CRUSIN’ THE STREETS WITH AMERICAN GRAFFITI
In 1973 a blockbuster film came along that captured the essence of teenage America in the early 1960’s. American Graffiti, written and directed by George Lucas (creator of Star Wars), depicts teens listening to rock and roll, going to dance hops, hanging out at the local fast-food drive-in, and crusin’ the streets in souped up cars.
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The movie, set in Modesto, California, has a star-studded cast. The most recognized names in the film are Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, Wolfman Jack and Suzanne Somers. American Graffiti grossed $55 million when it was released in 1973. When it was re-released in 1979, it grossed another $63 million.
THE CAST OF AMERICAN GRAFFITI
The entire movie takes place in one night from dusk to dawn. It follows four teenagers on their final night together before two of them are to leave for college. Steve Bolanger (Ron Howard) is the clean-cut all-American class president who has recently graduated. Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) is also a recent graduate who has been awarded a scholarship and yet is reluctant to leave for college. Terry (“the Toad”) Fields (Charles Martin Smith) is the typical nerd. Finally, John Milner (Paul Le Mat) is a drag car racer who is known to be the king of the road.
THE STORY LINE
The movie is filled with a night of car crusin’ and girl chasing. At the start of the film Steve tells Laurie (his steady girlfriend) that he wants them to be able to see other people while he is away at school. Throughout the remainder of the night Steve finds himself revisiting that question as he tries to win back the heart of an angry and rejected Laurie.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL
Curt has been in search of the right girl for a long time. He has not had any luck finding a relationship and is very discouraged. In the beginning of the film his car pulls up next to a white T-Bird and Curt sees “the most beautiful girl” he has ever seen. She mouths the words “I love you” to him just before her car pulls away. Curt spends the rest of the night in search of the car, the girl, and the love he has not yet been able to find.
It’s relatively clear that Terry has never had a steady girlfriend. After Steve entrusts Terry to look after his car while he is away at school, Terry takes off on his first night of crusin’ the streets. Apparently, the car is the key to success with girls. Just as Terry sets out, he comes across the lovely Debbie (Candy Clark). Debbie finds Terry to be a refreshing change from the disrespectful losers she normally dates. Terry and Debbie spend the night crusin’. Throughout the night, they come across teenagers from their school who bully Terry. The last group of teens they run across take Steve’s car and drive away. Debbie appears to lose interest in Terry once the car is gone. She gives him a peck on the cheek and rides off with someone else.
John has a “sweet” car and is the one everyone else looks up to as he is admired for his keen handling of cars and racing. He sets out crusin’ at the beginning of the movie and attempts to find a girl to ride along. When he pulls up next to a car full of girls, he realizes his ex-girlfriend is among them. He tries to coax her into getting into his car, but she refuses. When he asks if any of the other girls would like to ride along with him, the girls send his ex’s preteen sister to go with him. John spends the night riding around with this young girl. She inevitably falls for him, and he finds a delicate way to let her down as he drops her off at her house.
American graffiti is one of the great American movies. There’s no violence, sexual content, or profanity. It’s a simple film about teenage America in a time before the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution. The characters are familiar. The moral is clear. It’s a lesson that teaches the importance of not holding onto the past, and the need to embrace change as life moves on.
The sequel, More American Graffiti, was released in 1979. It was written and directed by Bill Norton. Though it starred many of the same people as American Graffiti, it failed at the box office. One of the key elements missing from the film was the car crusin’ scenes which were a big hit in the earlier film.
- American Graffiti is based on the teen years of George Lucas and his experiences crusin’ the ‘Modesto Strip’.
- Approximately 300 cars were used in the movie. Most of the automobiles used were owned by local classic car enthusiasts. They were paid $25 a day in rental fees by the film’s producers.
- The film was shot in just 28 days between the hours of 5pm and 9am.
- Every major production company refused the film except for Universal.
- American Graffiti was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, yet it did not win a single award.
- The characters were said to be based on a composite of the teenage George Lucas.
- American Graffiti was set in the city of Modesto, California (where George Lucas lived) but was actually filmed in Petaluma, CA. Every year, the town of Petaluma hosts a tribute to American Graffiti.
- George Lucas made the movie out of spite after he was criticized for his flop release, THX 1138
- The movie is set in 1962 but Curt’s Citroen 2CV is actually a 1967 model.
- Because the movie starred unknown actors at the time, Universal Studios was sure it would be a flop and wanted to release it as a TV movie. Producer Francis Ford Coppola convinced the studio otherwise, and the film took in $55 million at the box office. The production of the movie only cost $750,000!
American Graffiti Cast
- Richard Dreyfuss – Curt Henderson
- Ron Howard – Steve Bolander
- Paul Le Mat – John Milner
- Charles Martin Smith – Terry “The Toad” Fields
- Cindy Williams – Laurie Henderson
- Candy Clark – Debbie Dunham
- Mackenzie Phillips – Carol Morrison
- Wolfman Jack as Disc Jockey
- Bo Hopkins – Joe “Little Joe” Young
- Manuel Padilla, Jr. – Carlos
- Harrison Ford – Bob Falfa
- Lynne Marie Stewart – Bobbie Tucker
- Terry McGovern – Mr. Wolfe
- Kathleen Quinlan – Peg
- Scott Beach – Mr. Gordon
- Susan Richardson – Judy
- Kay Ann Kemper – Jane
- Joe Spano – Vic
- Debralee Scott – Falfa’s Girl
- Suzanne Somers – The Blonde” In The T-Bird
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