In tiny Anarene, Texas, in the lull between World War Two and the Korean Conflict, Sonny and Duane are best friends. Enduring that awkward period of life between boyhood and manhood, the two pass their time the best way they know how -- with the movie house, football, and girls. Jacey is Duane's steady, wanted by every boy in school, and she knows it. Her daddy is rich and her mom is good looking and loose. It's the general consensus that whoever wins Jacey's heart will be set for life. But Anarene is dying a quiet death as folks head for the big cities to make their livings and raise their kids. The boys are torn between a future somewhere out there beyond the borders of town or making do with their inheritance of a run-down pool hall and a decrepit movie house -- the legacy of their friend and mentor, Sam the Lion. As high school graduation approaches, they learn some difficult lessons about love, loneliness, and jealousy. Then folks stop attending the second-run features at the ...Written by
Mark Fleetwood <email@example.com>
The only film that year to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress Oscars. It earned two nominations in each category. See more »
The scene where Jacy and Bobby meet in the kitchen during the pool party is wildly out of sync with the chronology of the story, seeming to be cut into the film weeks after the event. Plot-wise it should come just after Sam bans the boys from his establishments, and Sonny's first tryst with Ruth at her home. See more »
President Truman'll be here tomorrow, so all you folks in Dallas turn out, chuh hear? This is Cowboy Rhythms on KTRN, Wichita Falls, here's Hank Williams' big hit tune, "Cold Cold Heart".
Sam the Lion:
You ain't ever gonna amount to nothing. Already spent a dime this morning, ain't even had a decent breakfast. Gimme the chalk. Why don't you comb you hair Sonny, it sticks up, look like you smelled'm wolf. I'm surprised you had the nerve to show up this morning after that stomping y'all took last ...
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In this nostalgic, atmospheric study of small town life in the fifties as seen a decade later, filmed on location in Wichita Falls and Archer City, Texas (from a novel by the incomparable Larry McMurtry), the force of slow, inevitable change is symbolized in the showing of the last picture at the local movie house. That last picture show, incidentally, is Howard Hawks' celebrated Western, Red River (1948) starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.
Well, the movie houses came back to life as multiplexes charging eight bucks a pop, but the Western movie died out, and the boys watching that movie went their separate ways into manhood.
Peter Bogdanovich's direction is episodic and leisurely, naturalistic with just a hint of the maudlin. We get a sense of the North Texas prairie wind blowing through a cattle town where there is not a lot to do and a whole lot of time to do it. Hungry women and a sense of drift. Boredom, gray skies and a lot of dust. You could set 'Anarene, Texas' down any place in southwestern or midwestern America, circa 1951, and you wouldn't have to change much: a main drag, a Texaco gas station, a café, a feed store, flat lands all around, old pickup trucks and a pool hall, youngsters with a restless yearning to grow up, drinking beer out of brown bottles giggling and elbowing each other in the ribs, and the old boys playing dominoes and telling tales of bygone days.
Robert Surtees's stark, yet romantic black and white cinematography, captures well that bygone era. The wide shot of the bus pulling out, taking Duane off to the Korean War with Sonny watching, standing by the Texaco station with the missing letter in the sign, was a tableau in motion, a moment stopped in our minds.
Cybill Shepherd made her debut here as Jacy Farrow, a bored little rich girl playing at love and sexuality. Part of the restorations in the video not shown in theaters in the early seventies includes some footage of her in the buff after stripping on a diving board (!). She is as shallow as she is pretty, and one of the reasons for seeing this film, although in truth her performance, while engaging, was a little uneven.
The rest of the cast was outstanding, in particular Timothy Bottoms whose Sonny Crawford is warm and forgiving, sweet and innocent. Jeff Bridges's Duane Jackson is two-faced, wild and careless, self-centered and probably going to die in Korea. Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman deservedly won Oscars as best supporting actors. Leachman was especially good as the lonely 40-year-old wife of the football coach who has an awkward affair with the 18-year-old Sonny, while Johnson played a lovable, crusty guy that the kids looked up to. Sam Bottoms played the retarded Billy with steady, tragic good humor. Ellen Burstyn as Jacy's terminally bored mother, and Eileen Brennan as the wise waitress with a hand on her hip were also very good.
Memorable, but perhaps too obviously insertional, are the medley of country, pop, and rock and roll tunes from the late forties/early fifties jingling out of car radios and 45 record players throughout the film.
Peter Bogdanovich followed this with some hits, including the comedy What's Up Doc (1972) with Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, and Madeline Kahn, and the excellent Paper Moon (1973) with Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, but then tailed off.
I don't think he ever lived up to the promise of this film, an American classic not to be missed.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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