The Story (continued)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Back in town, Jacy drives up in her convertible and befriends Sonny, flirting with him for a car date: "I felt lonesome. Thought you might wanna drive around a while." She knows that he has been secretly infatuated with her for quite a while, so she squeezes his hand to entice and lure him, and to prevent him from keeping his scheduled visit at the Popper house with Ruth. With alluring, femme fatale eyes, she asks: "I'm still a little scared (about the Clarg kidnapping). Please take me ridin'." They drive out to the tank where Jacy closes her eyes, leans forward, and expectantly extends her lips for a kiss - a truly effective moment of seduction. Meanwhile, Mrs. Popper is just finishing re-wallpapering her bedroom walls (literally re-making her life), but appears anxious that Sonny may be late. In the front seat of Jacy's car, Sonny is passionately fondling Jacy's breasts under her two-piece top, but she postpones love-making in the car - knowing that she has captured Sonny in her opportunistic web:
Not here. I'm too old for screwin' in cars. I don't like to hurry...I'm afraid to right now. I think my folks are watchin' me. They know I don't wanna go to college and they might think we're gonna run off and get married. We'll do it when it's safe. We've got all summer.
Ruth sits on her bed with a blank look on her face, sensing that an end to her affair has come.
As Sonny drives past the Popper house some time later, he looks over - feeling guilty and cowardly. In town, he jumps from a Farrow Oil pickup truck (he's now working for Jacy's father to "make a livin'" so he can afford to keep the poolhall open) and notices Duane sleeping in the front seat of his used but shiny Mercury parked in front of the poolhall. The conversation turns strained when macho Duane asks about Sonny's affair and reveals that he knows that Sonny has been "goin' together" with Jacy that summer during his absence. He first tests his rival friend's trustworthiness and honesty:
Sonny: Sure, I been goin' with her, why not?
Duane: I never said I blamed you for it. I don't blame you much. I just never thought you'd do me that way. I thought we was still best friends.
Sonny: We are. What's you so mad for? I never done nothin' to you.
Duane: I guess screwin' my girl ain't nothin' to you.
Sonny: I ain't screwin' her.
Duane: The hell you ain't.
Sonny: Well, I ain't. But she's not your girl anymore, anyway.
Duane: She is my girl. I don't care if we did break up.
Sonny is convinced that Jacy would never marry Duane, even if he made more money and moved back into town. Duane doubts that Sonny isn't man enough to succeed in making love to Jacy ("You ain't that good a cocksman") while Sonny counters: "She likes me just as much as she ever liked you." Sonny is confident that Jacy will let him "stay with her all night one of these nights...she's done promised." Enraged that Sonny knows that Duane was impotent "that time in Wichita Falls," he smashes Sonny's face with his beer bottle and bloodies his eye. They punch at each other until Sonny passes out on the pavement.
Hospitalized in the Hamilton Hospital, with his eye bandaged, Sonny declines a visit from Ruth, who has sent a note to him via the Nurse (Faye Jordan), reading: "May I come in and see you a little while?" Later after being released, Sonny and Genevieve, in the poolhall, discuss Duane's future - she believes that his enlistment in the Army (to fight in Korea) will be beneficial. She regrets not having "made it" in life like the Farrows:
Good place for him, too...That boy's always had meanness in him, 'cause Jacy's just the kinda girl that brings out the meanness in a man. She's just like her grandmother. I oughtn't to talk about 'em anyhow. We was all good friends once. Dan roughnecked with Gene Farrow. He and Lois - they used to live in this little one room place over the newspaper office. Lois couldn't afford a flour-sack, much less a mink. I've always had a soft spot for her, though. Yeah, I wondered a lotta times, you know, what would've happened if my Dan had made the strikes that Gene made. They offered that rig to him first, yep, but then Morgan never took a chance in his life.
A "worried" Jacy drives up to visit Sonny after his injury, more in love than ever because he 'fought for her,' and because she was made the focal point of the boys' altercation. She enjoys the excitement and gossip that they have become a 'famous' couple in town - she hopes to con Sonny into eloping with her (she promises to do the driving - and call the shots):
Jacy: You just can't believe how famous we are. We're all anybody talks about in this town now...I want us to get married...Just as soon as you want to. Don't you want to?...I bet the whole town'll be knocked for a loop if we do. They'll never forget it.
Sonny: But ain't you goin' to college?
Jacy: Oh, I don't care about that. I love you, and that's more important. You were so dear to fight for me. My folks won't like it, but we can run off.
Sonny: They'll kill us.
Jacy: Oh, no they won't.
Sonny: Kill me, anyhow.
