The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed and co-written by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.

The Last Picture Show
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Produced byStephen J. Friedman
Screenplay byLarry McMurtry
Peter Bogdanovich
Based onThe Last Picture Show
1966 novel
by Larry McMurtry
CinematographyRobert Surtees
Edited byDonn Cambern
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 22, 1971 (1971-10-22)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million
Box office$29.1 million[1]

Set in a small town in north Texas from November 1951 to October 1952, it is about the coming of age of Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). The cast also includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, and Cloris Leachman, and features Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, and Randy Quaid. For aesthetic reasons, it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for the time. The film features many songs of Hank Williams Sr. and other recording artists.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress, with Johnson and Leachman winning.

In 1998 the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


In 1951 Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends in Anarene, Texas, a small declining northern Texas town. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs (Sharon Taggart).

At Christmas time Sonny begins an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the depressed middle-aged wife of his high-school coach, "Coach" Popper (Bill Thurman). She is lonely because her husband is a closeted homosexual. At the Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette), a wealthy young man who seems to be a better prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn't interested in virgins and to come back after she's had sex.

The group of boys take their young, mentally disabled friend, Billy (Sam Bottoms), to a prostitute (Helena Humann) to lose his virginity, but she hits Billy in the face when he ejaculates prematurely. When Duane and Sonny take Billy back home, Sam "the Lion" (Ben Johnson) tells them that since they cannot even take care of a friend, he is barring them from the pool hall, the movie theater, and the cafe. Duane isn't seen by Sam because he hides in the backseat. At the cafe, Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), the waitress, tells Sonny she knows that Duane was with the group but agrees not to tell Sam.

During the weekend of New Year's Eve, Duane and Sonny go on a weekend road trip to Mexico. Before they drive off, Sam, who has forgiven Sonny, chats with them about their trip, wistfully wishing he still had the stamina to join them, and gives them some extra money. When they return from the trip, hung over and tired, they learn that during their absence Sam died of a stroke on New Year's Eve. In his will, Sam left the movie theater to the woman who ran the concession stand; the café to Genevieve; $1,000 to the preacher's son, Joe Bob Blanton (Barc Doyle); and the pool hall to Sonny.

Jacy invites Duane to a motel for sex so that she can date Bobby, but Duane is unable to get an erection. She loses her virginity to Duane on their second attempt and then breaks up with him by telephone. When Bobby marries another girl, Jacy is disappointed. Out of boredom, she has sex with Abilene (Clu Gulager), her mother's lover, though he is cold to her afterward. Jacy then sets her sights on Sonny, who drops Ruth without notice. Duane quarrels with Sonny over Jacy, "his" girl, and hits him in the side of the head with a bottle, blinding him in the left eye. Duane then decides to join the army to fight in Korea.

Jacy suggests to Sonny that they elope in Oklahoma. On their way to their honeymoon on Lake Texoma, they are stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper (Floyd Mahaney); Jacy left a note telling her parents all about their plan. The couple are brought back to Anarene. On the trip back, Jacy's mother, Lois, admits to Sonny that she was Sam the Lion's paramour and tells him that he was much better off with Ruth Popper than with Jacy. The marriage of Sonny and Jacy is annulled.

Duane returns to town on leave from the Army before shipping out for Korea. He and Sonny are among the meager group attending the final screening at the movie house, which is closing that day (the "last picture show" is Red River, a western set in Texas starring John Wayne). The next morning, Sonny sees Duane off on the bus. Billy is sweeping the street and is hit and killed by a truck. An upset Sonny seeks comfort from Ruth. Her first reaction is to vent her hurt and anger but then she takes his outstretched hand, saying, "Never you mind, honey. Never you mind."


