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With the exception of the film's title, all of the credits appear at the end of the picture. The names and characters of the leading actors appear over brief scenes of them from the film. The picture does not have a traditional music score and instead features only songs from the film's time period (Nov 1951-October 1952) or earlier. The songs are heard on jukeboxes, record players and radios and frequently are only snippets. Some of the songs heard briefly are "Blue Velvet," "Slow Poke," "A Fool Such as I," "Kawliga" and "Jambalaya." The onscreen credits include the following acknowledgment: "For their music we thank Hank Williams; Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, courtesy of MGM Records; Eddy Arnold; Eddie Fisher; Phil Harris; Pee Wee King; Hank Snow, courtesy of RCA Records; Tony Bennett; Lefty Frizzell; Frankie Laine; Johnnie Ray, courtesy of Columbia Records; Johnny Standley; Kay Starr; Hank Thompson, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc.; Webb Pierce; Jo Stafford, courtesy of Decca Records."
Also thanked onscreen are M-G-M, for providing the clips from its 1950 film Father of the Bride; United Artists Corp. and Avco-Embassy for the use of Howard Hawks's 1948 production Red River, which is the last film shown at the Royal Theatre; Walter Framer Productions for excerpts from the television show Strike It Rich; and Max Liebman Productions for excerpts from the television program Your Show of Shows, both of which are seen in the "Farrow" home.
The picture is largely faithful to Larry McMurtry's semi-autobiographical novel, although certain scenes, such as the high school graduation, were added for the film. "Coach Popper's" latent homosexuality is not emphasized in the film, and his persecution of teacher "Mr. Cecil," in order to disguise his own homosexuality, is not included at all. One deviation from McMurtry's novel that was made by director Peter Bogdanovich were the films exhibited at the Royal Theatre, which is referred to as "the picture show." In the novel, the first movie seen by the townspeople is the 1951 Ginger Rogers starrer Storm Warning (see below), while in the film, the first film that "Sonny Crawford" and "Charlene Duggs" see is Father of the Bride. Bogdanovich was particularly insistent on the last film exhibited before the picture show closes, according to contemporary accounts. In the novel, it is The Kid from Texas, a minor, 1950 Audie Murphy Western, whereas Bogdanovich preferred something "more romantic" so that "the theater [would] go out with a bang," and so instead used Red River, starring John Wayne (see below).
According to December 1969 Variety and Publishers Weekly news items, lawyer Stephen J. Friedman purchased the film rights to McMurtry's novel in 1967, then sold them to producer Bert Schneider in 1969. A July 1968 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Friedman had hired Clyde Ware to write the screenplay, and a September 1968 Daily Variety item announced the Ware had been paid $40,000 by Shacar Productions, a New York-based company, for his screenplay. None of Ware's work was used in the final film, however. In her autobiography, actress Cybill Shepherd related that Friedman, who is credited onscreen as executive producer, was a producer in name only because of the deal for the book rights, and that when he visited the set during filming, he was banned by Bogdanovich for attempting to coach some of the actors. Bogdanovich has recounted in several modern sources that he was given a copy of McMurtry's book by actor Sal Mineo, who felt that he was too old for any of the leading parts but thought highly of the novel and encouraged Bogdanovich to film the property. Although several 1970 news items announced that the title of The Last Picture Show would be changed in order to avoid confusion with director-actor Dennis Hopper's 1971 release The Last Movie, it was not.
In a January 1972 New York Times interview, Ellen Burstyn stated that she had originally read for all three of the "older women" parts-"Lois Farrow," "Genevieve" and "Ruth Popper"-and that although the other filmmakers were eager to have her play Ruth, Bogdanovich told her to pick whichever role she wanted, and Burstyn chose Lois. Filmfacts recounted studio press noting that James Stewart was considered for the role of "Sam the Lion," while Dorothy Malone and Vera Miles were considered for "Ruth Popper," until "Bogdanovich decided to go with `no familiar faces.'" According to modern sources, including interviews with the filmmakers for a 1999 "making of" documentary on the picture's DVD release, John Ritter and Chris Mitchum were considered for the role of Sonny; Tex Ritter auditioned for Sam the Lion; Sissy Spacek and Morgan Fairchild were considered for "Jacy Farrow"; and Bogdanovich pushed to hire country singer Jimmy Dean for "Abilene." In the documentary, both Bridges and Burstyn noted that local Texas actor Lloyd Catlett, who played "Leroy" in the film, served as a dialogue coach, helping them and other cast members with their accents.
