The Story (continued)
American Graffiti (1973)
["Do You Wanna Dance?" by Bobby Freeman.] Back on the main drag in John's '32 Yellow Deuce Coupe, Carol admires the car's gear-shift knob that she has removed off the shift arm, but he reprimands her like her bossy father: "You're an ogre. Just like my father. He won't let me stay out late or play records, or anything." She is hopeful that the night isn't over yet: "The night is young and I'm not hittin' the rack 'til I get a little action." Behind them, as Falfa noisily revs his black Chevy, John deliberately hits his brakes - this causes Falfa to swerve abruptly to avoid crashing into them. They trade insults back and forth:
Falfa: Didn't nobody tell ya I was lookin' for ya?...Hey, you're supposed to be the fastest thing in the Valley, man, but that can't be your car. It must be your mama's car. I'm sorta embarrassed to be this close to ya.
John: I'm not surprised, drivin' a Field Car.
Falfa: Field Car? What's a Field Car?
John: A Field Car runs through the fields, drops cow s--t all over the place to make the lettuce grow.
Falfa: (laughing) That's pretty good. Hey, I like the color of your car there, man. What's that supposed to be? Sorta a cross between Piss Yellow and Puke Green, ain't it?
John: Well, you call that a paint job but it's pretty ugly. I'll betcha you gotta sneak up on the pumps just to get a little air in your tires.
Falfa: Well, at least I don't have to pull over to the side just to let a funeral go by, man.
John: Oh, funny...You know what?
Carol: Your car's uglier than I am! (She turns back to John) That didn't come out right.
At a stoplight, Carol prompts John to race and beat Falfa. When the light changes to green, they take off down the block with engines roaring and tires screaming. At the next intersection, Falfa floors his car and runs the red light, but John pulls to a stop.
Carol: Wow! He's really fast, isn't he?
John: Yeah, but he's stupid.
["Party Doll," by Buddy Knox.] While still with the Pharaohs as they cruise 10th Street in their '51 Mercury, Curt asks about his mysterious, blonde dream girl in the white T-bird. Joe advises against the high-priced prostitute: "She's outta your price range, man...That's right. She's a Thirty Dollar Sheri." Their conversation is interrupted as they pass the "fuzz ahead," a patrol car hiding in the middle of parked cars at Jerry's Cherries - a used car lot.
When they make it back to town from the canal, Terry and Debbie bow out from joining Steve on his way to Burger City. Miserable about the loss of Steve's car, Terry feels he must report the missing car instead.
In an alley behind Jerry's Cherries used car lot, although Curt scratched Gil's car, Joe offers his likeable friend Curt the chance to "be a Pharaoh." With a long length of metal cable in his hands, Joe crouches and motions everyone to get down as he approaches the back of the lot where the patrol car with officer Holstein is positioned. Curt is given three choices to become one of the gang:
One - you chicken out. In that case, I let Ants tie you to the car and drag you around a little bit. And you don't want that, right?...
Two - you foul up and Holstein hears you, well - ah, you don't want that, right?...
Three - you are successful and you join the Pharaohs with a carcoat, and the blood initiation and all that, huh?
["Come Go With Me," by The Del-Vikings.] Under cover, Curt dodges between cars and sneaks up on the cop's squad car. When he stumbles, trips, and falls, Holstein exits his car and investigates the noise. After pacing around the lot and finding nothing suspicious, the officer returns to his car. Curt surreptitiously attaches one end of the cable to a post and the other end to the rear axle of the police car. A slow-moving freight train covers up the sounds he makes while crawling under the car. To lure the cops to follow them, the Pharaohs fly down the main drag toward the used car lot, as Curt leans out the car window with one arm in the air, shouting: "Stand by for Justice!" When Holstein notices their car speeding by, he flashes his red lights and sounds his siren. He pulls forward to pursue them, but suddenly, the rear of the car hurtles upwards into the air as the axle and two rear wheels are yanked out. The front of the car noses into the pavement as sparks fly, and the car crashes to the ground, permanently immobile. [The car comes to rest near a movie theatre, with a marquee displaying DEMENTIA 13, Francis Ford Coppola's first feature film. The movie actually opened in 1963 - a year after the events of this film.] On the radio, Wolfman Jack provides a fitting voice-over: "Oh I can't believe it. Feels so good 'cause you're sixteen." [This police car destruction scene is the in-flight movie playing in the film Airport 75 (1974).]
["You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful (And You're Mine)," by Johnny Burnette.] John drives his deuce coupe down a dark road off the main drag and parks in a quiet residential area. He turns out the lights and then edges slowly over to Carol's side of the front seat, telling her: "I-I don't think that I can control myself any longer tonight...All night you've been sitting there and you've been so sexy and it's been so hot out here - and I can't wait any longer." His aggressiveness scares her and persuasively convinces her to divulge her address: "231 Ramona."
In an empty booth inside Mel's Drive-In, Steve sits contemplatively alone. For company, he is joined by roller-skating carhop Budda, who is surprised when he speaks of his break-up with Laurie: "We broke up. It's no big deal." In a provocative manner, she invites him to come over to her place after getting off in an hour: "This time, it'd just be for fun." Laurie walks up to the drive-in window, watches them for a moment, and then turns away. Steve accepts Budda's offer, but on second thought, changes his mind: "I gotta get up early in the morning, and I just don't think it would work out."
["Love Potion No. 9," by The Clovers.] The maroon Mercury pulls into the drive-in's parking lot, where the Pharaohs playfully congratulate Curt for his bravado and his informal acceptance into their gang: "That thing jumped about five feet in the air!" Curt returns to his own car, a Citroen, and listens to the radio. He catches another glimpse of the white T-bird in the distance, but is unable to start his car to catch it. ["Since I Don't Have You," by The Skyliners.] Driving alone down the main drag in her Edsel, Laurie wipes away her tears. Falfa - now without a chick by his side, paces next to her car. She turns and motions that she is pulling over to the curb. He idles next to her as she leaves her car and enters his car, cautioning him: "Don't say anything and we'll get along just fine."
Having learned her address, John pulls his Deuce Coupe up along the side of Carol's home. She is solemn and quiet at the end of a fun evening and he notices her mood: "This is the first time you've been quiet all night." After a silent pause, she asks with uncertainty: "Do you like me?" To have something to remember him by, she is given the gearshift knob and a kiss - she is ecstatic: "It's just like a ring or something. It's like we were going steady." She waves back to him from the sidewalk before entering the side door of her house.
With Steve standing next to him, Curt pulls up the front hood of his Citroen to fiddle with the engine. They discuss leaving (or not leaving) home:
Steve: Why should I leave home to find a home? You know, why should I leave friends that I love to find new friends?
Curt: Wait a minute, wait a minute...I've heard this already. Aren't you the one that told me for eight weeks that you have to leave the nest sometime?
Steve: I realize that. I realize that.
Curt: No, no realizing. You've been telling me all summer that it's time to stick your head out of the sand and take a look at the big, beautiful world out there somewhere..I feel like a mid-wife.
Steve: I may have been wrong, Curt. I may have been wrong.
Curt: Wrong nothing. You've been telling me for eight weeks. God-dammo. Just, you're just mentally playing with yourself. If you just relax, we'll talk about it at the airport.
As he drives, Falfa serenades Laurie with "Some Enchanted Evening." Terry is puking his guts out, barfing loudly in an alley behind a bar and drawing the attention of spectators. Gum-chewing Debbie non-chalantly watches him on his hands and knees "sicker than a dog." When Terry pulls himself up onto a car hood, he notices Steve's Chevy nearby. After staggering over to it, he suggests stealing the car back: "Now you get some wire. We need about a foot - we can hot-wire it. OK?"
At a gas station in town, the attendant notices John's roaring engine and notes: "Took the header plugs off, eh? Expectin' some action?...You've been number one as long as I can remember." While Terry fiddles around under the dashboard to hot-wire the car, a large, black T-shirted Badass (Johnny Weissmuller, Jr.) grabs him by his shirt and tosses him to his badass pal. As they are throwing him back and forth, Debbie ineffectually pummels the assailants with her white purse. John passes by in his Deuce Coupe, notices Terry in a helpless situation, pulls over, jumps out, and runs over to punch away at both punks until they depart. Terry - now sickened, bloody, and also drunk, moans: "I'll die soon and it'll all be over." Debbie is enamoured of John: "Wow, you're just like the Lone Ranger."
At a booth in Mel's Drive-In, Steve is joined by two fresh-faced girls Karen and Judy (Susan Richardson), who tell him that Laurie is "with a really cute guy in a really boss car...His name's Bob Falfa." Steve doesn't register a reaction. Terry and Debbie pull into the drive-in and park at one of the intercoms to place an order: "Bring two cherry cokes with lots of ice. No, never mind, forget, just bring the ice." Steve bursts into view and orders Terry and Debbie to get out of his car - she can't believe what's happening:
Debbie: (To Terry) I can't believe it! You practically get killed trying to get your car back, and then you let him have it.
Terry: (giving up all pretenses) It's not my car.
Terry: It is not my car.
Debbie: Well then, where is your car?
Terry: I don't have a car.
Debbie: Well, what about your Jeep? Well, how am I gonna get home?
Car Hop: (with drinks on a tray) Where's your car? I have to hang 'em on a car.
["Crying in the Chapel," by Sonny Till and the Orioles.] Debbie wanders back and sits on the curb next to a disgraced and embarrassed Terry, to unexpectedly thank him for the "good time":
You know, Terry, I had a pretty good time tonight...you picked me up and we got some hard stuff and saw a hold-up, and then we went to the canal, and you got your car stolen, and then I got to watch you gettin' sick, and then you got in this really bitchin' fight. I really had a good time...Well, if I'm not doin' anything tomorrow, why don't you give me a call, OK?
She kisses his swollen, painful lip when leaving.
Curt pulls his Citroen into a parking spot next to a building with a tall radio antenna. He inches into the front door of the radio station and walks around until the back-lit, silhouetted radio DJ (Wolfman Jack) asks through a control booth window: "Hey! What do you want?" Curt is instructed to "push the red switch down" to speak through the intercom system - he asks: "I'm looking for this girl." He wanders through a maze of electronic equipment to the back, where the bearded DJ sucking on a popsicle and wearing a Hawaiian shirt sits at a console:
Curt: Are you the Wolfman?
Manager: No, man, I'm not the Wolfman.
Wolfman, passing himself off as the radio station manager, places a tape into one of the machines and plays the Wolfman's voice: "He's on tape. The man is on tape." Curt is curious about the originating location of the famed Wolfman:
Curt: Where is he now? I mean, where does he work?
Manager: The Wolfman is everywhere.
Now that he may be leaving town the next morning to go back East to college, Curt wants to give a note to the Wolfman - a dedication (to the girl in the white T-bird) to be played on the air. Speaking for the omniscient Wolfman, the manager encourages Curt to see the world, pursue the future beyond the confines of the town, and fulfill his dreams:
Manager: I can't talk for the Wolfman, but I can tell you one thing. If the Wolfman was here, he'd say: 'Get your ass in gear!' The Wolfman comes in here occasionally bringing tapes, you know, to check up on me, what-not. And the places he talks about that he's been. The things he's seen. There's a great big beautiful world out there. And here I sit sucking on popsicles.
Curt: Why don't you leave?
Manager: I'm not a young man anymore. And the Wolfman gave me my start in the business. And I like it. I'll tell ya what. If I can possibly do it tonight, I'll try to relay this dedication in and get it on the air for you later on.
Curt: That would be terrific.
As Curt winds his way back to the front door, he peers through an open door, and sees the manager speaking into the microphone in the raucous voice of the Wolfman, betraying the DJ's real identity. ["Heart and Soul," by The Cleftones.]
Back at Mel's Drive-In, Falfa (with Laurie in the front seat) pulls up alongside John's Deuce Coupe and revs his Chevy's engine, challenging him to a drag race. On their way to the meeting point, Paradise Road (decided by John), the cocky Falfa brags: "You ain't said one word all night long. What a weird broad. But you'll appreciate me soon. You're gonna be hangin' on for mercy when I get this sucker rollin'." Also cruisin' along in another part of town, Steve is told by an unidentified friend [Dale (Bob Pasaak) in the credits] driving a 2-door hardtop, dusk-plum colored 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, about Falfa's race against Milner. Steve roars off in his car to find Laurie. Curt pulls his Citroen into Mel's Drive-In - he sits pensively with his hand on his chin when he hears his dedication read on the radio by the Wolfman:
Hey, I got a dedication here that's for a friend of the ol' Wolfman. And he wants me to play the next song for a blonde young lady in a Thunderbird. A white T-bird, you understand? Now my friend's name is Curt and he wants to talk to you out there, baby. So you meet him at Burger City, or you can phone Diamond 3132. Now he's a friend of mine, you hear, and little girl, you better call him, or the Wolfman gonna get ya.
["Green Onions," by Booker T. and the M.G.'s.] At dawn, a procession of cars meets on the long and straight country road to watch the drag race. John's yellow '32 Deuce Coupe and Falfa's black '55 Chevy are lined up side by side. Laurie remains in Falfa's car for the race, and Terry acts as flagman: "OK, you guys ready?" Both drivers glance over at each other and rev their engines, waiting for Terry to nervously flip the switch on a flashlight. When it lights, the two cars roar off the starting line, with Falfa's spinning tires smoking and screeching. John's car has the edge off the line but Falfa begins to take the lead. Part of the way down the road, Falfa's car swerves and blows out a tire. His out-of-control vehicle careens into an irrigation ditch, flips over, and cartwheels amidst dirt and smoke - it comes to rest upside down where it ignites a small grass fire. Panicked, John turns his car around and races back to the crash site, as onlookers run toward the burning car. Steve's and John's cars arrive at the same time - they run across the field toward the flaming wreckage, where Laurie is wrestling with Falfa. Steve pulls them apart - Laurie is dazed and distressed, but miraculously unhurt: "I don't know. Please, don't come near me. No, please. I think I'm gonna be sick." After everyone has vacated the area, Falfa's car explodes in a fireball.
The rift between Steve and Laurie appears over and they are reunited after her close brush with death. She throws her arms around him as he succumbs to her wishes that he remain in town:
Laurie: Oh Steven! Oh, Steven, please, don't leave me. Don't leave me, Steven.
Steve: I won't. I won't.
Laurie: I couldn't bear it. Please.
Steve: Believe me.
Laurie: Do you love me? Do you? (He answers her with a kiss.)
To a jubilant Terry, John downplays his victory over Falfa - knowing that he might have lost the race: "I was losin', man...He had me, man. He was pullin' away from me just before he crashed...You saw it...The man had me. He was beatin' me." Terry won't acknowledge his idol's weakness: "You got the bitchinest car in the Valley. You'll always be number one, John. You're the greatest." The two of them drive off as the sun slowly rises over the plowed country fields. ["Only You (And You Alone)," by The Platters.] Steve and Laurie walk toward his car in each other's arms.
A phone rings in the phone booth of Mel's Drive-In, where Curt sleeps in the front seat of his Citroen that is parked in the empty lot. He wakes with a start, jumps up and picks up the phone. A sexy, female voice at the other end asks for him by name:
Curt: Yes, yes, this is Curt. Who are you?
Voice: Who are you expecting?
Curt: Do you drive a white T-bird?
Voice: A white '56. I saw you on Third Street...
Curt: Who are you? Do you know me?
Voice: Of course.
Curt: How do you know me?
Voice: It's not important.
Curt: It's important. It's important to me. You're the most beautiful, exciting thing I've ever seen in my life and I don't know anything about you. Listen, listen, listen, uh, uhm, uh, could we meet someplace?
Voice: I cruise Third Street. Maybe I'll see you tonight.
Curt: No, I don't think so.
Curt: Tell me your name, at least tell me your name.
Voice: Goodbye, Curt.
Curt: Wait a minute. Wait a second. (She hangs up.)
["Goodnight Sweetheart, Well It's Time to Go," by The Spaniels.] At the airport, a Douglas DC-7 Magic Carpet Airlines airplane is ready to take Curt to college. [The name of the airplane pre-figured the famous 60's rock song by Steppenwolf, "Magic Carpet Ride."] He is seen off by his parents, Terry, John, and by Laurie and Steve - his classmate who has decided to postpone his own departure. Curt asks Steve: "Am I gonna see you there next year?" John gives Curt a little slap on the cheek as he departs: "You probably think you're a big shot, goin' off like this - but you're still a punk." Curt climbs the ramp and boards the Radar-Equipped plane's door behind the wing, and shortly after, the plane takes off. As it slowly climbs in altitude, the radio (playing "Goodnight Sweetheart") grows fainter. He looks down from the window and watches a tiny speck of a vehicle pacing the airplane on the highway - it's the white T-bird. He looks up and the screen dissolves into the blue sky.
The film's postcript of closing credits informs the audience of the fates of the film's four main characters:
- John Milner was killed by a drunk driver in December 1964.
- Terry Fields was reported missing in action near An Loc in December 1965.
- Steve Bolander is an insurance agent in Modesto, California.
- Curt Henderson is a writer living in Canada.
["All Summer Long," by The Beach Boys.]
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of American Graffiti