Filmsite Movie Review
American Graffiti (1973)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Back at the school dance, the Student Body Secretary introduces the next 'snowball' dance, to be led by the graduated class president Steven Bolander and the next year's head cheerleader, Laurie Henderson. A blue spotlight locates the soon-to-be separated couple - Steve is encouraged to smile in front of everyone and dragged to the center of the dance floor. ["Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," by The Platters.] Already in the midst of an argument, they continue arguing with each other, while carrying on the masquerade of lovingly dancing with each other as they circle around the gym. She is bitter for having made all the aggressive moves in their relationship (asking him out the first time and kissing him first) - and she is caught and trapped by her feelings for him. Laurie doesn't want to admit that she really loves him and is having difficulty in letting him go and breaking up. Tears form in her eyes, as the song's line "tears I cannot hide" is heard. When he asks: "What's wrong?", she replies: "Go to hell."

In the parking lot outside the gym, Curt's ex-girlfriend Wendy (Debbie Celiz) slides next to him - she sees a pattern in his uncertain college plans: "Same old Curt. All the time we were going together, you never knew what you were doing..." They leave together toward a waiting Volkswagen with her girlfriend Bobbie.

["Louie, Louie."] As they dance more closely together, Laurie and Steve are reprimanded by one of the teachers - Mr. Kroot - for being too intimate: "You know the rules. You and your girlfriend want to do that, go someplace else, huh." Threatened with suspension after insulting the teacher twice ("Why don't you go kiss a duck?...Go kiss a duck, marblehead"), Steve beams confidently toward the powerless adult: "I graduated last semester, remember?" In the gym parking lot, Steve suggests that they go out to the canal, and they kiss each other.

["Little Darlin'," by The Diamonds.] Terry and Debbie return to Mel's Drive-In to order "a double Chubby Chuck, a Mexicali Chili Barb, two orders of French fries and two Cherry cokes." While waiting for their order, a guy named Vic (Joe Spano) greets the older, 'experienced' Debbie - their conversation is filled with 60's colloquialisms and teenage expressions:

Vic: Hey Deb, how's my soft baby?
Debbie: Come on. Beat it, Vic. I'm not your baby.
Vic: Aw come on, honey. Look, so I never called you back. I've been, you know, busy...
Debbie: Yeah, three weeks?...Besides, it only took me one night to realize if brains were dynamite, you couldn't blow your nose.
Vic: Look who's talking. Hey, who's the wimp you're hanging out with now? Einstein?
Debbie: Tiger happens to be very intelligent. Unlike you. I know everything your dirty little mind is thinking (she looks down at his crotch) shows.
Terry: Hey now, buddy, look. The lady obviously doesn't want to have to -
Vic: Look, creep, you want a knuckle sandwich?
Terry: Ah, no thanks, I'm waitin' for a double Chubby Chuck...
Vic: Then keep your smart ass mouth shut. Hey, I'll call ya some time, Deb, some night when I'm hard up.
Debbie: I won't be home. (He gives her the finger. She lights a match and flicks it at him as he leaves)
Terry: You seem to know a lot of weird guys.
Debbie: That creep's not a friend of mine. He's just horny. That's why I like you, you're different.
Terry: I-I am? I mean, you really think I'm intelligent?
Debbie: (She drapes her arm around his shoulder) Yeah. And I'll bet you're smart enough to get us some brew. (She kisses him) Yeah.
Terry: Brew?
Debbie: Yeah.
Terry: Liquor? Yeah. Yeah right, liquor. This place is too crowded anyway.

The car hop is left standing in their empty parking space with their order.

["Peppermint Twist," by Joey Dee and the Starlighters.] The white T-bird with the elusive blonde appears for a moment. Back-seat driver Curt yells directions to Bobbie (Lynne Stewart), the driver of their red '57 VW convertible to keep up, but as the white car turns a corner off Main Street, he's "lost her again." Still determined, he vows that he's going to find out who she is. Bobbie identifies the blonde as the wife of Mr. Beeman, the owner of Hepcat Jewelers. As Curt listens, his ex-girlfriend Wendy divulges to Bobbie his avowed, naive, quintessential 60s dream for his life:

Wendy: Hey, did you know that my ex is going to become a Presidential aide? Yeah, and uhm, it's a secret so don't tell anybody, but his greatest ambition is to shake hands with President Kennedy. (To Curt) How do you suppose you're gonna do that, wishy-washy, at J.C.?
Curt: Well, uh, maybe I've grown up. Maybe I changed my mind.
Wendy and Bobbie (in unison): Doubt it!
Wendy: Maybe you don't think you can do it!

