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AMERICAN GRAFFITI ON THE BIG SCREEN

year: 1973 cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Ron Howard rating: *****
After growing up watching AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and seeing it fifty or more times since childhood, and always on television, there are a few noticeable particularities when viewed in an actual theater on the big screen...

Producer Francis Ford Coppola’s first film, a low budget horror flick titled DEMENTIA 13, is on the marquee outside Jerry's Cherries Used Car Lot, where Richard Dreyfuss’s Curt Henderson, kidnapped for the night by a gang called The Pharaohs, caused havoc for a local police car by tying a cable to its underbelly: And before that when Curt and his new acquaintances are inside a pinball alley, the Laura Scudder’s brand Potato Chips are in abundance behind the Moose Lodge guys… John Milner, played by Paul LeMat, has a pack of Camels rolled up in his see-though white-sleeve…
Producer Francis Ford Coppola's exploitation flick DEMENTIA 13 on the marquee
And various adult characters: like the poor fella who gets his front bumper bashed, the jerk cop Holstein, the liquor store clerk, the chaperone told to “Kiss A Duck,” really look straight out of the Eisenhower era – okay so JFK was president by this time, but you get the drift…

The bottom line is AMERICAN GRAFFITI is meant to be viewed the way originally intended: the bigger the better.  
Jim Bohan's Holstein refers to Paul LeMat's car as that "thing" like the Death Star guard to Chewbacca
Not to toot the old horn, but yours truly notified the theater management… ten minutes before the movie played at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach, California… that the previous screening of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE was all but ruined by a minimal amount of audio… In other words, the sound was so low it hindered the entire experience...

If GRAFFITI, with wall-to-wall music playing throughout, blaring in and out of cars while providing a subliminally expository narrative, had the same sound problem, and so, once again, a sublime movie, part of the ongoing Landmark Classic Series, would be ruined. And who wants to hear the irritating noise of popcorn bags being ransacked by hungry audience members, or banal comments spoken when you’re trying hard to listen to what’s really important?
The beautiful Jody Carlson and the silhouette of Mackenzie Phillips
Well during the first ten minutes, the sound was low… The music was on a mid-passable level while the dialogue seemed like whispers. Ugh... not again! A really bad case of déjà vu!

But then, right as Milner’s flirting with the gorgeous girl, played by Jody Carlson, in the Studebaker, who winds up handing off thirteen-year-old Mackenzie Phillips’ Carol for the night, something miraculous happened: the sound turned up and thus, the experience was entirely awesome.
After being a corpse in BULLITT and MAGNUM FORCE, Suzanne Somers gets another silent role
The AMERICAN GRAFFITI story is simple: A group of kids spend the night cruising a busy boulevard. The next morning, two of the four guys will go off to college. At first Ron Howard’s popular guy Steve Bolander is all ready for the trip, and it’s Curt Henderson who’s balking at the big move.

Henderson, the central of the four central characters, winds up seeing a beautiful girl in a white T-Bird… Suzanne Somers never looked so hot, with the exception of MAGNUM FORCE, perhaps… and spends the rest of the film either trapped by the gang, led by Bo Hopkins as Little Jo, or chasing this dreamboat up and down impossible twists and turns.
Cindy Williams and the always-lovely Kathleen Quinlan
But it's not all cruising around, there's a love story, kinda... Centering on Steve and his girlfriend Laurie's constant bickering on whether they should remain a couple: after all, Steve is taking off the next morning and long distant relationships rarely work.

Laurie Henderson, Curt’s sister, is played by Cindy Williams – while it’s difficult not seeing HAPPY DAYS verses LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, the two actors are terrific and do a fantastic job despite a somewhat cliché romantic-quibbling storyline that it took co-writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to help Lucas with, since he (in his own opinion) wasn’t good at writing about relationships.
Ron Howard and Cindy Williams with Kathleen Quinlan's Peg silently instigating
While the main actors were kickstarting their careers, Ron Howard, billed as Ronny Howard, who was the biggest name of the lot, had the task of making people forget he was Opie on ANDY GRIFFITH for all those years. Although his story is the least interesting, he succeeded as a teenage actor.

