(director/writer: Peter Bogdanovich; screenwriter: Larry McMurtry/based on the novel by Larry McMurtry; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Donn Camern; music: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys; cast: Timothy Bottoms (Sonny Crawford), Jeff Bridges (Duane Jackson), Cybill Shepherd (Jacy Farrow), Ben Johnson (Sam the Lion), Cloris Leachman (Ruth Popper), Ellen Burstyn (Lois Farrow ), Eileen Brennan (Genevieve), Sam Bottoms (Billy), Sharon Ullrick (Charlene Duggs), Randy Quaid (Lester Marlow), Joe Heathcock (The Sheriff), Bill Thurman (Coach Popper), Barc Doyle (Joe Bob Blanton), Jessie Lee Fulton (Miss Mosey), Gary Brockette (Bobby Sheen), Clu Galager (Abilene), Robert Glenn (Gene Farrow); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Stephen J. Freidman/Bert Schneider/Harold Schneider; Columbia Tri-Star Home Video; 1971)
The director’s most important film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 31-year-old former movie critic, Peter Bogdanovich (“Targets”/”What’s Up Doc?”/”Paper Moon”), sets his nostalgic b/w coming-of-age drama in 1951, in the dusty small-town of Anarene, Texas. It’s based on the 1966 novel by Larry McMurtry and is written by the author and Bogdanovich. The brilliantly conceived pic, the director’s most important film, is filled with great detail of life back then – from TV taking hold, high school football being the most exciting thing in the rural Texas town, the agony of being a teen, the effects of sexual repression and all kinds of sexual intrigues. The well-acted and superbly detailed film captures the flavor of a dying town trying to live up to its macho cowboy image, even though its glory days have passed. It symbolizes in a natural way the town’s dying culture by the death of some of its nicer inhabitants and the closing of its only movie theater – the only place of culture in town.

Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges), boys from the wrong side of the tracks, are best friends and co-captains of the disappointing high school football team in Anarene. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) is the former cowboy and aging widow, who owns the small town’s café, pool hall and movie theater. The gentle, mute, simple-minded adolescent Billy (Sam Bottoms) is Sam’s ward; while Sonny, who comes from a broken home and lives in a boarding house, looks upon Sam as his surrogate father.

After Sonny breaks up with his dull girlfriend Charlene (Sharon Ullrick), he experiments with sex by having an affair with his basketball/football coach’s lonely forty-year-old wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman). When Sam suddenly dies, he leaves the café to the fast-talking and soft-hearted Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), the pool room to Sonny and the movie house to the elderly kind-hearted Miss Mosey (Jessie Lee Fulton).

Meanwhile the roughneck Duane is dating the virgin Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the manipulative pretty girl whose dad hit it rich when one of his oil wells came in. Jacy’s jaded mom, Lois (Ellen Burstyn), locked into a loveless marriage, disapproves of Duane and wants Jacy to date one of the rich boys from the country club. Lois keeps from being bored by having an affair with one of hubby’s hunky rig workers (Clu Galager).

The bitchy Jacy decides to give herself to Duane in a motel room, after rejected by rich boy Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette), known for giving nude swimming parties for his country club friends. But the lad can’t perform and she dumps him, crushing his fragile ego. Jacy now sets her sights on the sensitive Sonny, and he spurns Ruth to be with her. But when they elope, running off to Oklahoma for a honeymoon, her dad has the marriage annulled and Jacy’s sent to college in Dallas. The film concludes with Duane joining the army after graduation and going off to fight in the Korean War, Sonny stuck in the dead-end nearby town of Wichita Falls running the struggling pool-hall, and the town’s only picture show closing by showing as its last show John Wayne in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948).

The psychological drama punches holes in the glorification of the vanishing West, and offers a frank look at the rampant sordid sex of the small-town so the viewer can see its backward reactions towards culture, gender, class differences, and to those who are vulnerable.