‘American Graffiti’:

Another eternally grateful great movie

Raymond Thomas Pronk, Staff Writer

Mel’s drive-in, the hangout where characters in “American Graffiti” go to be seen. (Photos/IMDB)

“American Graffiti “was filmed in Petaluma, California in 1973, takes place in 1962 in Modesto, California and is characterized as a classic coming-of-age movie. A few examples of outstanding films in the coming-of-age genre include “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “The Graduate” (1967), “Breaking Away” (1979), “Stand by Me” (1986) and “Say Anything …” (1989).

In “American Graffiti,” Friday nights are spent cruising the town in a car, listening to music on the car’s radio, meeting people and if you were lucky, getting a date for Saturday night.  Four friends are trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives after graduating from high school.

Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) is having some second thoughts about going to college out of state and is scheduled to fly out the next day with his friend Steve Bolander (Ron Howard,) who also plans to go to college out of state. Steve wants to convince his current steady girlfriend Laurie Henderson (Cindy Williams), Curt’s sister, to date other guys when he is away at college. Steve gives his car to Terry “The Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith) to take care of and use when he is away at college.” The fourth friend is John Milner (Paul Le Mat), a drag racer with a yellow hot rod, who is challenged by out-of-town racer Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford).

The radio disc-jockey is the late Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith) playing rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop songs from the mid-1950s and early 1960s. The songs played throughout the movie became a popular record album, “41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti” and in the 1970s sold over 3 million albums making it a triple platinum album in the United States. The album included the then-popular songs such as Chuck Berry’s hit, “Johnny B. Goode,” Bill Haley and His  Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Frankie Lymon and the  Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” as well as Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and Dion and the Belmonts’ “A Teenager in Love.”

Curt tries to make contact with a blonde in a Thunderbird who he spotted cruising by persuading Wolfman Jack to pass a message over the radio airwaves. The blonde in the T-bird is the young and beautiful Suzanne Somers.

Over time everything changes including culture, music, society, people and their plans. For a brief glimpse and impression of what American teenagers were experiencing and listening to in the late 1950s and early 1960s, “American Graffiti” provides an entertaining snapshot and insights to a time long gone but fondly remembered by those with similar experiences as they transitioned from high school, graduate to college, a working adult earning a living and starting a family.

Candy Clark plays Debbie Dunham and Charles Martin Smith is “The Toad.”

The “Toad” uses his new car that night to pick up my favorite character in the movie, Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark). At the end of the evening, Debbie tells Terry, “I really had a good time. I mean, you picked me up and we got some hard stuff and saw a hold-up, and then we went to the canal, you got your car stolen, and then I got to watch you gettin’ sick, and then you got in this really bitchin’ fight. I really had a good time.” Those who saw the movie had an even greater time. I definitely recommend this classic movie, which is available on DVD and online.

“American Graffiti” was nominated for five academy awards including best director, best picture, original screen play and best supporting actress (Clark).  Le Matt won a Golden Globe award for New Actor of the Year in 1973. “American Graffiti” is No. 61 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest American Movies. The financial success of “American Graffiti,” produced for $770,000 and grossing over $200 million including DVD sales, enabled director George Lucas to make an even greater movie, “Star Wars.”

Grade: A

This is the fourth installment of Pronk’s series Eternally Grateful Great Movies.