Like old times, she joins Curt in the back seat ("the aft chamber"), as he playfully suggests that they go to Gallo Dam for an orgy: "I could pick up some Oleo Margarine - roll around in it for a while." ["Barbara Ann," by The Regents.] After they kiss, Wendy admits being pleased that he's staying closer to home to attend Junior College: "I'm really glad you're gonna stay. We might even have a class together."

They pull up next to Kip Pullman's (Ed Greenberg) car, as Curt tells Kip of Bobbie's crush on him: "Bobbie here is madly in love with you and trembles at the sight of your rippling biceps." Embarrassed and enraged, Bobbie pulls the car to the curb, flails at him with her purse, and orders him out of the car. Suddenly, he sees the T-bird crossing through an intersection and begins running after it on foot. He stops in the middle of the busy street, oblivious to cars passing dangerously close.

["The Book of Love," by The Monotones.] At the Drive-In, John has ordered "one ten-cent Coke with ice" for Carol. To his complete dismay, the young girl hopes that some of her friends will recognize her in John's super hot-rod vehicle. When Al (Christopher Pray) appears at the window, asking to bring by his Mopar for spot-welding repair of the bumper bracket on Monday at the shop where John works, he introduces teeny-bopper Carol as a cousin that he is 'babysitting.' She is incensed - she slugs him, spilling her Coke in the process, and leaves the car - calling him a "spastic creep." Eventually, he cruises next to her on Main Street and picks her up to protect her from being harrassed by a group of guys eyeing her from a two-door hardtop, a light beige and copper-colored 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. She hops in with: "Hi cousin, how's your bod?"

["Maybe Baby," by Buddy Holly.] In front of a liquor store, while Debbie waits in his parked car, under-aged Terry confronts customers as they enter, trying to figure out a way to have someone buy him some liquor. Explaining that he lost his I.D. in a flood, he gives a bum money to buy some "Old Harper hard stuff." But the wino purchases four bottles of cheap wine instead, and then disappears. Terry casually enters the store and discovers that the old man "went out the back." Devastated, he quickly rattles off his shopping order: "A Three Musketeers, and a ball point pen, one of those combs there, a pint of Old Harper, a couple of flashlight batteries and some beef jerky." When asked for an I.D. for the liquor, he stammers a lame excuse:

Owner: OK, got an ID for the liquor?
Terry: Oh, umm, yeah! (He feels his pockets.) Oop! Nuts, I left it in the car.
Owner: Sorry, you'll have to get it before -
Terry: Well, I - I also, I forgot the car.

Terry retreats to the car with a bag full of stuff minus the liquor, and then asks Debbie for the loan of a dollar:

Debbie: Are you for real? Come on. Girls don't pay. Guys pay.
Terry: Yeah, well, see - I've only got a fifty and he doesn't have change.
Debbie: Well, I can't believe this, I really cannot believe this. Here.

["Ya Ya," by Lee Dorsey.] Returning to the front door of the liquor store with a dollar, he propositions another customer to buy a pint of Old Harper. The obliging guy (James Cranna) enters the store - Terry is confident that he has scored. He adjusts his pants downward and slicks back his hair. Shortly thereafter, the guy - a thief who has robbed the store - races out the front door, tosses a brown bag at Terry, and runs off into the darkness. The owner of the store emerges at the door with a gun and shoots at the suspect.