And then people would know him as Richie Cunningham (HAPPY DAYS was inspired by GRAFFITI but actually spun-off from an episode of LOVE AMERICAN STYLE) until he trailblazed as a successful director later on.
Candy Clark, Charles Martin Smith and Ron Howard
The funniest segments belong to Terry The Toad Philips, the nerd of the group who, played brilliantly by Charles Martin Smith, is like a pinball being rolled from one unlucky situation to the next, providing an entertaining adventure since he's naïve, vulnerable and open to anything...

Especially after meeting the only Oscar nominated actor in the film…
Candy Clark's eye shown through Charles Martin Smith's glasses
Candy Clark as the bleach blonde Debbie really vanishes into a character, and doesn't seem like she’s playing an extension of herself. It's a performance that goes way outside the box. Candy plays Debbie as someone who knows what she wants, and finally found a nice guy/chump who will buy her booze and drive her around town. Yet she has heart. Experience with soul.

In one aspect, Toad and Debbie’s story is a progression of Curt’s, being that Debbie is Toad’s ultimate dream girl and yet his dream’s a reality – and often a nightmare.
Joe Spano promising Toad a knuckle-sandwich
Then there are those subtle performances that stand out better when they’re thirty feet tall and shining bright… How Wolfman Jack, posing as a radio employee, talks about his cherished popsicles… HILL STREET BLUES actor Joe Spano’s duck-tailed snarky bravado when talking down Debbie in front of Toad… Kathleen Quinlan as Peg, Laurie's gossiping best friend, whose subtle manipulation at the dance adds color to the sequence... And the sexy skating waitress Budda (Janna Bellan), ready and willing to give Steve the very best of going-away presents...

There's the obnoxious used car salesman on the giant chair... The teacher who puts out his match really hip-like before walking off with Kay Lenz... The conceited blonde guy, Kip Pullman, with his arms bobbing as the car rides over bumps after hearing from Curt that Bob, his ex girlfriend’s girlfriend, has an immense crush… And on and on it goes: Folks you just have to see the movie to know what all this inside-info rambling is about.
Paul LeMat and his sleeve-wrapped pack of Camels
Now back to John Milner, the Han Solo of the film. And while Lucas didn’t make STAR WARS until a few years later… And Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa winds up being Milner’s drag race rival… He’s the most memorable character, and embodies 1962 more than anyone else. Like the era itself, Milner still grasps firmly onto the '50s, detesting new things like The Beach Boys. "Rock and roll's been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died."

A combination of James Dean and the guy we’ve all known, who has yet to grow up to accept responsibility, the devil-may-care rebel, saddled with the 13 year old bratty girl, has to shed his flirtatiously freewheeling ways and is suddenly forced to grow up for the night. Plus his reputation is being challenged: Leading to the dawn drag race backed by Booker T. and the MG’s soulful dirge Green Onions. Despite his shallow exterior, Milner has layers.
The boys square off in an insult battle before the first drag race
The coolest action sequence occurs before the initial trail run drag race. “Who’s that, do you know him? He’s following awful close,” Carol says when Bob Falfa attempts pulling up behind Milner...

Milner puts on his brakes and Falfa, steering quick to the right, jumps into the next lane, quickly leaps ahead of Milner and the camera neatly pans over... as Milner’s yellow Deuce Coup finally winds up beside his rival…

George Lucas was never given due credit as a great director, and here his style goes hand-in-hand with precise editing: his then-wife Marcia Lucas (who edited Martin Scorsese's ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE and supervised TAXI DRIVER), along with JAWS editor Verna Fields, help make this not only a classic film but an experience that you’re really hanging out with these people in the span of a single night, right up close and personal... And it’s better, more boss and bitchin' with each and every viewing, especially up there on the big screen!
SHOP AMERICAN GRAFFITI TILL YOU DROP ON AMAZON
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