American Graffiti recently celebrated it’s 45th anniversary and the music-filled picture still holds up nearly a half-century later.
Foreshadowing films of the future with intertwining stories, the film focuses on four teenagers on their final night in Modesto, Cal. before college. Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve Bolander (Ron Howard) meet up with John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and Terry “The Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith) in the Mel’s Drive-In diner parking lot. Both Curt and Steve are heading to the northeastern US for college even though Curt is having second doubts about leaving. Steve’s girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Williams), shows up only to be bummed for the rest of the night after Steve suggests they see other people.
Curt, Steve, and Laurie all attend a sock-hop. Curt is so obsessed with finding the blonde girl (Suzanne Somers) that he saw en route to the dance. Following a run-in with the The Pharaohs after leaving the dance, Curt makes way for to the radio station in hope that DJ Wolfman Jack can get a message over the air.
There’s quite a bit of drag racing, including John in his yellow 1932 Ford Deuce Coupé. John’s the king in town and this leads Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) to search him out. The climactic set piece involves–what else–a drag race that ends with an explosion. We get just a mere a hint of Harrison Ford’s destiny as an action star.
Everyone of the four main characters represent director George Lucas at a point in his life. It’s the most autobiographical film for the filmmaker. Because the film represents an earlier time in his life, Lucas was able to appeal to a wider audience unlike the prior THX-1138. The Watergate era was a depressing time so to speak and the film was able to reflect on an innocent time in America. The film takes place before the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, and the rise of the counterculture in the 60s.
It’s really amazing how just one film can have an impact on cinematic history. If you think about it, many people owe their careers to this George Lucas-directed film. Some of them had only made a handful of TV appearances prior to the film. Of course, American Graffiti’s financial success boosted everyone’s profile. Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss are the two biggest examples. They went on to roles in Star Wars and Jaws, respectively. The casting of Ron Howard allowed him to breakout of being seen as a child actor.
This is a film that contains what very well may be the greatest film soundtrack ever. Elvis Presley is sadly absent from the soundtrack because RCA rejected the money being offered. This is probably the biggest shame for a film taking place during the 1960s. It’s because of the music licensing that the costs were too high for a film score. This is perfectly alright as Lucas uses music to capture the emotions of each scene.
The film’s effect on pop culture extended to television. The hit sitcom, Happy Days, came about as a result of the film’s success. This seems to be a result of the film leading to a reinvigorated interest in the 1950s and 1960s. The financial success would lead Lucas to fund some little-known space opera known as Star Wars. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
To put it simply, American Graffiti is one of the greatest movies of all time.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
SCREENWRITERS: George Lucas and Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck
CAST: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, Wolfman Jack