Combustible Celluloid
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With: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Cybill Shepherd, Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Sam Bottoms, Randy Quaid, Gary Brockette, Sharon Taggart, Barc Doyle, Bill Thurman, Jessie Lee Fulton, Robert Glenn, Joe Heathcock, John Hillerman, Frank Marshall
Written by: Larry McMurtry, Peter Bogdanovich, based on a novel by McMurtry
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 118
Date: 10/03/1971

The Last Picture Show (1971)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Texas Fold 'Em

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Peter Bogdanovich's second feature film, after his great "B" movie Targets (1968), was a critically acclaimed hit that put him on the map as one of the rock stars of the new Hollywood. Adapted by Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry from McMurtry's 1966 novel, The Last Picture Show is set in a small, dusty Texas town in 1951. It deals with several young characters who don't really know what they want and don't even know that they don't know what they want. Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) is the handsome, happy-go-lucky football star, a big fish in a little pond, perhaps not too bright, but dating the beautiful Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd). Jacy is well aware of her beauty and believes it can earn her higher position in life, or at least higher than Duane has to offer. She tries to get him to sleep with her for the mere status of it (he fails to become aroused in the midst of her irritated, impatient commands). Duane's best pal is Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) — they share a rattletrap truck — and Sonny is less than happy with his girlfriend so he breaks up with her and begins sleeping with the coach's lonely wife (Cloris Leachman). The best character is Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), who seemingly runs everything in town, and whom everyone loves. Sam takes the boys fishing and tells them stories of his old conquests, and this scene has an even more vivid quality than the more "present" scenes. The film's second half is filled with loss and emptiness, where hope turns into aimless drifting. For the "last picture show," attended by Duane and Sonny before they part ways, is Howard Hawks's masterpiece Red River, a film that Bogdanovich knew well and chose carefully. The deep-shadowed, dusty black-and-white cinematography by the legendary Robert Surtees (who had worked with John Ford, a favorite of Bogdanovich's), helps elevate the story beyond the realistic and anticlimactic, making it mythic and poetic. The movie received eight Oscar nominations in all, and Johnson and Leachman won for their supporting performances.

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