Movie : The Last Picture Show
We open up on a wind blown deserted street in small town Texas. It’s early in the morning A young man/teenager in an old beat up pickup truck is the only vehicle on the street. He pulls over to pick up a younger boy who is sweeping. We have Hank Williams on the radio. They head over to the pool-hall. We meet the owner, Sam who comments on how badly the older boy, Sonny and his football team lost the night before. Billy, the younger boy heads out the door and Sam tells Sonny to keep an eye on him. Outside we meet Duane, Sonny’s friend and the two head over to the cafe to get some breakfast. Everyone they meet gives them a hard time about how badly they played the night before. The two boys plan to meet at the picture show later that night which they do. They couple up with their girlfriends at the show.
We meet some more of the townspeople, girlfriends, teachers, parents etc. Everyone knows everybody’s business, “You can’t sneeze in this town without someone finding out about it”. We follow Sonny and Duane as they get ready to leave high school and move onto the next stage of their lives. Sex seems to be their prominent focus. They try to work through these encounters as they happen. Duane trying to get it on with his girlfriend, Jacey, Sonny starting up an affair with the football coach’s depressed wife. Setting young Billy up with Jimmie Sue with disastrous results. The town or a lot of what we see of it is full of sexual tension, sexual frustration, infidelity and missed opportunities.
Sam the Lion who owns the pool-hall, cafe and the movie house seems to be the anchor for this dying town. When he dies the town is thrown out of kilter. We stay with the characters as they try to deal with this loss and move on with life. Things just aren’t the same without Sam the Lion.
From the opening sequences CB was drawn into this film (I guess coming from a similar place helped). It just captures that feel. From the visuals to the small town talk, “You guys ever heard of tackling?”. Peter Bogdanovich brings what life there is in this town to the screen. His cinematographer Bruce Surtees captures it all in glorious black and white. They work off the Larry McMurtry novel. The film certainly has it’s own pace and delivery which worked for CB. Under- played and quiet, like the town. You feel that you’re there.
The performances were what sealed the deal. From top to bottom. New young actors combined with older solid pros and it meshes. Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Sheppard as the younger leads all do a great job but it was the older actors that really anchored the film. Could you cast three better actresses than Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman? They made Bogdanovich’s job easy. Not one false moment by any one of them. Brilliant. Ben Johnson as Sam is casting at it’s best. Johnson brings so much life experience to the role. It’s just all there. Ben is in CB’s hall of fame for performances and Sam the Lion is an all time favorite film character. Burstyn’s character near the end of the film talks about Sam. Real good stuff.
So pick yourself up and head down to the Royal for ‘The Last Picture Show’, maybe slap some Hank Williams on the Jukebox and drop into the pool-hall and say howdy to the Lion for me.