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Cue called the film “nothing short of a contemporary American cinema classic,” while Newsweek declared: “It is not merely the best American movie of a rather dreary year; it is the most impressive work by a young American director since Citizen Kane .” LAHExam commended the acting, terming it “surely the strongest ensemble performance of the year.” Numerous reviewers were moved by the film's depiction of the decline in motion picture attendance, which had been an important part of American small-town life, and the rise in television viewership in the 1950s.The closure of the Royal Theater and the death of Sam the Lion also symbolized a decline in moral values and authority, according to some film historians, who quote Sonny's lament that "nothing has been right since Sam died." Many critics commented that Bogdanovich’s direction was informed by his intense study of and admiration for “classic” American film directors, especially John Ford, Orson Welles and Howard Hawks.
Although several 1970 news items announced that the title of The Last Picture Show would be changed in order to avoid confusion with director-actor Dennis Hopper’s 1971 release The Last Movie (see above), it was not.
The picture does not have a traditional music score and instead features only songs from the film’s time period (Nov 1951—Oct 1952) or earlier.