  • Timothy Bottoms as Sonny Crawford. Bogdanovich liked Bottoms for his sad eyes and recalled that he was convinced to cast him based on promotion from Bottoms' agent, who said that the actor had been given the lead in a Dalton Trumbo movie, Johnny Got His Gun (1971); "I guess that's what convinced me," he said.[2]
  • Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson. Bridges got the role because in the book Duane is not a particularly likable character; Bogdanovich thought that Bridges's naturally fun personality would give the character extra depth and warmth and make him less disagreeable.[2]
  • Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow. Shepherd was a model whom Bogdanovich spotted on the cover of Glamour magazine (probably the June 1970 issue). "There was something about her expression that was very piquant." He arranged to meet her with her agent in a hotel in New York City. According to Bogdanovich, Shepherd was interested in going through college and not particularly interested in being in movies, but she liked the script and thought it was an interesting part. She was playing with a rose on the table, and Bogdanovich kept expecting the rose to keel over and collapse; he recognized in that gesture the way Jacy Farrow plays with guys in the movie, and this convinced him that he had found Jacy. Bert Schneider, the producer, found a screen test Shepherd had done with Roger Vadim about a year before, in which she was playing scenes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with no sound and dancing silently to a Rolling Stones song. After filming had finished, Bogdanovich admitted to Shepherd that the only time he ever doubted his decision was when he saw that screen test.[2] Shepherd went to Los Angeles and read with Tex Ritter and with Robert Mitchum's son as well as Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms.
  • Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion. According to Bogdanovich, Tex Ritter was almost cast in the role (he was introduced to Bogdanovich by his son John Ritter, who was being considered for the part of Sonny). Johnson was not keen on the part because of the wordiness of the script; Eileen Brennan recalled that he hated to talk, saying he would rather ride his horse a "thousand miles than say any of these goddamn words"; Bogdanovich had his heart set on Johnson. He called director John Ford, whom he knew well, having previously completed a documentary on him, and Ford persuaded Johnson to take the role by asking him, "Do you want to be the Duke's sidekick forever?"[3] Johnson continued to find reasons not to do the film and finally Bogdanovich told him, "You, in this role, are going to get an Academy Award," and finally Johnson accepted: "All right, I'll do the damn thing."[2] Johnson did win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper. Leachman wanted the role, and Bogdanovich was impressed enough with her read-through to offer her the part that ultimately earned her an Oscar.
  • Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow. Burstyn was asked to read for the part of Genevieve, but she liked the part of Lois Farrow and asked if she could read for that. She ended up reading for those parts and also for that of Ruth Popper. Bogdanovich thought that she would be good as any of them and allowed her to choose. She chose to be Jacy's mother because she thought the part interesting.[2]
  • Eileen Brennan as Genevieve, the café waitress. Bogdanovich had seen Brennan on stage in the off-Broadway production of Little Mary Sunshine and thought she had the perfect face for the tired waitress. When she read the script, Brennan thought it so powerful she wanted very much to be a part of the film and gladly accepted the role.[2]
  • Clu Gulager as Abilene, who works for Jacy's father. Bogdanovich's first choice was the country singer Jimmy Dean but his producers did not like that idea; his next choice was Gulager, whom he had seen give a great performance in Don Siegel's The Killers (1964). Gulager played hitman Lee with what Bogdanovich described as "good regional quality."[2]
  • Sam Bottoms as Billy. Timothy Bottoms's younger brother came along to stay with his brother for a few days, as rehearsals started in Archer City. Seeing Sam sitting on some stairs, Bogdanovich asked him if he could act. Sam, who had appeared in productions of Santa Barbara Youth Theater since he was 10 years old, shrugged and despite having previously cast the part with an actor from Dallas, Bogdanovich signed Sam up.[2][4]
  • Randy Quaid as Lester Marlow, Jacy's suitor who takes her to the pool party. Quaid was asked to read for the part of Bobby, the rich kid from Wichita Falls, but Bogdanovich thought that he would be better as Marlow. It is his film debut.[2]
  • Gary Brockette as Bobby Sheen, the wealthy and attractive playboy who hosts the pool party.
  • Sharon Taggart as Charlene Duggs, Sonny's girlfriend at the start of the film.
  • Barc Doyle as Joe Bob Blanton, the preacher's son who is a pedophile.
  • Bill Thurman as Coach Mr. Popper. It is implied that he is homosexual, and he is confirmed as such in the director's commentary.
  • Jessie Lee Fulton as Miss Mosey, the popcorn lady who inherits the cinema.
  • Robert Glenn as Gene Farrow, Jacy's father.
  • Joe Heathcock as the town's sheriff.
  • John Hillerman as the English teacher.
  • Frank Marshall as Tommy Logan, a high school student. Marshall had been a production manager on Bogdanovich's earlier film, Targets, and they had such fun working together that Bogdanovich had promised him something on his next film. He came along as assistant production manager, working with Polly Platt on location scouting, and played a small part as the student who is smacked on the backside by Coach Popper during basketball practice. He shows up again later as a football player in a scene near the end.[2]


