The Last Picture Show

Released:  1971

Cast:  Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Randy Quaid

Oscar Wins:  Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson), Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Director (Peter Bogdanovich), Best Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry, Peter Bogdanovich), Best Cinematography (Robert L. Surtees)

SUMMARY:  Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are two 18-year-olds living in Anarene, Texas, in 1951.  The two are about to graduate from high school but have little hope for their futures:  Anarene is dying.  Most people, with the exception of the oil well owners, are very poor; the only viable businesses in town are the ones owned by Sam “the Lion”, who owns a diner, pool hall and movie theater.  Both boys have girlfriends:  Duane is dating the town catch Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), and Sonny is dating Charlene Duggs.  However, Sonny and Charlene break up at the beginning of the film.  Around Christmas, Sonny starts having an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the wife of the town coach/p.e. teacher.  Jacy has been told repeatedly by her mother (Ellen Burstyn ) that Duane is an unacceptable choice, and is also advised to sleep with him a couple of times so that she will not be so infatuated with him.  Jacy begins to test Duane’s limits:  during a Christmas party, she informs him that she is going with Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) — a member of the wealthy country-club set — to a naked pool party.  The party is hosted by Bobby Sheen, whom Jacy immediately falls for.  However, he tells her that he isn’t interested in virgins.  In an attempt to cheer Duane up after Jacy leaves, a group of boys (which includes Sonny) decide to take Sam the Lion’s son Billy (who is mentally handicapped) to a local waitress/prostitute to lose his virginity.  Things go badly, and when the shamed boys take Billy home, Sam bans them from the diner, pool hall and theater.  Sonny takes this especially hard:  he is genuinely fond of Billy, and was the one who rescued him from the situation with the prostitute; he also eats a number of his meals at the diner.  Finally, he sneaks in late one night for a cheeseburger.  Sam and Billy happen to come in, and when Sam sees Billy’s (very positive) reaction to Sonny, and vice versa, he forgives Sonny.

One day when Duane and Sonny get bored, they decide to go to Mexico for the weekend.  On the way out of town, Sam gives them some money and advises them to be careful about what they ingest.  When they come back, hungover, sick and exhausted, they learn that Sam died of a stroke.  He left the theater to the woman who runs the concession stand, the diner to the waitress (not the same one Billy saw) and the pool hall to Sonny.  During the senior picnic, Jacy decides to solve the Bobby Sheen problem by sleeping with Duane.  Their first encounter fails, but she later does lose her virginity to him, then abruptly dumps him.  Her plans are foiled, however, when Bobby marries another girl.  Jacy then sleeps with one of her mother’s boyfriends.  When she learns of Sonny’s affair with Ruth, she is jealous because she always thought Sonny had a thing for her.  She immediately goes after him, causing him to abandon Ruth without warning.  When Duane finds out about Sonny and Jacy he is furious and punches Sonny in the face.  He then joins the Army.  Jacy is thrilled with Sonny’s new fame, and suggests that they get married before her parents break them up.  However, she leaves a note for her parents, explaining what she has done, and her parents send the police out after the two.  Back in Anarene, Jacy’s mother tells Sonny he is better off without her.  Duane briefly comes back to town before leaving for Korea.  He and Sonny go to the last movie at the theater, which is closing down.  The next morning Duane leaves and Sonny returns to the pool hall, only to hear a commotion outside.  He is stunned to learn that Billy was hit by a truck and killed while sweeping the street.  Sonny goes to Ruth’s house:  while she first chews him out for how he treated her, she eventually comforts him.

MY TAKE:  When I started this movie, I knew that Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd were in it.  I was unaware of any other famous people in it, until I started watching it.  Pretty quickly, I noticed that Jacy’s mom was played by Ellen Burstyn.  She apparently has problem children in movies:  she’s also famous for playing the mother of possessed child Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist.  Jacy isn’t quite possessed, but she definitely has issues.  When the movie starts she seems pretty moral and innocent, although slightly bored with her life.  Then her mother encourages her to sleep with Duane a couple of times, and her personality abruptly changes.  She becomes totally obsessed with sex, and becomes really manipulative and materialistic.  I thought the change was a little confusing, because it wasn’t like there was some earth-shattering event (as far as I could tell).  When I noticed the second famous person (although I did recognize Randy Quaid, too), I literally swore out loud.  It was Cloris Leachman, whom I have only seen as an older woman (like in the show Raising Hope).  I had to check to make sure it was her.  She was actually 45 when this movie was released, although I thought she looked younger than that.  She’s 90 now.  Another fun fact — one that I learned from Wikipedia — is that the handicapped kid, Billy, is played by Sam Bottoms.  Sam Bottoms (who also played the role of the surfer soldier in Apocalypse Now) is the real-life brother of Timothy Bottoms, who played Sonny, and kind of lucked into the role.  The relationship between Sonny and Billy is very sweet, and I think that the real relationship played a key part in the scenes where Sonny is showing empathy toward Billy (like when he takes him home from the prostitute, and when Billy is killed).  It was a fairly entertaining movie, although I really didn’t find myself overly fond of any of the characters (everybody seems to be sleeping with everybody else).  It’s obviously bittersweet:  not only do Sam and Billy die, but the town is slowly dying, too.  However, since I am from a small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business, there was a sort of nostalgia for me.

Fun fact:  If you listen to the tune of the school fight song, you might notice that it’s the same tune (different words) that they’re singing to in the final scene of Dirty Dancing, when Johnny (Patrick Swayze) comes back.

RATING:  Not bad.


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