25 Facts About American Graffiti That You Didn't Know
When Charles Martin Smith pulls up on the Vespa in the beginning, his crash into the building wasn't scripted. He genuinely lost control of the bike, and Lucas kept the cameras rolling.
The film was shot in sequence, so as filming went on and the actors grew tired from the shooting schedule, the characters they played would also look more and more tired as the night went on.
Harrison Ford was asked to cut his hair for the film. He refused, stating that his role was too short, and offered to wear a hat instead.
Screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz wanted an additional title card at the end detailing the fates of the women, but George Lucas refused, arguing it would prolong the ending.
When Wolfman Jack makes an on-air prank call to Pinky's Pizza, the voice on the other end belongs to George Lucas.
When John and Carol (Mackenzie Phillips) are sitting at the red light, a car full of girls pulls up next to them. One of the girls throws a water balloon through the window and it hits Carol. It was scripted to hit the side window and drench Phillips' face, who was then supposed to act really angry. However, she was accidentally hit square in the face and unable to refrain from laughing. Still, she kept going, ad-libbed through the scene and George Lucas kept it, as he did with many presumably garbled first takes in this movie.
Universal thought so little of the film (not knowing how to market it, and certain that as it had no stars it would flop), that it sat on the shelf for six months before the studio finally decided to release it. To their great surprise, it became enormously successful at the box-office.
The film was previewed before an audience of young people in Northpoint Theater, San Francisco, on a Sunday morning, with Universal Pictures head Ned Tanen in attendance. In a story that is now legendary in Hollywood, Tanan was not impressed with the film, despite a good audience reaction, and called it "unreleasable". Francis Ford Coppola, enraged at the comment, offered to buy the film from Universal (some stories claim he offered to write the check then and there) while the exhausted, burned-out and ill George Lucas watched in shock. A compromise was finally reached in which Universal could "suggest" modifications to the movie, a resolution Lucas was not happy with, as it took control of the film away from him.
During the sequence in which John and Carol smeared shaving cream on the 1960 Cadillac and deflated the tires, Paul Le Mat actually jumped onto and over the car during each take, and George Lucas became concerned that Le Mat's boots would put dents in the hood and trunk.
Wolfman Jack, who played himself in the movie, was specifically chosen by George Lucas to play a role in the movie because Lucas remembered listening to him on the radio when Lucas was in high school.
Mel's Drive-In was demolished after the movie was completed, but the owner's son, Steve, decided to re-open other Mel's restaurants in 1981 as a small chain. There are two in Hollywood, CA, themed after the movie, and one in San Fransisco where George Lucas is known to eat occasionally.
The film's budget was exactly $777,777.77, and it was delivered on time - and on budget.
Filming was beset by a series of misfortunes and disasters. The day before filming was due to start a key member of the crew was arrested for growing marijuana. On the first night of shooting it took so long to get the cameras mounted onto the cars that filming didn't get started until 2 a.m., putting the crew half a night behind schedule before they'd even started. Most of the outdoor footage was to be shot in San Rafael. After the first night of shooting the city revoked the crew's filming permit due to complaints from a bar owner that their blocking off of the main street was costing him business. Filming proceeded in San Rafael for three more nights, then moved to Petaluma, 20 miles away. On the second night of shooting a fire in a nearby restaurant brought fire trucks into the area, their sirens and the resulting traffic jam preventing any filming.
The '55 Chevy Bob Falfa drove is the same '55 Chevy used in the movie Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).
When the rear wheels/axle of Holstein's police car get yanked out by the cable, there is a movie theater in the background. The movie listed on the marquee is Francis Ford Coppola's Dementia 13 (1963).
In the movie the street where the final drag race took place between Falfa and Milner was called Paradise Road. It is actually a road in Petaluma, CA called Frates Road. A golf course now resides on the north side but the field where Falfa's '55 Chevy crashed is still intact.
First credited screen appearance of Kathleen Quinlan. She plays Peggy, a girl who comforts Laurie, who just broke up with her boyfriend. Laurie's boyfriend is played by Ron Howard, director of Apollo 13 (1995), in which Quinlan starred.
The scene in which Steve assures Laurie he is staying in town and not going with Curt was shot in one take. Ron Howard and Cindy Williams had already been released from shooting and were in their street clothes when they were told to put their costumes back on so they could shoot that scene.
As the plane takes off in the final scene, a drive-in movie screen can be seen in the distance. This was the original screen at the Solano Drive-in, which operated until the fall of 2004, and has since reopened, showing double-features, as of December 2008.
One of the main reasons why so many studios initially turned down the script was because George Lucas wanted at least 40 songs on the soundtrack, which would obviously lead to a large bill over the rights to these songs. Universal finally agreed to fund the picture when Lucas' friend Francis Ford Coppola (fresh from the success of The Godfather (1972) the year before) came on board as producer.
Dissatisfied with the name "American Graffiti", producers Francis Ford Coppola and Ned Tanen suggested that George Lucas retitle it "Another Slow Night in Modesto" or "Rock Around the Block".
The DC-7 that Richard Dreyfuss boards at the end of the film (Magic Carpet Airlines) had a flat tire on the left side. But it was never shown because there is a van near the stairwell that leads to the hull entrance.
The street gang The Pharoahs that "kidnap" Richard Dreyfuss in the film are based on George Lucas' car club cohorts growing up in Modesto called The Faros.
The Ford Coupe driven by Paul Le Mat's character had a 1966 Chevrolet 327 cu.in. engine. The black 1955 Chevy driven by Harrison Ford had a Chevrolet 454 cu.in. engine capable of doing 11-second quarter-mile times.
Richard Dreyfuss recalls that he was often called onto the set early during camera setups because the plaid shirt he wears for much of the film made for an effective test pattern.
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The 1955 Chevrolet driven by Bob (Harrison Ford) was actually three different cars: the "hot rod" version that is seen the most--which was also the same car used in the earlier Two-Lane Blacktop (1971))--one for interior camera shots and one for the rollover after the drag race. Both the "hot rod" '55 and the 1932 Ford coupe were bought from the studio by an individual in Overland Park, Kansas, in the mid-1980s who restored them back to their movie appearance.
The Douglas DC-7 airplane, shown at the end of the movie was previously owned by the rock group Grand Funk Railroad.
Two cameras were used simultaneously in scenes involving conversations between actors in different cars. This resulted in significant production time savings.
The cartoon movie poster was drawn by longtime Mad Magazine artist Mort Drucker, who ended up also doing the artwork for "American Confetti", a parody of the film in Mad's April 1974 issue #166.
License plate on John Milner's car is "THX-138". THX 1138 (1971) is a film also directed by George Lucas. This number plate is on display inside 'The Main House' of LucasFilm's Head Office at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.
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American Graffiti (1973)
PG | 1h 50min | Comedy, Drama | 11 August 1973 (USA)
American Graffiti A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.
Director: George Lucas
Writers: George Lucas, Gloria Katz
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat