Notre Dame professor Edward Fischer has said that ‘the best films, like the best books, tell how it is to be human under certain circumstances’. Larry McMurtry did a beautiful job of this in his small novel (which he transferred to the screen), The Last Picture Show.
Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges portray the pair of youths who complement each other’s limited potential. Physically, they’re much alike – football-playing, lanky, likable products of the Texas plains; mentally, or emotionally, they move on different planes. Bridges is the high school hero, more aggressive; Bottoms is the more sensitive, hence the more lonely, of the pair.
The boys grow a bit, some good people die, a few more secrets are revealed, and another ‘nothing’ decade has passed. Bridges, spurned by his girl, joins the army; Bottoms matures a bit. Not much else happens.
The best, most solid, most moving performances in the film are given by Ben Johnson, that old John Ford regular, as Sam The Lion, the owner of the picture show and pool room where the town boys spend most of their time; and Cloris Leachman as the football coach’s wife, who introduces Bottoms to sex.
Peter Bogdanovich elected to shoot the film in black and white, artistically appropriate for the dust-blown, tired little community, but Robert Surtees (who’s a master with color) doesn’t bring off the tones of gray. There is excellent use of many pop tunes of the period and only introduced in a natural manner – a nickel in a jukebox, a car radio, or an early television set.
1971: Best Supp. Actor (Ben Johnson), Supp. Actress (Cloris Leachman).
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actor (Jeff Bridges), Supp. Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography