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The year of this tale is 1962,
And many remember it fondly; do you?
The young Curtis Henderson and his pal Steve
Are planning tomorrow to finally leave
Modesto for college as two cool hot shots,
But Curt, unlike Steve, has some real second thoughts.
 
Steve’s dating Curt’s sister, but Laurie’s withdrawn 
When Steve wants to date other girls while he’s gone.
Steve loans his Impala to Terry the “Toad,”
A nerd who will care for his ride on the road.
There’s also John Milner, a local skirt-chaser,
Whose yellow deuce coupe makes him quite a good racer.
 
First, Terry the “Toad” begins cruising the street
And picks up a girl who seems shallow but neat.
He lies to this Debbie and says it’s his car,
And his fictions of grandeur are working so far.
At Debbie’s insistence, he gets some hard booze
From a liquor store thief who has nothing to lose.
 
Both Terry and Debbie go parking, but soon
The Impala gets swiped by the light of the moon.
They regain their wheels when they get back in town,
But Steve takes it right back to track Laurie down.
The “Toad” tells the truth about all that he’d done,
But Debbie decides that they both still had fun.
****
Meanwhile, Steve’s having some issues with Laurie,
Who’s mad over Steve’s plans of college-bound glory.
She wants him to stay so that he can stay hers.
At the sock hop, she snubs him, and feuding occurs.
He woos her somewhat, but it’s soon clear to him
That their love, if he leaves, will look more and more grim.
 
When Laurie gets mad, she kicks Steve from her car
And hitches a ride with a new racing star.
She sits with Bob Falfa, who races ol’ John.
When his car overturns, she is angry and wan.
But Steve, who has gotten his car back from “Toad,”
Consoles her and says he will not hit the road.
****
Meanwhile, John Milner is going through heck
When he picks up a 12-year-old pain-in-the-neck.
Young Carol wants action that she rarely gets.
Not letting John leave her, she keeps making threats
That she’ll scream or cry rape if he won’t let her stay,
So he does, and some fondness grows from his dismay.
 
They trash someone’s car for a water balloon,
And cruise around town by the street lights and moon.
John drives her home, though she at first had objected,
By offering more “action” than she’d expected.
He then races Falfa, who crashes with style
But survives, and John knows he’s still king for a while.
****
Meanwhile, Curt doubts if he should leave so fast,
But he sees a cute blonde in a T-bird drive past.
For the rest of the night, he obsesses about
That girl, and his longing replaces his doubt.
He also becomes a hostage for a time
By the Pharaohs, a gang that he helps with a crime.
 
Curt earns their respect, as uncouth as they are,
And rips the rear axle right off a cop car.
When freed, he then visits the great Wolfman Jack,
The famous DJ, who is glad to give back.
The Wolfman says hi for him over the air
To that blonde who he thinks is listening somewhere.
 
Curt gets a brief call from this girl he has dreamed,
But she stays as elusive as she ever seemed.
In the end, he decides to fly off and leave town,
And below is the T-bird when Curt glances down.
Curt leaves, and Steve stays, and “Toad” scores, and John wins,
And they’ll each have that night as their new life begins.
_______________________
 

American Graffiti is a classic, plain and simple, and it is a perfect snapshot of what it meant to be a teenager in 1962, at least seen through the eyes of the pre-Star Wars George Lucas. Starring many marvelous before-they-were-famous actors, the casting is perfect, with Ron Howard as Opie – I mean Steve –, Richard Dreyfuss as Mr. Holland – I mean Curt –, Cindy Williams as Shirley – I mean Laurie –, and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – I mean Bob Falfa. Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, and Mackenzie Phillips also shine in roles perfectly suited for them. Much of the film’s realism is owed to George Lucas, who left in several apparent goofs in order for the proceedings to seem more believable. His editing is also wonderful, switching seamlessly between the four stories that I had to separate in order to translate into a coherent poem.

The main issue once again is the language, which seems a bit more frequent than I would expect for 1962, even if the moral carryover from the ‘50s was dying out. Watching several scenes, such as John Milner and Carol attacking the car of the water balloon culprit, I also can’t help but think how juvenile many events in the film are. Still, it is that youthful immaturity that is so fondly remembered by those who recall those days of cruising and parking. These two matters are the only real drawbacks of a film that has one of the best soundtracks ever, made up of pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll, and is deservedly on many other top film lists as well.

Best line: (Debbie, at the end of the night) “I really had a good time. I mean, you picked me up, and we got some hard stuff, saw a holdup, and then we went to the canal, you got your car stolen, and then I got to watch you get sick. And then, you got in this really bitchin’ fight. I really had a good time.”  (Terry the “Toad”) “Yeah, well, I guess I have a pretty good time just about every night.”

 
Artistry: 8
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: 3
Originality: 7
Watchability: 5
Other (language and immaturity): -8
 
TOTAL: 30 out of 60
 

Tomorrow: #314: The Secret of Kells

© 2014 S. G. Liput

 

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