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.

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), Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid and John Hillerman. For aesthetic reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for the time. The film features many songs of Hank Williams and other recording artists played throughout.

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 and Duane Jackson are high-school seniors and friends in Anarene, a small, declining north Texas town. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow, the prettiest girl in town. Sonny decides to break up with girlfriend Charlene Duggs.

At Christmas time, Sonny begins an affair with Ruth Popper, the depressed, middle-aged wife of his high-school coach, Coach Popper. At the Christmas dance, Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow to a naked indoor pool party, at the home of Bobby Sheen, a wealthy young man who seems a better prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy he isn't interested in virgins and to come back after she's had sex.

The group of boys take their young intellectually disabled friend, Billy, to a prostitute 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" tells them that since they cannot even take care of a friend, he is barring them from his pool hall, movie theater, and cafe. Sonny later sneaks into the cafe and accepts the offer of a free hamburger from the waitress, Genevieve, when Sam walks in and discovers him. Once Sam sees Sonny's genuine affection for Billy he accepts his apology.

During the weekend of New Years Eve, Duane and Sonny go on a weekend road trip to Mexico. Before they drive off, Sam comes to encourage them about their trip and gives them some extra money. When they return from the trip, hungover and tired, they learn that during their absence Sam died of a stroke on New Years Eve. In his will, Sam left the movie theater to the woman who ran the concession stand, the café to Genevieve, $1,000 to Joe Bob Blanton, and the pool hall to Sonny.

Jacy invites Duane to a motel for sex but he is unable to perform. She loses her virginity to him on their second attempt and then breaks up with him by phone. When Bobby marries another girl, Jacy is disappointed. Out of boredom, she has sex with Abilene, her mother's lover, though he is cold to her afterward. Jacy then sets her sights on Sonny, who drops Ruth without announcement. Duane quarrels with Sonny over Jacy, "his" girl, and hits him over the head with a bottle. Duane then decides to join the army to fight in Korea.

Jacy suggests to Sonny that they elope. On their way to their honeymoon, they are stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper; 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 she was Sam the Lion's paramour and tells him he was much better off with Ruth Popper than with Jacy.

Duane returns to town, before shipping out for Korea. He and Sonny are among the meager group attending the final screening at the movie house, which is closing down. The next morning, after Sonny sees Duane off on the bus, Billy is run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver as he sweeps the street. An upset Sonny seeks comfort from Ruth. Her first reaction is to vent her hurt and anger but then she takes his outstretched hand.


  • 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 likeable 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 June 1970). "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 that of Ruth Popper. Bogdanovich thought 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 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 supposedly pedophile preacher's son who is a mobbing victim of his classmates.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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 Bogdanovich 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 Bogdanovich make it into a film. At the time, Bogdanovich was married to Polly Platt and he asked her to read it. Her response was, "I don't know how you make it into a picture, but it's a good book."[2] Bogdanovich, McMurtry and some sources suggest[5] an uncredited Polly Platt went through the book and wrote a script that tells the story chronologically.

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 north 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]

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.

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.[8][9] 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. Years later, Ware said that the failure to halt pornography is "reflected in the lifestyle of the country today. Community standards have changed since then and none of them for the better."[10]

Reception and legacy

Box office

The film earned $13.1 million in North America.[11]

Critical reception

The Last Picture Show received critical acclaim and maintains a 100% rating at review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 51 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.'[12] 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."[13]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards


It ranked No. 19 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[14] 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."[15]

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.

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.[16]

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 "Whoever would have 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 is the 1990 sequel to The Last Picture Show, based on McMurtry's 1987 novel of the same name, 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.

See also


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  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 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-Company History
  7. Filmsite - Tim Dirks
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  11. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 20
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External links

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Template:Peter Bogdanovich

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