I’ll say this for 1971’s The Last Picture Show — Cybill Shepherd looked hot. As for the film itself, I thought it was as slow and dull as life must have been in Anarene, Texas in the 1950s! I didn’t read the book by Larry McMurtry upon which this film was based, but I imagine it was much more detailed about the lives of the characters in this story. I think one of the fatal flaws of most films made from epic novels is that you simply can’t get into all the details in two hours so the film is left leaving the viewer wondering why everyone is acting the way they are and why the plot moves in the direction it does. Which is a long winded way to say that I thought the characters in this film were really flat.
The film revolves around a couple of high school friends in a tiny Texas town in the 1950s. The town is decaying and these soon to be graduates are “coming of age” as it were. Sonny Crawford is lonely and bored, and after breaking up with his girlfriend he begins a strange affair with the 40-ish wife of his coach. The wife, played by Cloris Leachman, is a pathetic and unattractive woman, so we can guess young Sonny is sleeping with her out of pure boredom and a teenage desire to get laid (I read that in the book the coach is a closet homosexual, so it would make sense she was unhappy). The other best friend, Duane Jackson, is trying desperately to sleep with the desirable Jacy Farrow (Shepherd), but he’s a bit of a loser and she doesn’t want to get stuck with him for the rest of her life. Jacy is looking for anything to get her out of the life of her mother, so she gloms on to whatever man she can find, including sleeping with the much older Abilene.
Sex is the common theme in this film — everyone is trying to get it in disturbing ways. Jacy sleeps with everyone. Sonny sleeps with a much older woman (this would be statutory rape by the way). The boys pony up money for the “slow-witted” Billy to get laid by a disgusting prostitute. One of the boys kidnaps a little girl and is caught by police having only “gotten her underwear off.” A group of rich teens have a weird ritual where they skinny dip and as an initiation the newbie has to stand on the diving board and get naked while everyone watches. This was quite a depraved town!
I suppose The Last Picture Show was quite bold for its time. My goodness, there were tits on screen. But I am not willing to let the period dictate whether or not I think a film is good. The Last Picture show was nominated for Best Picture in 1972 along with Fiddler on the Roof, A Clockwork Orange, Nicholas and Alexandra and eventual winner The French Connection. I haven’t seen Nicholas and Alexandra, but the other three are far superior to The Last Picture Show in my mind. I’m also not sure why all the fuss about director Peter Bogdanovich. Aside from this, and Paper Moon he hardly directed anything worth a shit, and in the past 20 years or so his biggest claim to fame is being an extra on The Sopranos. I’m sensing a theme so far with these AFI reviews — history has a muddy memory. I did not like The Last Picture Show and cannot recommend it.
Next Up: AFI #94 Pulp Fiction