Peter Bogdanovich was a 31-year-old stage actor, film essayist, and critic with two small films – Targets (1968) (also known as Before I Die) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) – to his directorial credit, all made with his wife and collaborator, Polly Platt. One day while waiting in a cashier's line in a drugstore, he happened to look at the rack of paperbacks and his eye fell on an interesting title, The Last Picture Show. The back of the book said it was about "kids growing up in Texas" and Bogdanovich decided that it did not interest him and put it back. A few weeks later, actor Sal Mineo handed Platt a copy of the book. "I always wanted to be in this," he said, "but I'm a little too old now" and recommended that Platt and Bogdanovich make it into a film. According to Bogdanovich's recollection, Platt said, "I don't know how you make it into a picture, but it's a good book."[2] Bogdanovich, McMurtry, and Platt adapted the novel into the film of the same name.[5]

Stephen Friedman was a lawyer with Columbia Pictures but keen to break into film production and he had bought the film rights to the book, so Bogdanovich hired him as producer.[6]

After discussing the film with Orson Welles, his houseguest at the time, Bogdanovich decided to shoot the film in black and white.[2]

The film was shot in Larry McMurtry's small hometown of Archer City located in northern Texas. McMurtry had renamed the town Thalia in his book; Bogdanovich renamed it Anarene for the film, a name chosen to correspond to the cowtown of Abilene, Kansas, in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948).[7] Red River, significantly, is the movie, indeed the last picture show, which Sonny and Duane watch at the end of the film.

After shooting the film, Bogdanovich went back to Los Angeles to edit the film on a Moviola. Bogdanovich has said[2] he edited the entire film himself but refused to credit himself as editor, reasoning that director and co-writer was enough. When informed that the Motion Picture Editors Guild required an editor credit, he suggested Donn Cambern who had been editing another film, Drive, He Said (1971) in the next office and had helped Bogdanovich, with some purchasing paperwork concerning the film's opticals.[2] Cambern disputes this, stating that Bogdanovich did do an edit of the film, which he screened for a selection of guests, including Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and himself. The consensus was the film was going to be great, but needed further editing to achieve its full potential. Bogdanovich invited Cambern to edit the film further and Cambern made significant contributions to the film's final form.

Reception and legacy

Box office

The film earned $13.1 million in domestic rentals in North America.[8]

Critical reception

The Last Picture Show received critical acclaim and maintains a 100% rating at review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 52 critics, with a rating average of 9.1/10. Its consensus states: "Making excellent use of its period and setting, Peter Bogdanovich's small town coming of age story is a sad but moving classic filled with impressive performances."[9]

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars in his original review and named it the best film of 1971. He later added it to his "Great Movies" list, writing that "the film is above all an evocation of mood. It is about a town with no reason to exist, and people with no reason to live there. The only hope is in transgression."[10] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "lovely film" that "rediscovers a time, a place, a film form—and a small but important part of the American experience."[11] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "Like few films in recent years, Peter Bogdanovich's 'The Last Picture Show' ends with us wanting to see more of the people who occupy the small town world that is Anarene, Tex. in 1951. This emotion is not easily achieved. It is a result of a thourough Peyton Place investigation into Anarene's bedrooms, parked cars, football games, movie theater, restaurant, and pool hall."[12] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "the most considered, craftsmanlike and elaborate tribute we have yet had to what the movies were and how they figured in our lives."[13] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "an exceedingly well-made and involving narrative film with decent aims, encouraging us to understand and care about its characters, though not to emulate them."[14]

Obscenity controversy

In 1973, largely because of the skinny-dipping party scene, the film was banned in Phoenix, Arizona, when the city attorney notified a drive-in theater manager that the film violated a state obscenity statute. Eventually, a federal court decided that the film was not obscene.[15][16] Ed Ware, the district attorney of Rapides Parish, Louisiana, managed to block the showing of the film but only temporarily because the theater filed suit successfully to overturn Ware's directive.[17]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards


It ranked No. 19 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[18] In 2007, the film was ranked No. 95 on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

In April 2011, The Last Picture Show was re-released in UK and Irish cinemas, distributed by Park Circus. Total Film magazine gave the film a five-star review, stating: "Peter Bogdanovich's desolate Texan drama is still as stunning now as it was in 1971."[19]

