Tuesday, December 30, 2014

American Graffiti (1973)

George Lucas did just fine with a movie "no one wanted to do."

The soon-to-be creative force behind Star Wars had a tough time lining up financing for American Graffiti: Special Edition, his ode to cruising, cars and the American teen experience in the early 1960s.

It wasn't until Francis Ford Coppola, who recently wrapped up the first Godfather film, that Lucas was able to get financing for his follow-up to THX 1138.

I love American Graffiti soundtrack - a double album set I picked up, if memory serves, at Sam the Record Man in Barrie in 1991 or 1992. If you're a fan of American rock and roll from that period - songs such as The Great Pretender (The Drifters), Runaway (Del Shannon) and Party Doll (Buddy Know), get the disc.

The movie, marking early career appearances by a slew of stars including Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Charles Martin Smith, is OK, but not stellar.

The film is set over one night in a California community in the early 1960s. Curt (Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) leave for college the next morning. Curt is starting to doubt whether he'll head east to study. Steve can't wait to pull up stakes for greener pastures.

Curt's final night in town is largely focused on trying to track down a beautiful blond (Suzanne Somers) driving a T-Bird. "I just saw a vision," he proclaims after seeing this beauty for the first time. Steve's girlfriend, Laurie (Cindy Wiliams) wants her beau to stay in town and is cool to his suggestion that they should both date others while they're separated.

Terry, or The Toad (Martin Smith) is elated to finally get a car of his own to drive, at least for awhile, and enjoy the company of Debbie (Candy Clark), a fine-looking lady he meets that night.

Rounding out the high school gang is John (Paul Le Mat), the champion dragster who cruises the strip with the very young Carol (Mackenzie Phillips). He is, depending on the moment, interested or infuriated to have her along for company. He's sought out for a race by Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford). Harrison, I think you're an awesome actor, but this may be the worst performance I've ever seen you give. The cowboy hat and Texas accent just don't work.

Give American Graffiti credit for centring so much action in, and around, cars. Given how much time characters talk to others while behind the wheel, it's amazing more drivers didn't drive through red lights or rear-end other vehicles.

There's some laughs, but no real drama. The cars look great. The music is fantastic, but the story is just OK.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: See if you can spot Kathleen Quinlan and Joe Spano. I couldn't.

This is the first film appearance by legendary American disc jockey Wolfman Jack.

Another beef with this film - old actors playing teens. Bo Hopkins, a gang leader, was in his early thirties when he made this film. Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams and Candy Clark were all in their mid-twenties.

Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., son of Tarzan, is billed as Badass #1.

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