekick forever?"[2] Johnson continued to find reasons not to do the film, and finally Bogdanovich told him, "You, in this role, are going to get an Academy Award," and finally Johnson accepted, "All right, I'll do the damn thing."[3] Johnson did indeed win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson. Bridges got the role because in the book he is not a particularly likeable character; Bogdanovich thought that Bridges's naturally fun personality would give the character extra depth and warmth, and make him less disagreeable.[3]
  • Timothy Bottoms as Sonny Crawford. Bogdanovich liked Bottoms for his sad eyes, and recalled that he was convinced to cast him when he learned that he was being highly touted at the time by his agent who said he had been given the lead in a Dalton Trumbo movie Johnny Got His Gun (1971); "I guess that's what convinced me" he said.[3] Bottoms did indeed have the lead in Johnny Got His Gun, although he was playing a quadriplegic and terribly mutilated World War I soldier who could not see, hear, move or speak.
  • Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow. Shepherd was a model whom Bogdanovich spotted on the cover of an issue of Glamour magazine (probably June 1970). "There was something about her expression that was very piquant," he later said. He arranged to meet her with her agent in a hotel in New York. She was, Bogdanovich says, interested in going through college and not particularly interested in being in movies, but she liked the script and thought it was an interesting part. She was playing with a rose on the table, and Bogdanovich kept expecting the rose to keel over and collapse; he recognized in that gesture the way Jacy Farrow plays with guys in the movie, and this convinced him that he had found Jacy. Bert Schneider, the producer, found a screen test Shepherd had done with Roger Vadim about a year before in which she was playing scenes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with no sound, and dancing silently to a Rolling Stones song. After filming had finished, Bogdanovich admitted to Shepherd that the only time he ever doubted his decision was when he saw that screen test.[3] Shepherd went to Los Angeles and read with Tex Ritter, and with Robert Mitchum's son as well as Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms. Bogdanovich was married to Polly Platt, but began an affair with Shepherd during the filming.
  • Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper. Leachman wanted the role and Bogdanovich was impressed enough with her read-through to offer her the part that ultimately earned her an Oscar.
  • Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow. Burstyn was asked to read for the part of Genevieve, but she liked the part of Lois Farrow and asked if she could read for that. She ended up reading for those parts and also that of Ruth Popper. Bogdanovich thought she would be good as any of them and allowed her to choose. She chose to be Jacy's mother because she thought the part interesting.[3]
  • Eileen Brennan as Genevieve, the café waitress. Bogdanovich had seen Brennan onstage in the off-Broadway production of Little Mary Sunshine and thought she had the perfect face for the tired waitress. When she read the script, Brennan thought it so powerful she wanted very much to be a part of the film and gladly accepted the role.[3]
  • Randy Quaid as Lester Marlow. Quaid was asked to read for the part of Bobby, the rich kid from Wichita Falls, but Bogdanovich thought he would be better as Marlow; it was Quaid's debut role.[3]
  • Clu Gulager as Abilene, who works for Jacy's father. Bogdanovich's first choice was the country singer Jimmy Dean, but his producers did not like that idea; his next choice was Gulager, whom he had seen give a great performance in Don Siegel's The Killers (1964). Gulager played hitman Lee with what Bogdanovich described as "good regional quality."[3]
  • Bill Thurman as Coach Popper. It is implied that he is homosexual, and he is confirmed as such in the director's commentary.
  • Frank Marshall as Tommy Logan, a high school student. Marshall had been a production manager on Bogdanovich's earlier film, Targets, and they had such fun working together that Bogdanovich had promised him something on his next film. He came along as assistant production manager working with Polly Platt on location scouting and played a small part as the student who is smacked on the backside by Coach Popper during basketball practice. He shows up again later as a football player in a scene near the end.[3]
  • Sam Bottoms as Billy. Timothy Bottoms's younger brother came along to stay with his brother for a few days as rehearsals started in Archer City. Seeing Sam sitting on some stairs, Bogdanovich asked him if he could act. Sam, who had appeared in productions of Santa Barbara Youth Theater since he was 10 years old, shrugged, and despite having previously cast the part to an actor from Dallas, Bogdanovich signed Sam up.[3][4]
  • Sharon Taggart as Charlene Duggs.

Production[edit]

Peter Bogdanovich was a 31-year-old stage actor, film essayist and critic with two small films—Targets (1968) (also known as Before I Die) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)—to his directorial credit. One day while waiting in a cashier's line in a drugstore he happened to look at the rack of paperbacks and his eye fell on an interesting title, The Last Picture Show. The back of the book said it was "kids growing up in Texas," and Bogdanovich decided that it did not interest him and put it back. A few weeks later actor Sal Mineo handed Bogdanovich a copy of the book, "I always wanted to be in this," he said, "but I'm a little too old now," and recommended that Bogdanovich make it into a film. At the time Bogdanovich was married to Polly Platt and he asked her to read it, and her response was, "I don't know how you make it into a picture, but it's a good book."[3] Bogdanovich, McMurtry and some sources suggest[5] an uncredited Polly Platt went through the book and wrote a script that tells the story chronologically.