Home media

The film was released by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of their box set, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It included a high-definition digital transfer of Peter Bogdanovich's director's cut, two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall; the other from 2009, featuring Bogdanovich "The Last Picture Show": A Look Back, (1999) and Picture This (1990), documentaries about the making of the film, A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, a 2009 Q&A, screen tests and location footage, and excerpts from a 1972 television interview with director François Truffaut about the New Hollywood.[20]

Director's cut

In 1992, Bogdanovich re-edited the film to create a "director's cut". This version restores seven minutes of footage that Bogdanovich trimmed from the 1971 release because Columbia imposed a firm 119-minute time limit on the film.[2] With this requirement removed in the 1990s, Bogdanovich used the 127-minute cut on laserdisc, VHS and DVD releases. The original 1971 cut is not currently available on home video, though it was released on VHS and laserdisc through Columbia Tristar Home Video.

There are two substantial scenes restored in the director's cut. The first is a sex scene between Jacy and Abilene that plays in the poolhall after it has closed for the night; it precedes the exterior scene where he drops her off home and she says "What a night. I never thought this would happen." The other major insertion is a scene that plays in Sam's café, where Genevieve watches while an amiable Sonny and a revved-up Duane decide to take their road trip to Mexico; it precedes the exterior scene outside the poolhall when they tell Sam of their plans, the last time they will ever see him.

Several shorter scenes were also restored. One comes between basketball practice in the gym and the exterior at The Rig-Wam drive-in; it has Jacy, Duane and Sonny riding along in her convertible (and being chased by an enthusiastic little dog), singing an uptempo rendition of the more solemn school song sung later at the football game. Another finds Sonny cruising the town streets in the pick-up, gazing longingly into Sam's poolhall, café and theater, from which he has been banished. Finally, there is an exterior scene of the auto caravan on its way to the Senior Picnic; as it passes the fishing tank where he had fished with Sam and Billy, Sonny sheds a tear for his departed friend and his lost youth.

Two scenes got slightly longer treatments: Ruth's and Sonny's return from the doctor, and the boys' returning Billy to Sam after his encounter with Jemmie Sue—both had added dialogue. Also, a number of individual shots were put back in, most notably a handsome Gregg Toland-style deep focus shot in front of the Royal Theatre as everyone gets in their cars.[2]


Texasville, the 1990 sequel to The Last Picture Show, based on McMurtry's 1987 novel of the same name, was also directed by Bogdanovich, from his own screenplay, without McMurtry this time. The film reunites actors Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid, Sharon Ullrick (née Taggart) and Barc Doyle.

Stephen King's novel Lisey's Story makes repeated references to The Last Picture Show as the main character Scott Landon frequently watches the film throughout the novel during flashbacks.

The 1972 Roxy Music UK hit single Virginia Plain includes the line, "Last Picture Show's down the drive-in."

See also


  1. "The Last Picture Show, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  2. Peter Bogdanovich (2001) The Last Picture Show: A Look Back [DVD]
  3. Biskind, Peter, 1998. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80996-6
  4. LA Times-18 December 2008 Sam Bottoms's Obituary
  5. Jigsaw Lounge - Neil Young
  6. Kings Road Entertainment Archived 2009-05-02 at the Wayback Machine-Company History
  7. Dirks, Tim. "Filmsite Movie Review: The Last Picture Show".
  8. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 20.
  9. The Last Picture Show at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. Roger Ebert (July 4, 2004). "Great Movie Reviews - The Last Picture Show". Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  11. Canby, Vincent (October 17, 1971). "A Lovely 'Last Picture Show'". The New York Times. D1.
  12. Siskel, Gene (December 21, 1971). "Last Picture Show". Section 2, p. 13.
  13. Champlin, Charles (November 14, 1971). "Movies Were Better Than Ever in 'Picture'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  14. Arnold, Gary (December 25, 1971). "The Last Picture Show". The Washington Post. D1.
  15. "Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online". Archived from the original on 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2012-04-05.
  16. "Most Controversial Films of All Time". Retrieved 2012-04-05.
  17. Richard P. Sharkey (July 11, 2016). "Former Rapides Parish DA Ed Ware III dies at 88". The Alexandria Town Talk. Alexandria, Louisiana. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  18. Countdown: The 50 best high school movies | Photo Gallery | News | Entertainment Weekly Archived September 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  19. "The Last Picture Show Review". Total Film. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  20. "The Last Picture Show". The Criterion Collection.
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