At the end of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film The Last Picture Show, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) sit at their local cinema and watch Howard Hawks’ iconic Western Red River. Above all else, Red River is the ultimate ode to masculinity. Barren, virginal terrain stretches behind a hunky, gun-slinging John Wayne. A mysterious, brooding Montgomery Clift effortlessly mounts a horse. Beautiful women fawn for their attention.
But what is so potent about Sonny and Duane watching this film in 1951, exactly a century after Red River’s 1851 setting, is that kind of masculinity is rapidly becoming obsolete—and even passé.
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