Stephen Friedman was a lawyer with Columbia Pictures, but keen to break into film production and he had bought the film rights to the book, so Bogdanovich hired him as producer.[6]

After discussing the film with Orson Welles, his houseguest at the time, Bogdanovich decided to shoot the film in black and white.[3]

Larry McMurtry was born in the small North Texas town of Archer City. In writing about his hometown he renamed it "Thalia" and in order to film "Thalia" Bogdanovich went back to Archer City. But for the film he renamed it Anarene, a name chosen to provide correspondence to the cow-town of Abilene in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948).[7]

After shooting the film, Bogdanovich went back to Los Angeles to edit the film on a Moviola. Bogdanovich has said[3] he edited the entire film himself, but refused to credit himself as editor, reasoning that director and co-writer was enough. When informed that the Motion Picture Editors Guild required an editor credit, he suggested Donn Cambern who had been editing another film, Drive, He Said (1971) in the next office and had helped Bogdanovich with some purchasing paperwork concerning the film's opticals.[3] Cambern disputes this, stating that Bogdanovich did do an edit of the film, which he screened for a selection of guests, including Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and himself. The consensus was the film was going to be great but needed further editing to achieve its full potential. Bogdanovich invited Cambern to edit the film further, and Cambern made significant contributions to the film's final form.

In 1973, largely because of the skinny-dipping party scene, the film was banned in Phoenix, Arizona when the city attorney notified a drive-in theater manager that the film violated a state obscenity statute. Eventually, a federal court decided that the film was not obscene.[8][9]

Awards and legacy[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

Wins
Nominations


In 1998, The Last Picture Show was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It also ranked number 19 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[10] In 2007, the film was ranked #95 on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

In April 2011, The Last Picture Show was re-released in UK and Irish cinemas, distributed by Park Circus. Total Film magazine gave the film a five-star review, stating: "Peter Bogdanovich's desolate Texan drama is still as stunning now as it was in 1971."[11]

Stephen King's novel Lisey's Story makes repeated references to The Last Picture Show as the main character Scott Landon frequently watches the film throughout the novel during flashbacks.

Home media[edit]

The film was released by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of their box set, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It included a high-definition digital transfer of Peter Bogdanovich’s director’s cut, two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall; the other from 2009, featuring Bogdanovich “The Last Picture Show”: A Look Back, (1999) and Picture This (1990), documentaries about the making of the film, A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, a 2009 Q&A, screen tests and location footage, and excerpts from a 1972 television interview with director François Truffaut about the New Hollywood.[12]

Director's cut[edit]

In 1992, Bogdanovich re-edited the film to create a "director's cut". This version restores seven minutes of footage that Bogdanovich trimmed from the 1971 release because Columbia imposed a firm 119-minute time limit on the film.[3] With this requirement removed in the 1990s, Bogdanovich used the 127-minute cut on laserdisc, VHS and DVD releases. The original 1971 cut is not currently available on home video, though it was released on VHS and laserdisc through Columbia Tristar home video.

There are two substantial scenes restored in the director's cut. The first is a sex scene between Jacy and Abilene that plays in the poolhall after it has closed for the night; it precedes the exterior scene where he drops her off home and she says "Whoever would have thought this would happen?" The other major insertion is a scene that plays in Sam's café, where Genevieve watches while an amiable Sonny and a revved-up Duane decide to take their road trip to Mexico; it precedes the exterior scene outside the poolhall when they tell Sam of their plans, the last time they will ever see him.

Several shorter scenes were also restored. One comes between basketball practice in the gym and the exterior at The Rig-Wam drive-in; it has Jacy, Duane and Sonny riding along in her convertible (and being chased by an enthusiastic little dog), singing an uptempo rendition of the more solemn school song sung later at the football game. Another finds Sonny cruising the town streets in the pick-up, gazing longingly into Sam's poolhall, café and theater, from which he has been banished. Finally, there is an exterior scene of the auto caravan on its way to the Senior Picnic; as it passes the fishing tank where he had fished with Sam and Billy, Sonny sheds a tear for his departed friend and his lost youth.

Two scenes got slightly longer treatments: Ruth's and Sonny's return from the doctor, and the boys' returning Billy to Sam after his encounter with Jemmie Sue—both had added dialogue. Also, a number of individual shots were put back in, most notably a handsome Gregg Toland-style deep focus shot in front of the Royal Theatre as everyone gets in their cars.[3]

Sequel[edit]

Texasville is the 1990 sequel to The Last Picture Show, based on McMurtry's 1987 novel of the same name, also directed by Bogdanovich, from his own screenplay, without McMurtry this time. The film reunites actors Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid, Sharon Ullrick (née Taggart) and Barc Doyle.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Last Picture Show, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 30, 2012. 
  2. ^ Biskind, Peter, 1998. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80996-6
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Peter Bogdanovich (2001) The Last Picture Show: A Look Back [DVD]
  4. ^ LA Times-18 December 2008 Sam Bottoms's Obituary
  5. ^ Jigsaw Lounge - Neil Young
  6. ^ Kings Road Entertainment-Company History
  7. ^ Filmsite - Tim Dirks
  8. ^ "Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online". .lib.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  9. ^ "Most Controversial Films of All Time". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  10. ^ Countdown: The 50 best high school movies | Photo Gallery | News | Entertainment Weekly[dead link]
  11. ^ "The Last Picture Show Review". Total Film. Retrieved April 5, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Last Picture Show". The Criterion Collection. 

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
West Side Story
Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Succeeded by
Julia