Are you feeling nostalgic about your high school days, glorious or not? Do you think fondly back on your first car, bf/gf, or your old hometown? Do you like classic rock ‘n roll music? Then you’re in the right mood to check out American Graffiti, director George Lucas’ first “big” picture from 1973. I can’t believe that such a fun, sweet, good quality film had a budget around $750,000!
The actors including Ron Howard (just 18), Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips (wow- only 12!) and Harrison Ford, were all young/relatively little-known actors. George Lucas filmed in a small California town not unlike the one he grew up in. The characters are based on Lucas and kids/teens he grew up with. He explains in the Bonus Features that 1962 (when the film is set) was an “age of innocence”- before Vietnam, before the death of JFK, etc. The 4 main boys in the film are concerned about ordinary things: cars, girls, college/work, and (of course) beer.
Steve (Howard) is your typical boy-next-door; he’s a HS senior who loves hanging at the drive-in (with gf/first love Laurie, played by Williams), is very careful re: his car, and looks forward to (maybe) going East to college.
Laurie, a popular cheerleader, is worried about what may happen to their relationship if Steve goes away. There is a great scene, with little dialogue, where the couple slow-dance. You can see the characters’ emotions come through. The actors relate very well to each other!
Laurie’s big bro Curt (Dreyfuss) has received a scholarship to college, but he’s not sure if he’ll go. Steve tells him that this is what they’ve both been waiting for, so why is he suddenly scared? Curt (who Lucas based on himself) is smart, funny, but a little anxious- he’s seeking something from life. It’s really cool to see Dreyfuss as an young actor; even then, he was a little chubby. I always enjoy his acting!
Curt sees his “dream girl” (Suzanne Somers) cruising along the strip, but she eludes him.
John (Le Mat), a tall, blonde mechanic who goes to JC (junior college), also cruises about looking for girls. Suddenly, he gets stuck with the little sis of a friend (played by Phillips) who wants to see some “action.” They have good screen chemistry. She’s a cute, eccentric character.
Later, John is challenged to a race by a newbie in town with a fancy car, Harrison Ford (then in his late 20s). Before this film, Ford had been working (for several years) as a carpenter to support his 2 kids. He wasn’t a carpenter before going to Hollywood, he taught himself after facing hard times getting roles. Ford had many small roles, but American Graffiti got him more notice. He wore a cowboy hat (see above pic) b/c he didn’t want to cut his hair too short (in case another acting job came up).
Another kid, Terry the Toad (Martin Smith), borrows Steve’s car and meets a beautiful, ditzy girl. He’s a nerdy, short, but sweet guy. Terry is also very nervous around girls; that creates funny moments. I related with him and Curt the most while watching the film!
This film has a lot good acting- the actors did a lot of improv b/c Lucas encouraged it. They all lived, dressed (no separate trailers!), and partied together during the 5 week filming. Lucas is known to be a laid-back director on-set; he did most of the work in the editing room. The movie has wall-to-wall great music reflecting the times; that was rare for Hollywood at the time.