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Thursday June 21st 2018

The Last Picture Show | 1971

The Last Picture Show filming location: Royal Theater, Archer City, Texas
The Last Picture Show location: the 'Anarene' movie palace: Royal Theater, Archer City, Texas | Photograph: flickr / Nicolas Henderson

Peter Bogdanovich never came close to equalling this achingly atmospheric evocation of smalltown life in the Fifties, adapted from Larry McMurtry’s novel. The one-street town of 'Anarene' is actually Archer City, North Texas – “one street and a traffic light” as a local described it – on Hwy 79 about 25 miles south of Wichita Falls.

Confusingly, the town in the original novel is 'Thalia', but it was changed by director Bogdanovich to echo 'Abilene', the town in Howard Hawks' 1948 Western Red River – the 'last picture' being shown at the local picture house before it closes down. The real Anarene is now a ghost town about eight miles south of Archer City, which was finally deserted in the early 1950s after its railroad station closed.

At the time of filming, the Royal picture house was little more than a crumbling shell after having been gutted by a disastrous fire in 1965. In the Nineties, ambitious plans to restore the theatre finally bore fruit and, after 35 years, the Royal opened its doors again as a successful live theatre. You can catch a production at the Royal Theater, 115 East Main Street, Archer City.

Since the Royal was no more than a shell, the cinema interior was filmed at the West-Tex Theater which stood on West Main Street at North Grand Avenue in Olney, a further 15 miles south on Hwy 79. Ironically, it’s the West-Tex that was demolished, in 1986, leaving the vacant lot where the town's gazebo now stands.