The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. Set in a small town in north Texas during the year November 1951 – October 1952, it is about the coming of age of Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). The cast includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid in his film debut, and John Hillerman.

For aesthetic and technical reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for its time. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and four nominations for acting: Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. It won two: Johnson and Leachman.

Crawford and Jackson are small-town Texas high-school seniors. They are friends and co-captains of Anarene High School’s football team and share a rooming house home and a battered old pickup truck. Duane is good-looking, amusing and popular, and dates Jacy Farrow (Shepherd), the prettiest (and wealthiest) girl in town. Sonny is sensitive and caring, with a dumpy, unpleasant girlfriend, Charlene Duggs (Sharon Taggart), whom he does not love; she shares his indifference.

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 ‘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, and her response was, ‘I don’t know how you make it into a picture, but it’s a good book.’ Bogdanovich, McMurtry and some sources suggest an uncredited Polly Platt went through the book and wrote a script that tells the story chronologically. After discussing the film with Orson Welles, his houseguest at the time, Bogdanovich decided to shoot the film in black and white.

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