Jacy: They'll get over it. You're workin' for Daddy now anyway, and pretty soon they'll love you just as much as I do. (They kiss) Can we?
Sonny: Sure. I just hope I can see to drive.
Jacy: Don't you worry. I can drive.
On an Oklahoma road, the scheming Jacy is driving her convertible with an eye-bandaged Sonny as her passenger. They're wearing their wedding clothes and are "man and wife now." Double-crossing Jacy predicts that her marriage to Sonny (causing another scandal that places her at the focal point) will force her parents to track them down within hours. Their marriage will be thwarted and annulled before they can consummate their relationship. And consequently, Jacy will be sent her away to college forever:
Goodness, wouldn't it be just awful if Momma and Daddy got the police after us?...Well, I had to leave 'em a note, you know, so they wouldn't be worried out of their mind.
An Oklahoma Highway Patrol car stops the newlyweds' car, and Sonny is harshly disappointed. He protests being apprehended by the officer (Floyd Mahaney): "We ain't done nothin' wrong. Ain't we got a right to get married? How can you arrest us, just like that?" Duplicitous, Jacy agrees to follow the patrolman, but states happily and with relief: "I'll just be heart-broken if my folks have done this."
At the patrol station, an enraged Gene Farrow takes Jacy (Sonny's soon-to-be-ex-bride) by the arm and drags her away from Sonny, snarling: "Think I worked like a dog all my life so my daughter could end up in a poolhall?" He drives her home in the Farrow's Cadillac (in a swirl of prairie dust from the spinning tires), leaving Sonny to return to Anarene with Lois in Jacy's convertible. Jacy's cynical mother offers Sonny a drink from a flask of bourbon and admits her realistic view of Jacy's effect on men. She also admires Sonny for having had an affair with Ruth:
Lois: You won't believe this, Sonny, but you're lucky we got you clear of her quick as we did. You'd have been a lot better off staying with Ruth Popper.
Sonny: Does everybody know about that?
Lois: 'Course. Sounds like a good deal to me, kiddo. You shouldn't let Jacy turn your head.
Sonny: Well, she's prettier. I guess I shouldn't have, though. I guess I treated her terrible.
Lois: Guess you did.
Once they arrive back in the barren town of Anarene, she shares small-town life's regrets with him. They both agree that the drift of their lives was dramatically changed after Sam, the patriarch of the town, passed away. In one of the film's most resonant scenes, she confesses that she was Sam's old flame and that she still clings to her recollection of that big moment at the tank with him. Both realize that they share a bond of love for Sam. She expresses her love for Sam - and a fleeting moment of feelings for Sonny himself (she is a 40 year old woman in an unfulfilled marriage, similar to Ruth Popper):
Sonny: Nothin's really been right since Sam the Lion died.
Lois: No, no it hasn't. (Her eyes well up with tears) Oh God, I get sad if I think of Sam for long. Did you know he had beautiful hands?
Sonny: I guess you liked him, didn't you? Aw, I guess everybody did.
Lois: Well, I tell you, it was different with me, Sonny. I loved him. He loved me, too.
Sonny: Are you - are you the one he used to take swimmin'? Out at the tank?
Lois: (She smiles and then muses) He told you about that, huh? Yeah, I was the one. I guess if it wasn't for Sam, I'd just about have missed it, whatever it is. I'd have been one of them Amity types that thinks that playin' bridge is about the best thing that life has to offer. Old Sam the Lion. (After holding back tears, she's crying visibly) Sam the Lion - you know, nobody knows where he got that name. I gave it to him. One night, well, it just came to me. He was so pleased. I was 22 years old then. Can you imagine? I'll tell you, Sonny, it's terrible to only meet one man in your whole life who knows what you're worth. Just terrible. I've looked, too. You wouldn't believe how I've looked.
Sonny: Well, now I know why Sam liked you.
Lois: Loved me.
Sonny: Loved ya, I mean.
Lois: Do you? (She touches his face) Well, I can kinda see what he saw in you, too. (They both pause and ponder what she has recklessly said and what may happen next.) Nope, I'll just go on home. Go on, get out. (He gets out of the car.)
Sonny: Think I can - think I can learn to drink? (He takes a deep swig from the flask)
Lois: (amused) You might. You'd better keep on practicing. (She drives away)
At a fall Anarene High School football game, where Sonny holds one end of the first-and-ten chain, he speaks to a middle-aged adult named Chester (Noble Willingham) holding the other end. They compare this year's football team with Sonny's failed team from a year earlier:
Chester: Boy, we finally got us a team. Didn't back in your day, did they, Sonny?
Sonny: No, we wasn't much good.
