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The Last Picture Show
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Peter Bogdanovich

Written By:
Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry, Larry McMurtry

Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Sharon Taggart, Randy Quaid, Sam Bottoms, Bill Thurman, John Hillerman

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The Last Picture Show (1971)
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Movie Review by David Hurlbert
May 9th, 2007

The Last Picture Show (1971) is a wonderful dramatic character study about life in a small Texas town. If you enjoy character study films such as What is eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Magnolia (1999), American Beauty (1999), and Happiness (1998), you will likely enjoy this unbelievably frank and heartfelt film. The movie deals with the hopelessness of finding love and happiness in a small Texas town during that almost forgotten time in the mid-1950s.

In this movie, Director Peter Bogdanovich seems to establish the tone for innumerable psychological character studies to follow in what I consider to be his career masterpiece. Cinematographer Robert Surtees who filmed other such wonderful movies as Ben-Hur (1959), The Sting (1973), The Graduate (1967), and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) to name a few, perfectly emphasizes the backdrop using black and white film and desolate scenes to capture the drab lives of all the characters while magnifying their bleak existence in their search for happiness.

The central protagonist is Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms), a sensitive young man who is awkwardly trying to find the path to happiness. He has an attraction to classmate Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) who is involved with his best friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges in an Oscar-nominated role). Jacy is unsure if Duane can fulfill her tastes for riches so she gets involved with Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid), a son of a wealthy landowner, and his friends. Duane has the same idea about Jacy and also struggles with his place within the town's landscape. In the meantime, Sonny becomes involved with the basketball coach's wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman in her Oscar-winning role) hoping that she will magically fill his emotional void. The affair soon becomes an escape that does little to dampen his attraction to Jacy. Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn also Oscar-nominated) plays Jacy's mother, a self-centered woman who has expertly schooled her daughter in the art of narcissism. Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) is also excellent as the insightful waitress at the town diner. Perhaps the greatest connection within the town is Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson in a well-deserved Oscar-winning turn), the old wise cowboy who owns the theater and pool hall.

The cast is excellent playing each character in a realistic and moving manner. The force of inevitable changes is excellently and realistically portrayed by all the characters and symbolized in the showing of "the last picture show" at the local theater. This last film to be shown on closing night is the celebrated Western by Howard Hawk, Red River (1948), starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. And there is Billy (Sam Bottoms), the mute retarded boy who continually sweeps in a futile effort to turn back the inevitable representing that demented and hopeless longing for a past that was never quite as good as one can remember. He represents that longing for an illusion that seems to just disappear as soon as it is realized and the broom is never quite fast enough to remove the dust of time.

Everything in this film is almost perfect. The movie superbly illustrates how the lives, conflicts, and personalities of people in a small community can overlap and intertwine. The fact that leaving the town is an almost impossible dream to any of the characters only makes the story more heartbreaking and realistic. Anyone who has ever resided in a small town should be able to easily identify with this film.

Unlike most movies, in the typical sense there is no musical score in this film. Music can only be heard when a radio is on or a jukebox is playing in the background. The fact that there is no musical score dubbed over this film brilliantly enhances the illusion of reality.

I saw this film in October 2004 on the big screen at a film festival. This wonderful experience encouraged me to purchase the DVD, but the quality was substandard. Either the transfer to DVD cannot bring us the fine tones of the original or the original that was used in the transfer had deteriorated over time. I know that it may be impossible to see this movie in its full glory because of technical limitations. However, the image on the DVD is worse than that of most of the very early black and white movies that have been placed on DVD. Since this movie was made in 1971, the image quality on the DVD should be much better than it is. I am very disappointed in the DVD and I do hope someone will consider a restored release in the near future. Until then, many will never experience what can be done by a master like Robert Surtees using the extraordinary dimension and depth found in a well done black and white film.

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May 9, 2007 10:35 PM
It's been awhile since I watched this one, but I remember it as great.

May 10, 2007 2:13 AM
I have not seen this movie but again I had to comment on how well written this review is......
May 10, 2007 12:10 PM
You should see it man.

May 11, 2007 3:41 AM
How I loved watching Jeff Bridges in this movie when it first came out. Great review.
May 13, 2007 3:40 PM
[comment deleted by Sylvie]

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