As noted by contemporary sources, the film was shot on location in Archer City, TX, McMurtry's hometown. According to reviews of the film, McMurtry based his novel on life in Archer City, although it is called Anarene in the film and Thalia in his novel. Numerous contemporary sources reported that the citizens of Archer City were displeased by McMurtry's fictionalized depiction of the town and were hostile toward him and the filmmakers when the picture was produced there. As pointed out in a February 1972 Los Angeles Times article, however, numerous townspeople appeared in the film in bit roles or as extras, including the Acher City High School Band and McMurtry's mother Hazel. Contemporary sources report that although Archer City was the primary location site, some scenes were shot in nearby Wichita Falls, TX. The exterior of the Royal movie theater was located in Archer City, but the interior used was that of the West-Tex Theatre in Olney, TX, according to a January 1986 Los Angeles Times article. According to a 1978 New York Times article, the Royal went out of business in the early 1960s.
In the 1999 documentary, Bogdanovich claimed that he edited the entire film himself but did not want to receive an onscreen credit for it, as he felt it would look "ridiculous" to have too many credits on the same film. When Schneider pointed out that the Editors Guild required that someone had to receive the editor's credit, Bogdanovich suggested Donn Cambern, who had been working in the editing facility next to his and had helped him with the paperwork to order some optical effects.
The film received glowing reviews, with the acting, black-and-white cinematography and direction being highly praised. Cue called the film "nothing short of a contemporary American cinema classic," while Newsweek declared: "It is not merely the best American movie of a rather dreary year; it is the most impressive work by a young American director since Citizen Kane." LAHExam commended the acting, terming it "surely the strongest ensemble performance of the year." Numerous reviewers were moved by the film's depiction of the decline in motion picture attendance, which had been an important part of American small-town life, and the rise in television viewership in the 1950s. The closure of the Royal Theater and the death of Sam the Lion also symbolized a decline in moral values and authority, according to some film historians, who quote Sonny's lament that "nothing has been right since Sam died."
Many critics commented that Bogdanovich's direction was informed by his intense study of and admiration for "classic" American film directors, especially John Ford, Orson Welles and Howard Hawks. Leachman and Ben Johnson won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress and Actor, respectively, and the film received Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress (Burstyn) and Best Supporting Actor (Bridges). The picture won BAFTAs for Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Leachman) and was nominated for Best Direction, Best Film and Best Supporting Actress (Brennan). Bogdanovich received nominations from the Directors Guild and Writers Guild, and the film was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Supporting Actress-Motion Pictures (both Leachman and Burstyn) and Most Promising Newcomer for Shepherd. Johnson won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor-Motion Picture. In 1998, the film was selected by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Film Registry.
The picture, which was first exhibited at the New York Film Festival, was also shown as the opening attraction for the first Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) on November 4, 1971. A March 1972 Daily Variety article noted that BBS Productions awarded public relations executive Claire Harrison, and other "tub-thumpers for the hit picture," .012% of the film's grosses for the next four years due to their successful efforts in advertising the hit picture. A February 1972 Hollywood Reporter article had reported that the film appeared "to be headed for an international tally of at least $20 million."
The film marked the screen acting debut of Randy Quaid, although some modern sources erroneously state that Quaid made his debut in Bogdanovich's first picture, the 1968 release Targets (see below). In the DVD documentary, Bogdanovich stated that the casting director first brought Quaid in with the intention of casting him as "Bobby Sheen," but Bogdanovich thought he would be more suitable for "Lester Marlowe." Sam Bottoms, the younger brother of actor Timothy Bottoms, also made his motion picture debut in The Last Picture Show. According to Filmfacts, he got the role "when he showed up to watch his older brother Timothy's first day of shooting."
The film also marked the feature film debut of twenty-year-old model Cybill Shepherd, who began a highly publicized affair with Bogdanovich during production. The thirty-one-year-old Bogdanovich, who, according to contemporary sources, cast Shepherd after seeing her on the cover of Glamour magazine, left his wife, designer Polly Platt, with whom he had collaborated on The Last Picture Show and Targets, for Shepherd. Bogdanovich and Platt divorced, although they continued to work together on and off, while the director lived with Shepherd until mid-1978. Bogdanovich and Shepherd made two more films together, 1974's Daisy Miller and 1975's At Long Last Love, but neither picture was received well financially or critically, and the couple received much negative press about their relationship. The Last Picture Show also marked McMurtry's first screenplay and the beginning of his longtime friendship with both Bogdanovich and Shepherd.
