The only movie Cloris Leachman won the Oscar for and it’s a great one.
The ageless Cloris Leachman sadly passed away last night, and she has given us a variety of movies and shows. Losing her was a real shock, considering the fact that she’s a character actress, who can transcend from one genre to the next, and for the most part, she was able to deliver the goods. I really hate to know who the next greta oldie we’re going to lose next, but all we have is now. And we must honor that.
Leachman’s movie roles include the whimsical Mel Brooks parody “Young Frankenstein,” the under-appreciated dramedy “Spanglish,” the dangerous western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and the comical and visually stunning “Croods” animated movies. And she also won the Golden Globe for her performance on the show “Phyllis.” But the one movie that gave her the Oscar was her supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 black-and-white love story “The Last Picture Show.”
Based on Larry McMurty’s semi-autobiography, the place and time is Anarene, Texas, 1951. Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms star as Duane Jackson and Sonny Crawford, two best friends and high school seniors. Sonny broke up with his girlfriend Charlene (Sharon Ullrick), while Duane is seeing the prettiest girl in town Jacy Farrow (Cybil Shepherd), of the wise Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn).
Leachman plays Ruth Popper, the wife of the Coach Popper (Bill Turman), whom Sonny is asked to drive to the doctors. They begin an affair, because of how she’s miserable that her husband is a closeted-homosexual. They both hit it for months, up to his graduation when she gives him a wallet embroidered with his name on it, and when he begins to connect with Jacy.
Other characters appearing in the film include the mentally disabled and mute Billy (Sam Bottoms, Timothy’s late younger brother), who gets hit in the face after trying to lose his virginity, the sassy diner waitress Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) and the owner of the local pool house Sam the Lion (the late Ben Johnson), who gives the audience a monologue about a would-be romance he had before his tragic death. This man has affected the characters for all the right reasons, and their loss has been difficult for them.
I’ve never heard of Timothy Bottoms, but seeing him for the first time in “The Last Picture Show” is really surprising for me. He does a fabulous job connecting with both Bridges and Leachman in their own respective ways. Shepherd brings passion to her character, as she experiences adulthood in her own unique ways, and Johnson delivers life into his character and monologue. So, it’s not jut Leachman we must single out, although we can honor her for all the entertaining movies and shows she’s appeared in.
Bogdanovich has made one of his best movies look and feel great, possessing the magic of its Texas town in a specific time period. It never jumps to conclusions, and takes it delicate steps in seeing who the characters are and where they’re going. This is about love, loss, and choices, and everyone is vividly brought to life by excellent acting. If a new generation of movie-goers haven’t heard of “The Last Picture Show,” I suggest you see it, because it’s a classic.
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