If this film doesn’t make you feel something– check your pulse.  You’re probably dead.  It’s a feast for the eyes, ears and soul.  Beautifully sad, haunting, yearning.  It pokes at that hole inside that we all have. The music weaves through the film magically– a part of the story.  Like when Sonny tunes in the radio…

And the cornerstone is a crusty old codger who dies halfway through the flick.  Sam the Lion is The Last Picture Show.

When I was a boy, all I wanted to be was James Dean.  The smoldering, misunderstood, angst-filled rebel badass– always on the outside lookin’ in.  Now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser– all I want to be is Sam the Lion. The strong, salty, cowboy sage.  Mellowed with age– but straight-out speaks his mind. See, he’s got no time for puttin’ up with trashy behavior, and won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade.

Maybe if you’re twenty and don’t want to be James Dean– you don’t have a heart. And maybe if you’re forty and don’t want to be Sam the Lion– you don’t have a brain. Maybe that’s all just a bunch of bullshit.

Find your true skin and learn to be comfortable in it– the rest ‘ll take care of itself.


Classic shots from The Last Picture Show–

Badass Ben Johnson (as Sam the Lion) in Peter Bogdanovich ‘s 1971 epic film -The Last Picture Show. –Image by © John Springer Collection/Corbis

Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson, in 1971’s The Last Picture Show. –Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

Cybill Shepherd (Jacy Farrow) in The Last Picture Show. –Image © John Springer Collection/Corbis

Peter Bogdanovich on the set of The Last Picture Show –Image by © John Springer Collection/Corbis

Director Peter Bogdanovich speaks with Cybill Shepherd on the set of 1971’s The Last Picture Show. –Image by © John Springer Collection/Corbis

Peter Bogdanovich directing Ben Johnson and Sam Bottoms during filming of The Last Picture Show . –Image by © John Springer Collection/Corbis

1971 Columbia Pictures Publicity still of actor Ben Johnson in his Oscar winning role, “Sam the Lion.”


  1. Speaking with old friend, Clu Gulager about his role of ‘Abeline’ he told me that had his after hours sex scene in the pool hall with Cybil Shepard been left in the original release, it would have established him as a leading man in the early 70’s film community. His claim is that Bogdonavich’s on set romance/infatuation with Cybil Shepperd left the sex scene on the cutting room floor due to jealousy, the scene was re-inserted in the 1992 directors cut.

    Tulsa. OK

  2. Ya’ll who’ve seen this will remember Sam with the clouds n shadows rolling over, wontcha? (seen at about 2:25 – 2:35 in the clip) beautiful.

    Not many others with so many greats all in one film.

    and thinking of poor ol Detroit in 2010, LPS in 1952 was damn prescient.

    Nice one JP

  3. yes, great film!! I should really look for the directors cut, would bring back lots of memories from my high school days, a hot summer night watching the movie from the back of an old pick-up truck…like it was meant to be watched! thanx JP!

  4. And in addition to the awesomeness of the movie, everyone should read Larry McMurtry’s books, including the trilogy of novels that this film comes from. Great storyteller, McMurtry.

  5. Love Ben Johnson. Even as a young man (in the John Ford Cavalry trilogy) he was as soulful as it got.— and for John Wayne movies that’s saying alot!!

  6. Compelling and poignant, clearly Bogdanovich’s shining hour. “Paper Moon” still makes me laugh, but this one can stay with me for days, and I’ve seen it at least five or six times. If you have not caught this, you’re missing what many consider to be among the greatest american films, ever.

    Thanks again JP, for another striking reminder of who we are.

  7. I grew up in Wichita Falls, and graduated from high school in 1971. I tried out for a part in this movie, but came off as too sophisticated for the movie. Not sure how that happened. Quite a stir in Wichita and Archer counties as Hollywood came to North Texas for a couple of months. It was certainly a big deal when the movie premiered at the State Theater in “Downtown WF”. It rocked the Baptists that an “R” rated movie would get such attention!

    During the filming Bogdonovich became romantically entangled w/Ms Shepperd even though his wife was on set almost every day. Several of my classmates made the cast. Lloyd Catlett, a true redneck cowboy, became friends with Bridges and Bottoms. He was the guy that wanted to get Billy fixed up with Jimmie Sue. He left Texas to become a dialect coach in Hollywood where he lives to this day, and is still friends with Bridges. Lets just say his perception was “enlightened” by the Cali crowd.

    It was a good thing that this movie was shot in black and white. It actually made the landscape look better than it was. My dad used to take me to the Rig Wam (really the Wildcat Cafe) for great greasy burgers. This movie ruined that as it became a tourist stop for years afterward. After that the waitress was always hoping to be “discovered”.

    Interesting note: Anarene/Archer City has more book stores per capita than probably anywhere else in the USA. Larry Mc Murtry has 6 book stores in his tiny little hometown, and quite often you can find him there minding them.

    I have seen this movie no less than a dozen times, and am happy to report most were seen the right way-at the drive-in.

    My two teenage sons saw it recently for the first time. I think they have new-found respect for my childhood, and gratitude for the fact they were raised in a big city. In Dallas we mow the lawn, in Wichita Falls we just raked the ant beds.

    Great topic JP

  8. Hi JP,

    Missed a photo here of Cloris Leachman … wonderful as Coach Popper’s wife, and winner of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that role … her character is a match for Sam the Lion, as far as having the courage to try to find love at the risk of the inevitable pain involved … great movie, and novel … Larry McMurtry is famous for the strong female characters found in his novels …

    Love your blog!
    — SFMCjohn

  9. “feisty sons o’ bitches, ain’t they…wish they could tackle….”

    The best part of that film for me is when all of The Paternal Manhood of Texas is condensed into the look that Sam gives Sonny to communicate his disfavor of Duane just before they leave for Mexico. Every Son of The Great State of Texas who has ever run amuck knows that stern gaze…the entire history of The Irreconcilable is in Ben Johnson’s face for half a second….Cain and Abel, Castor and Pollux…That moment is one of the greatest pieces of acting I, Mah Own Damned Self, have ever seen. You must enjoy this film, but if ya ain’t from Texas something will always remain remote from you.

    Coris Leachman deserves recognition for her brilliance.

  10. I have a vague memory of watching this years ago, but I must not have paid much attention or likely missed the point entirely.

    Anyway, I watched it last night and this is a damn fine film! Must read the book, McMurtry is gold! The “Making Of” section in the DVD is good as well!

    • I may be in the minority, but I think you’ll be as disappointed in the book as I.

      McMurtry is one of those great story-tellers whose writing skills are so mundane as to make the novels difficult to read, this one in particular. He just doesn’t “paint” the way Bogdanovich, for example, does with film.

      IMO, “Lonesome Dove” is his best writing.

  11. Thanks for this post! I wasn’t aware of this gem – though I’m not sure how I’d missed it. Excellent

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