Chester: Well, you just never learned the fundamentals. You know, blockin' and tacklin'. Not like this team.
As the camera slowly pans to a closeup, Sonny only mouths (and then stops singing) the school song (about loyalty and love for the school) as it is sung before the game.
Rumor has it that Duane has returned in uniform from the Army, so Sonny drives over to the shabby, unpainted Jackson home to be reconciled. He has decided to visit with Duane before he's off to Korea early the next day on the bus. They plan to spend his last night together, like old times - at the movies, where the business has gone bankrupt. Their attendance at the town's last picture show symbolizes their renewed (but ending) friendship:
Miss Mosey's havin' to close it. Tonight's the last night.
They are almost the only ones in the audience for the final show (except for Billy in the balcony) - viewing Howard Hawks' classic and majestic western Red River (1948) - a film set in Texas at a time of promise and hope. [The paternal hero John Wayne appears in a starring role with Montgomery Clift as his 'adopted' son, Matt. They watch the early dawn scene in which the cowboys yelp while herding the cattle onto the great prairie trail for the long drive from Texas to market. Wayne tells his son, "Take 'em to Missouri, Matt." In contrast, the only cattle seen in this film are crowded into the back of a lorry passing through town. In McMurtry's novel, the picture show closes with Universal's lesser western film The Kid From Texas (1950) starring Audie Murphy in his debut film role as outlaw Billy the Kid.] Once the western film is over (it's not a first-run feature), they decide to go to Wichita Falls for a few beers, but not before expressing their regrets to Miss Mosey about the closing of the show. She responds:
Miss Mosey: Nobody wants to come to shows no more. Kid baseball in the summer, television all the time. If Sam had lived, I believe we could've kept it goin'. But I just didn't have the know-how.
Duane: Won't be much to do in town with the picture show closed.
As dawn approaches, the two pals are listening to the radio in Duane's car and drinking beer. Sonny rolls a cigarette (something Sam had taught him). Duane presumes that "the next piece of ass I get'll be yella," and loans his Mercury to Sonny during his absence. He departs on the Trailways bus after they exchange a few words about Jacy who has moved to the big city of Dallas ("She don't get home much. Ain't been back to town since August. I guess she just stays in Dallas all the time"). Duane turns sentimental - and like Sam (with Lois) - still hasn't gotten over Jacy. But they are reconciled as strong friends, partly because they both experienced failed, unrequited love with the shallow and disruptive Jacy (and ultimately were reclaimed after escaping from her maneuverings):
Duane: I ain't over her yet, you know...it's the damndest thing...That's the only reason you and I got into it that time. (Sonny nods) Reckon she likes it down in Dallas?
Sonny: It's hard to say. Maybe she does. Reckon you and her woulda got it all straightened out if I hadn'ta butted in?
Duane: Aw, now. No. They'd've annulled me too, even if we had. You all, uh, never even got to the motel?
They shake hands as Duane climbs the bus stairs and calls out with an un-nerving final goodbye: "See you in a year or two, if I don't get shot." Shivering from the early morning cold and wind, Sonny enters the poolhall to light a fire, but then hears the horn, and the screeching noise of the brakes and tires of a big cattle truck out on the main road. As he walks toward the square, he sees people standing by the side of the truck - and Billy's broom lying on the pavement. The camera assumes his point-of-view as he runs toward the scene of the accident, where he hears hereford yearlings bellowing in the filled-to-capacity truck. Cowboys, the trucker, and other townsfolk are gathered around Billy's body after he has been struck dead. Although Sonny reacts with numb horror to his friend's death, the men are indifferent and callous:
Trucker: What was he doin' out there anyway, carryin' that broom?
Sheriff: Aw, he weren't doin' nothin'. He was just an ol' simple-minded kid - never had any sense.
Cowboy: Sorta retarded, you know. It wasn't your fault...
Another man: He was just a dumb ol' kid, never was good for much.
Cowboy: Didn't even know enough to keep his ass out of the cold, morning like this...
Trucker: I'd still like to know what he was doin' luggin' that broom around this time of day.
Devastated by the tragedy, Sonny screams and yells at the apathetic onlookers, with the moving line: "He was sweepin', ya sons of bitches. He was sweepin'." He scoops up Billy's limp body, now silenced forever, and drags it over to the sidewalk in front of the picture show. He removes his letter jacket and lovingly covers Billy with it, and then picks up Billy's cap and places it next to him. He is numbed by the shock of grief. [This scene pays homage to the final one in Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955).]