At an Auto Wrecking Yard with a posted "U Keep Out" sign, John and Carol climb over a chain-fence and walk together through the piles of rusted, smashed automobiles. As a legendary hot-rodder, he nostalgically points out cars involved in deadly drag-racing accidents, and how as king of the drag strip he has always, until now, avoided a catastrophe while racing challengers:

John: Over there, that's Freddy Benson's Vette...he had a head-on collision with a drunk. Boom! Didn't have a chance. A good driver too. Oh, it's pretty grim when a guy gets it and it's not even his own fault....See that over there, that '41? That used to be, believe it or not, the fastest car in the valley. I never got a chance to race Earl though. He got his in 1955 in about the hairiest crash we ever had here. Jesus, you should have seen it. Eight kids killed and both drivers. Board of Education was real impressed see, so they come up, filmed the whole thing. Now they show it in Drivers' Education class. You'll probably see it if you get lucky. Course, it's really tough when they take somebody with them.
Carol: You never had an accident though - you told me.
John: Hey, well I come mighty close. Almost rolled it a couple of times. But, I'm been just quick enough to stay out of this graveyard.
Carol: I bet you're the fastest.
John: I've never been beaten - a lot of guys have tried. It seems to me there's more guys lately than there's ever been.

["The Great Pretender," by The Platters.] In front of Wilson's Appliance Store, Curt sits on the hood of a parked DeSoto watching the many images projected on the showroom's TV screens of The Ozzie and Harriet Show starring a young Ricky Nelson. He is surrounded by dark figures, three hoods with cigarettes dangling off their lips and with the name PHARAOHS emblazoned across the back of their dark blue jackets. The leader of the gang, Joe (Bo Hopkins), intimidates him:

Joe: Whadaya doin', creep?
Curt: Who, me?
Joe: No, I'm talkin' to the other fifty creeps here.

Curt is accused of sitting on their friend's car and damaging the hood. The second of the three, a tall, ghoulish-looking guy named Ants (Beau Gentry) brings Curt back when he tries to slip away unnoticed. Bo pushes Curt in the shoulder for scratching the hood of the car, and Ants threatens to "tie him to the car and drag him." Curt laughs nervously as they coerce him toward and into the back seat of their low-slung, maroon '51 Mercury, a submarine-like vehicle. ["Ain't That A Shame?" by Fats Domino.] During their drive down the main drag in the Pharaohs' car, Curt spots the white Thunderbird next to their car. They also pass Laurie's Edsel with Steve at the wheel (and Laurie by his side) going in the opposite direction. John's yellow Deuce Coupe also passes by. All the cars are listening to DJ Wolfman Jack, a radio announcer with a raspy voice who is harrassing a phone operator during a collect call. Carol is entertained and chuckles about the source of the radio show:

I just love listening to Wolfman. My Mom won't let me at home because he's a Negro. I think he's terrific. Do you know that he just broadcasts from a plane that flies around in circles all the time? Do you believe that's true?

In the Pharaohs' car, Carlos (Manuel Padillo Jr.), the third gang member, also idolizes the Wolfman: "He's my man. When I graduate, I'm gonna be a Wolfman. Hey, you know he broadcasts out of Mexico someplace?" Joe isn't disillusioned: "No he don't. I seen the station right outside of town." The roar of Bob Falfa's black '55 Chevy drowns out their conversation. They admire the "snatch he's got with him." Curt joins in: "Whimps get all the snatch." Carlos fears that John finally has met his drag-racing match: "Milner ain't gonna beat that. His time has come. He's gettin' old. He ain't as fast as he used to be."

In John's Deuce Coupe, when Carol gets too close, he orders her back to her side of the front seat. The feisty girl jokes: "Don't worry, I won't rape you." A cruising, white '60 Cadillac full of girls pulls up next to them - one of them compliments his car:

Girl: You got a bitchin' car...In fact, your car's so neat, we're gonna give you our special prize. You want me to give it to ya?
John: Hey sweetheart, if the prize is you, I'm a ready Teddy.
Girl: Well, get bent turkey.

She heaves a water balloon at his car - it passes through the window, misses John, and strikes Carol squarely in the face. John can't control his laughter and cracks up at the sight of Carol's wet face. ["Johnny B. Goode," by Chuck Berry.] To retaliate with their own counter-attack, they jump out of their car at the next light and flatten the tires of the girls' car. Carol sprays foamy shaving cream all over their windows.

