Set in a small Texan town in the 1950s, The Last Picture Show follows the lives of its eclectic inhabitants, focusing on the romantic entanglements of its teenagers who are keen to sample the new liberal culture of the post-war decade.
Made in 1971, The Last Picture Show successfully captures the mood of a 1950s film from the black and white photography to the questionable sound quality. It’s a drama set against the backdrop of renewed social values, in a similar way to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Alfie, but being made later than its setting it enjoys the benefit of hindsight.
Where a film made in the 50s might have been all fun and romance, The Last Picture Show is almost anti-romantic. In the opening 20 minutes a boy breaks up with his girlfriend on their anniversary, a football coach sends one of his pupils to drive his wife to the hospital and a mother encourages her daughter to sleep with her boyfriend so she’ll realise he’s not up to much. It portrays marriage as depressing and casual flings as emotionally damaging.
This is set against a fleetingly-referenced backdrop of Eisenhower’s election, the Korean war and Hank Williams songs. The dating culture and increasingly liberal attitude to sex allow the characters to explore, while remaining trapped in the near-incestuous confines of their tiny town. The script is funny, managing to find comedic absurdity in much of what takes place.
It’s helped by an excellent cast, including an unrecognisably young Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson and Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow. They help bring director/writer Peter Bogdanovich’s ingenious work to life, resulting in a film thoroughly deserving of its 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.