In the DVD documentary, Bogdanovich related that he had been pressured to edit the film to under two hours. Several months after its initial release, however, he added back in the scene between Genevieve and Sonny, in which it is explained that Sonny and "Duane Jackson" live at a boardinghouse despite each having a surviving parent. The addition of the sequence raised the film's running time to 120 minutes, which was the running time of the picture's 1974 theatrical reissue. For the movie's 1991 videocassette and laserdisc release, Bogdanovich edited back in several more sequences, including the sexual encounter between Abilene and Jacy. In her autobiography, Shepherd explained that the original sound had been lost for the pool table sequence, and so she re-recorded "the audible implications of lovemaking" for the scene. The "director's cut," which runs 126 minutes, was the print viewed. Although Bogdanovich stated in a October 22, 1990 Daily Variety article that the film had not yet been released on videocassette due to expensive restoration work, a October 3, 1990 Long Beach Press-Telegram article claimed that the video release was delayed due to difficulties in clearing the extensive music rights. In 1999, the film was restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment, according to a press release for a 2005 AMPAS screening.
According to a September 1972 Daily Variety article, BBS Productions and Columbia filed suit in Arizona Federal Court to challenge Arizona and Phoenix laws prohibiting "sensitive subject matter" from being shown at drive-in movie theaters, where, presumably, it could be seen by people outside the theater. The article noted that Phoenix authorities "objected to less than 10 seconds of footage" from the film, but that they were still not allowing it to be exhibited at drive-ins. The production companies charged that prohibiting them from exhibiting The Last Picture Show at drive-ins infringed on the First Amendment rights of both audiences and producers. A July 1973 Hollywood Reporter article announced that the production companies had won the suit. The Hollywood Reporter article explained that Phoenix authorities had decided that Shepherd's nude scene was "obscene" and had ordered the theater showing the picture to delete it or withdraw the picture. Columbia had chosen to withdraw the film from drive-in exhibition, and the court hearing the case ruled that BBS and Columbia had faced "official suppression" as a result of the censorship.
Shepherd filed a lawsuit against Playboy magazine in the mid-1970s after it printed frame enlargements of her nude scene from the film's swimming pool sequence, which she maintained was illegal as the magazine had not obtained her consent. As noted by a May 1979 New York Times article and Shepherd's autobiography, the case was settled out of court when Hugh Hefner, Playboy's publisher, agreed to split with her the film rights to Paul Theroux's novel Saint Jack. Directed by Bogdanovich and co-produced by Shepherd's Shoals Creek production company, the film was released in 1979.
In 1974, according to trade paper reports, Schneider, Robert J. Rafelson and J. Steven Blauner, partners in BBS Productions, filed suit against Columbia, demanding an accounting of profits for The Last Picture Show and Five Easy Pieces, which was also made by BBS. A May 30, 1974 Daily Variety news item reported that the partners had sold their interest in BBS to Columbia in December 1971 in exchange for "85% of `asset value realization' from all produced properties," including the two pictures. The partners alleged that Columbia had failed to account for all profits, made improper tax adjustments and overstated other expenses. The outcome of that suit has not been confirmed. In August 1977, the three partners again sued Columbia, this time alleging that the studio had "violated Federal anti-trust laws" and conspired to "defraud" BBS through its licensing of The Last Picture Show and other BBS films for exhibition on ABC-TV, according to a August 3, 1977 Variety article. The disposition of the 1977 suit also has not been determined.
In 1987, McMurtry published Texasville, his sequel to The Last Picture Show, which picked up the characters' lives in 1984, during a celebration of the centennial of Archer County. Bogdanovich's film of the novel, also entitled Texasville, was released in 1990 and featured Bridges, Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Quaid, Leachman, Brennan and several others reprising their roles from the first film. For the 1990 film, Bogdanovich again employed the device of using songs from radios and other sources within the picture rather than a traditional musical score. According to an August 1990 Long Beach Press-Telegram article, Columbia originally considered a theatrical re-release of The Last Picture Show in the summer before the release of Texasville, but decided against it in case viewers thought they would have to see the earlier film in order to understand the later one.
In 1991, Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas, a documentary directed by George Hickenlooper and produced by Timothy and Sam Bottoms, received a limited theatrical release and was broadcast on cable television. Although it was shot during production of Texasville, the hour-long documentary revolved primarily around the making of The Last Picture Show, and its long-lasting effects on the personal lives of the cast, crew and townspeople of Archer City.