["I Only Have Eyes For You," by The Flamingos.] In an isolated area, Terry has parked his Chevy next to the irrigation canal's bank. He mixes some of the hard liquor into two bottles of Coke, and with some braggadocio about owning horses, a jeep with four-wheel drive and a gun rack, he makes an abrupt move toward Debbie after telling her: "You know, I think you're really neat." Caught off-guard, she shouts: "Wait a second." After taking her sweater off, she unexpectedly grabs him, kisses him, and pulls him down on top of herself. They passionately make out in the front seat as Debbie coos: "I just love tuck and roll upholstery." When a stranger walks by their car, Terry jests: "Geez, it's like Grand Central Station around here." They emerge from the car and walk on a path by the moonlit canal while listening to Wolfman Jack on the blaring radio.

["Get a Job," by The Silhouettes.] The white T-bird drives by as the Pharaohs' Mercury pulls into a miniature golf course and arcade. After starting to vandalize a few of the pinball machines, an angry Mr. Gordon (Scott Beach) confronts them: "What are you punks doing here?" Curt vouches for his 'friends' and assures Mr. Gordon that they're only there for fun. Behind the snack counter of the arcade, Hank Anderson (Albert Nalbandian), the one who brought Curt's name up for a scholarship in the Moose Hall, congratulates the young scholar with an endless handshake: "The Moose Scholarship went to the right boy. You! We were all proud of you." In the meantime, after the Pharaohs have been pilfering the machines ("all done having loads of fun out here"), and Hank unwittingly tells Curt: "I hope you'll be taking along with you a little piece of this place," (a tongue-in-cheek joke), they hurriedly walk toward the car. After the heist as they watch the guys leave, Hank concludes: "Some day he'll make a fine Moose."

In a field next to the canal, where Terry and Debbie are lying together, Terry is startled and jumps up nervously: "The radio is gone...That means - the car is gone!" His borrowed Chevy is missing from where it was parked - presumed stolen. Hopelessly blundering and bumbling one more time, Terry sinks to his knees and prays toward heaven:

Oh God, not the car! Oh no! Anything, but not the car.

["To The Aisle," by The Five Satins.] In another area next to the canal bank, where Laurie's '58 Edsel is parked, she and Steve discuss her brother's future plans and its implications:

Laurie: You know, it doesn't make sense to leave home to look for home, to give up a life to find a new life, to say goodbye to friends you love just to find new friends.
Steve: Wait a minute. Could you say that again?
Laurie: It's something Curt said.
Steve: Oh, figures. You must've talked his ear off trying to get him to stay.
Laurie: Oh no, Steven. That's not true at all. I didn't say anything. Curt just said at dinner tonight that he didn't see what the big hurry was. He thought that he ought to stick around and go to J.C. for a while, and try and figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
Steve: That sounds logical.
Laurie: Do you think so?
Steve: Sure. I think Curt's probably right for Curt. Not for me, though. (She turns away) Laurie, look at me. Now you know what I want out of life. And it's just not in this town.
Laurie: I'm not going with you to the airport tomorrow.

They kiss and begin to make out, but Laurie resists his advances and entreaties: "It's our last night together for three months...I'm gonna miss you so much. I need something to remember you by. You don't want me to forget you, do ya?" When she lies there limp and unresponsive and tells him: "If you're not gonna remember me for anything else, why don't you just go ahead?", he becomes angered: "Oh come on, you want it and you know it. Don't be so damn self-righteous with me." She orders him out of the car, shoves him out, starts the engine, and drives away.

Terry and Debbie return to town, walking along the canal in the dark. She frightens him with tales of a "Goat Killer" that struck two nights earlier - "Whenever he strikes, he leaves a bloody goat's head next to the victim. Isn't that creepy?" When they hear mysterious noises, Terry valiantly suggests going for help, but she pulls him back. They hide in the bushes watching for the "Goat Killer" as Debbie cautions her fearful companion:

Maybe if it's the Goat Killer, he'll get somebody and we'll see the whole thing.

To get a better view, she crawls off and leaves him alone. Totally terrified, an arm reaches out for his shoulder - he is suddenly startled out of his wits by the appearance of Steve. As they walk back to town together with Debbie, Terry covers up, explaining how he has put Steve's rod "in the garage for safe-keeping...I don't want to take any chances with it."

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