Everything is empty, wretched and cold in Sonny's life and in the disintegrated community, now that Duane has left to fight in Korea, Billy has been killed, and Jacy (after their elopement and annulled marriage) has moved to the big city. And the poolhall is only a sorry reminder of its past splendor under the leadership of Sam the Lion. He drives his pickup as fast as he can to pass the town's enclosing barrier - the city limit's sign. Sonny attempts to leave behind the boundaries of the town (with a population of 1,131) and all its tragic memories. But he is overcome by the pull of the town and cannot break its connection to him. He slows down, makes a U-turn, and drives back - to Ruth's house for consolation, and to make amends.
Hurt, grief-stricken and shocked, he knocks on the door, finding the long-suffering, abandoned and anguished Ruth reluctant and unprepared to see him in a bathrobe (she has been watching TV in her lonely living room). She has a haggard, faded and pale appearance, but lets him in to her kitchen when he asks for a cup of coffee. They have difficulty looking at each other - it has been months since they have spoken together. Suddenly, she turns angry and bitter, and turns against him for rejecting and discarding her. She flings a half-poured cup of coffee (and the full coffee pot) against the cabinet on the wall - dark coffee grounds drip down onto the refrigerator. With a shrill and virulent voice, she lashes out at him for neglecting her in favor of the younger and prettier Jacy, but after her explosive tirade has been delivered - realizes how hurt he is too:
What am I doing apologizin' to you? Why am I always apologizin' to you, ya little bastard? Three months I been apologizing to you, without you even bein' here. I haven't done anything wrong - why can't I quit apologizin'? You're the one oughta be sorry. I wouldn't still be in my bathrobe if it hadn't been for you. I'da had my clothes on hours ago. You're the one made me quit carin' if I got dressed or not. I guess just because your friend got killed you want me to forget what you did and make it all right. I'm not sorry for you. You'd've left Billy, too, just like you left me. I bet you left him plenty a nights, whenever Jacy whistled. I wouldn't treat a dog that way. I guess you thought I was so old and ugly you didn't owe me any explanation. You didn't need to be careful of me. There wasn't anythin' I could do about you and her - why should you be careful of me? You didn't love me. Look at me. Can't you even look at me? (Sonny slowly turns and glances at her) Y'see? You shouldn't have come here. I'm around that corner now. You've ruined it and it's lost completely. Just your needing me won't make it come back.
[In the background, one can hear a top 40 comedy song -- an early 1952 hit by Johnny Standley titled It's In the Book -- a comedy/parody on fundamentalist preachers. The song told of a revival preacher whose sermon topic was "Little Bo Peep". At the conclusion of his sermon, the preacher instructed his congregation to sing a cleansing "hymn" -- "Grandma's Lye Soap".
(Chorus): Now let us sing right out for Grandma's lye soap
Good for everything; everything in the place
The pots and pans, the dirty dishes
And for your hands and for your face.
The scene paid homage to 'lost' footage of the cut scene from the original ending of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), when Eugene visits Fanny in the Amberson mansion -- now a boarding house. In that somber scene, a phonograph record played in the background as an ironic counterpoint to the setting. The record was a legendary vaudeville duet, No News, or, What Killed the Dog?, played in weirdly-distorted voices by Cotten and by Norman Foster -- who wrote it together. It was a newer version of a vaudeville sketch in the late 1920s, once made popular by George Moran and Charles Black - known as the Two Black Crows, in which a wealthy master returned after a six-week journey taken for rest, and was met by his servant. He asked if there was any news and was told that his dog had died. When he learned the cause of the dog's death, he gradually realized that many other catastrophes had occurred.]
Without a single word, Sonny extends his left hand and places it over Ruth's clasped hands that rest on the table, to beg for forgiveness. Although she is slightly startled by his gesture, she cautiously permits him to gently touch her. He separates her hands, takes her right hand in his left, and weaves his fingers between hers. She cradles their two hands in her left hand and then comforts him. She forgivingly takes his hand (as tears wet her eyes and cheeks) and presses it to her neck and to both sides of her face. As she squeezes his hand, she guides him to caress her face with his hand, and then straightens his shirt collar after noticing that it is rumpled. Finally she finds words to say to him - and bravely (and hopefully) takes him back (although a void remains and their relationship is ultimately over), as the camera pulls away from them:
Never you mind, honey, never you mind.
A dissolve returns to a view of the deserted, dust-streaked and empty town, panning from left to right (the film is framed in its opening and closing by this view). It begins with a long shot of the distant Texaco gas station and ends with a slow fade-out at the now-closed Royal Theater. The wind mournfully howls as leaves blow through the cold wintry air. Has Sonny come to terms with the present, and will he be able to carry on in Sam's shoes as the town's conscience?
The credits begin with individual portraits of each actor/actress in their character roles within the film:
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