Friday, March 16, 2012
The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show: The Definitive Director's Cut (Special Edition)
Number 95 on the 2007 AFI List of the 100 Best American Films
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. Just for the record, I believe Cybill Shepherd's breasts are also a major reason this movie became so well received.
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. Cybill Shepherd should have been nominated for nice boobs. Ok, getting serious here:
* Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion, the owner of the town's café, movie theater, and pool hall. According to Bogdanovich, Tex Ritter was almost cast in the role (he was introduced to Bogdanovich by 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." But 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 into the role by asking him "Do you want to be the Duke's sidekick forever?" 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." Johnson did indeed win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
* Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson, one of the popular kids in the school, who dates Jacy at the beginning of the picture. Bridges got the role because in the book he 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.
* Timothy Bottoms as Sonny Crawford, Duane's buddy, who begins the picture with a girlfriend he does not like and ends up in an affair with Ruth. Bogdanovich liked Bottoms for his sad eyes, and recalled that he was convinced to cast him when he learned that he was being highly touted at the time by his agent who said he had been given the lead in a Dalton Trumbo movie Johnny Got His Gun (1971); "I guess that's what convinced me" he said. Bottoms did indeed have the lead in Johnny Got His Gun, although he was playing a quadriplegic and terribly mutilated World War I soldier who could not see, hear, move or speak.
* Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow, a pretty and popular girl who learns about life through her experiments with sexual attraction. Shepherd was a model whom Bogdanovich spotted on the cover of an issue of Glamour magazine (probably June 1970). "There was something about her expression that was very piquant," he later said. He arranged to meet her with her agent in a hotel in New York. She was, Bogdanovich says, 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 recognised 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. Shepherd went to Los Angeles and read with John Ritter, and with Robert Mitchum's son as well as Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms. Bogdanovich was married to Polly Platt but began an affair with Shepherd during the filming.
* Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper, Coach Popper's wife, who has a romantic affair with Sonny. Leachman wanted the role and Bogdanovich was impressed enough with her read-through to offer the part she wanted for a performance that ultimately earned her an Oscar.
* Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow, Jacy's mother, who romped with Sam in her younger days and has an off-and-on affair with Abilene. 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 and ended up reading for all three parts, including Coach Popper's wife. Bogdanovich thought she would be good as any one of them and decided he wanted her in the picture for any role she selected. She chose to be Jacy's mother because she thought the part interesting.
* Eileen Brennan as Genevieve, the café waitress, who inherits the café after Sam dies. Bogdanovich had seen Brennan on the stage in Little Mary Sunshine in the 1960s 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.
* Randy Quaid as Lester Marlow, an unsavory character. 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 was Quaid's debut role.
* Clu Gulager as Abilene, a man the same age as Sam, who sleeps with both Jacy and Lois. 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."
* Bill Thurman as Coach Popper, the high school's athletic coach and Ruth Popper's husband; it is implied that he is homosexual, and he is confirmed as such in the director's commentary.
* 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.
* Sam Bottoms as Billy the street-sweeper. Timothy Bottoms's younger brother Sam 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 to an actor from Dallas, Bogdanovich signed Sam up.
* Sharon Taggart as Charlene Duggs, Sonny's dumpy, unpleasant girlfriend in the first act.