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All the performerspickup cheerleaders from Texas high schools or TV veterans like Clu Gulager (The Virginian)are perfect to the final, insecure strut and mush-mouthed diphthong. Although the story focuses on youth, it gives equal time to its elders. As Sam, veteran Western Actor Ben Johnson (Shane, The Wild Bunch) is a fine amalgam of grit and pathos, a burnt-out case, American style. As the football coach's wife, Cloris Leachman could have been another long-clawed devil in the flesh; instead, she is resolutely unglamorous, the screen's most subdued adulteress, shyer even than her adolescent seducer.
But the importance of The Last Picture Show is not its cast. With his second feature (the first was Boris Karloff's final horror movie Targets), Director Bogdanovich, 31, has achieved a tactile sense of time and place. More, he has performed that most difficult of all cinematic feats: he has made ennui fascinating. Together, that is enough to herald him as possibly the most exciting new director in America today, and The Last Picture Show as the happiest news of the 1971 New York Film Festival.
· Stefan Kanfer
Most young film makers struggle to pace themselves by contemporary themes and styles. Peter Bogdanovich measures himself against the cadences of the past. "I don't feel rapport with the new moviemakersI don't mean personally but on the screen. I think the medium is being misused when it becomes obscure and self-conscious," he says. Bogdanovich's mentors are John Ford and Howard Hawks, and What's Up Doc?, his film currently in production, will include several homages to Ernst Lubitsch, the '30s master of elegant comedy. "Why is it funny when a door closes in Lubitsch's films and not in anyone else's?" asks Bogdanovich admiringly.
Although his birth certificate says he was born in Kingston, N.Y., of Serbian parents, Bogdanovich is a self-confessed child of the cinema. He wrote a column of film reviews for his Manhattan private-school paper, then tried acting and directing off-Broadway. Even the plays he chose to present (Clifford Odets' The Big Knife, Kaufman and Hart's Once in a Lifetime) were about Hollywood. Still in his early 20s, Bogdanovich began to have his writings on film published by both Esquire and Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. "I was just sort of vamping though," he confesses now. "I really wanted to direct." In Hollywood, he stumbled into the benevolent clutches of Roger Corman, a cult hero for a series of rococo horror films (The Masque of the Red Death) who likes to hire bright young men cheap and work them hard.