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The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writers: Larry McMurtry (novel/screeplay) Peter Bogdanovich(screenplay)
Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid
Genre: Drama

About: A group of high school students in a small, desolate Texas town in 1951 come of age as the town slowly dies.

Review: A pretentious film, whose main claim to fame is its stark black & white photography and the desolate, wind swept streets of a small, rural Texas town. There's no dening the film has oodles of atmosphere...and it's other strong point is the fresh faced cast of unknown actors which gives the film a feeling of realism. Then again realism isn't a strong suit of this movie.

Based on the best selling novel, the film fails to capture the essences of it's characters. Their hollow shells with little meat, we scarcely know who they are or what they want as they drift about town. Instead of character development or a strong story, the movie relies on shocking (for 1971) full frontal nudity scenes, that are spliced into the movie for no other reason than to cover Bogdanovich's weak script. When the movie lags and it lags alot, Bogdanovich brings in a cop chase to create tension. Unfortunately those scenes aren't part of the narrative in any substantial way.

The first part of the movie starts off very slow with no plot. For a long time I wasn't even sure what was going on. I don't usually use this word in a review, but I was bored by the movie. At two hours long it has plenty of time to bring the characters and their lives into focus. But in Altman-esque style we get colorful characters set in an even more colorful world, and yet they do nothing. They're all dressed up with nowhere to go.

In The Last Picture Show Bogdanovich doesn't have anything much to say, so he pulls out a bag of tricks and show that he's a better director than script writer. Take away the nudity and shoot this in color and you'd have a film that no one would remember. Mostly it's the look and sets that make this movie. Most of the scenes that take place have no set-up for the character's motivation, stuff just happens. Much of the blatant sex seems like a comment on American changing values of 1971, than the going-ons of a small Texas town in 1951.

On the positive side Ben Johnson made a memorable character and picked up an Oscar for his work. Cloris Leachman gave a tour de force performance, especially the end scene which undoubtedly influenced viewers opinion, giving the film more credibility than it deserves.

On the other hand, Timothy Bottoms, as likeable as he is, is miscast. He slumps around the town like he's stoned out of his head and this is suppose to be the star quarter back of the football team. He's more of a deadbeat. It been better if his character was cast as the perennial loser, high school drop out, someone going nowhere fast. Cybill Shepard, at times seems fresh and believable at other times she's too hammy as the virgin who can't wait to get laid.

My biggest problem with the film is there are scenes that go nowhere and would have been better to cut them all together, instead of including an abbreviated version of the scene just because it was in the book. A couple examples:

When Timothy Bottoms and Cybill Shepherd decide to elope, Cybill says coyly she's left a note for her parents that the couple have crossed state lines to get married, at which Timothy Bottoms says he hopes the cops won't arrest them. Which they do.... but nothing really happens because of that scene. It doesn't change impact or change the characters growth or the narrative. Why Cybill left the note isn't made clear.

In another scene a secondary character, the preacher's son, kidnaps a little girl causing a police chase. But after they find him, nothing happens and no one cares. All that is added is another dramatic police scene to create some tension. It's clear Bogdanovich didn't know how to handle the script...but at least the film looks great.