Classic Movie Review: The Last Picture Show (1971)

Title: The Last Picture Show
Release Date: October 22, 1971
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Production Company: BBS Productions

No one warned me that this movie is so bleak.  I thought I was going to be watching a comedy.  Filmed in black-and-white with Orson Welles-style direction, The Last Picture Show depicts a year in the early 50s in a run-down town in the Texas oil region.  The cast features a collection of future movie stars who all look impossibly young.

The film focuses on three teenagers during their senior year of high school and immediately after graduation: Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) who seems to be basically decent but struggling with what to do with his life, his best friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) who is more of an arrogant jock, and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town from a wealthier family, but still as lost as the rest of them.  The heart of the town is Sam the Lion (veteran Western actor Ben Johnson), the owner of the cafe, pool hall, and movie theater, and Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), the cafe waitress, each of whom acts as surrogate parents for the teenagers.  The rest of the adults in town seem as lost as anyone else and mostly shame the boys for losing their high school football games.

There’s not much future in Anarene, Texas.  The boys can become roughnecks or go to war in Korea.  Jacy can go to college but doesn’t seem interested. In the meantime they can kill time at the pool hall or the picture show, or engage in the town’s favorite hobby: sex.  You can tell this movie was made in the 1970s because suddenly there are nekkid people everywhere. And their interweaving sexual encounters make up the better part of the film. Sonny has an affair with Ruth (Cloris Leachman), the depressed wife of his high school football coach. Jacy moves from Duane to a rich boy from Wichita to Sonny, seemingly trying out using her sexuality to become a master manipulator, but not having her heart in it.

If I haven’t made it clear, this is a sad movie.  The emotion depth of the characters is brilliantly portrayed even if lacking joy or hope.  I think this is a movie that’s going to stay with me for a long time.

Rating: ****