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American Graffiti (1973)

Four California teenagers get a final, nostalgic glimpse of innocence before facing college and life in general in 1962 in this spot-on portrait of American youth culture shown through the experiences of some high school seniors.

On the eve of leaving for college or military service, the quartet spend a memorable night of chasing girls, racing cars, taking dares, harassing the cops, and hanging out.

The film opens at Mel’s Drive-In Burger City, the social centre for the town’s teenagers somewhere in the sun-drenched Central Valley of California.


It tells the story of the last night of the summer vacation, the last night the four main characters – Steve, Curt, Terry and John – will be together before Steve and Curt fly east to college the next morning.

Steve wants to break up with Laurie, his devoted high school sweetheart and pursue new experiences away from home. Curt is hesitant about going away to school and leaving the comfortable, familiar surroundings of family and friends.

John tries to maintain his “too cool for school” image as a hip guy, but can’t seem to shake a nagging awareness that life is somehow passing him by. Finally, there’s Terry, the nerdy wannabe trying to fit in but who still manages to screw up.


The film follows their adventures from dusk to dawn: the girls they meet, the local school gym hop, cruisin’ the streets in and out of Mel’s, terrorising the police, making out on the river bank to the sounds of Wolfman Jack‘s XERB radio show (pictured above), duelling on deserted dawn-lit country roads between John’ Chevy-powered Ford deuce coupe and a very mean ’55 Chevy, until – finally – each goes his separate way at the airport the next morning.

American Graffiti is a perceptive account of this period – the optimistic Kennedy era of post-war permissiveness before the final fall from innocence of the decade that followed.

scan0072The film greatly enhanced the career of director George Lucas and cast members Ron Howard and Cindy Williams. You also should spot Harrison Ford and Suzanne Somers.

As if such good times, beautifully filmed, were not enough, Lucas also achieved outstanding life-like performances from his young cast – the boys, Ron Howard (Steve), Richard Dreyfuss (Curt), Charlie Martin-Smith (Terry), Paul Le Mat (John); and the girls, Cindy Williams (Laurie), Candy Clark (Debbie), and McKenzie Phillips (Carol) – who together perfectly engineer the common empathy and changing moods of youthful friendship.

There’s very little plot, but this landmark film sparkles with nostalgic atmosphere and hilarious dialogue.

As a constant backdrop, the music plays a great part in setting the mood of the film; ranging from Bill Haley‘s classic opener Rock Around The Clock (almost 20 years after it opened Blackboard Jungle), to The Beach Boys‘ All Summer Long at the close.

Although technically dazzling, the sequel More American Graffiti (1979) lacked the unity of style and dedication of purpose that made the original movie so memorable.

Curt Henderson
Richard Dreyfuss
Steve Bolander

Ron Howard
John Milner

Paul Le Mat
Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields

Charlie Martin Smith
Laurie Henderson

Cindy Williams

McKenzie Phillips
Debbie Dunham

Candy Clark
Bob Falfa

Harrison Ford
XERB Disc Jockey

Wolfman Jack
Blonde in T-Bird

Suzanne Sommers
Joe Young

Bo Hopkins

Manuel Padilla Jr

Beau Gentry
Officer Holstein

Jim Bohan

Jana Bellan

Deby Celiz
Bobbie Tucker

Lynne Marie Stewart
Bill Wolfe

Terry McGovern

Kathy Quinlan

Tim Crowley
Mr Gordon

Scott Beach

Gordon Analla
Hank Anderson

Al Nalbandian

Bob Pasaak

Chris Pray

Susan Richardson

Fred Ross
Kip Pullman

Ed Greenberg
Mr Kroot

Irving Israel

Joe Spano
Bob Falfa’s Girl

Debralee Scott

George Lucas