FINAL CHANCE: Where Were You in '62 Icon Returns to Screen

Updated 2 years ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
FINAL CHANCE: Where Were You in '62 Icon Returns to Screen

Editor's Note: You always find something new at a viewing of a classic. For trivia seekers, near the end of the film a license plate displays the name of a Lucas film.

Once upon a time a young director named George Lucas made a film that chronicled  Sixties youth through its crusin' and race car culture and  rock around the clock soundtrack that included music from "The Beach Boys," "Buddy Holly" and "The Platters."

His low budget "American Graffiti" paved the way for numerous stars that would become household names, inspired the television series, "Happy Days,"  and gave Lucas a profit making rep which later got him a "Star War" financing green light. The film opens at Mel's Drive In where a couple of high school grads, Steve and Curt (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss),  spend one final night cruising with their friends before the start of college. Steve lets a geeky "Toad" (Charles Martin Smith) borrow his 1958 Chevy Impala who goes off with John Milner (Paul Le Mat) to the strip.  The others attend the back to school hop.

Harrison Ford plays a handsome arrogant racer;  Cindy ("Laverne & Shirley") Williams is Steve's head cheerleader Laurie, Disc Jockey is the real  Wolfman Jack; Suzanne ("Three's Company")  Somers (portrays a mysterious  'blonde' in a T-Bird); and Mackenzie ("One Day at a Time) Phillips is a little twerp named Carol.  Frances Ford Coppola ("The Godfather) produced; he regretted not having financed the film himself which would have meant a cool $30 million profit (about $160 million when adjusted for inflation).

Howard would go on to play Richie Cunningham in the Happy Days TV series; a hybrid of the John Milner character would debut as biker/drop out Fonzie (Henry Winkler).

At the time of its release, "American Graffiti" debuted in a slow roll out, meaning a theater here and one there. I saw it at the Mid Town Cinemas (Ashland, Ky.) which would be the first of numerous big screen and outdoor screen viewings.  Multiple viewings had to come on the big screen. No "on demand," DVDs, streaming or instant pay. My love for the movie and insider connections eventually allowed me to acquire what then generally only happened in Hollywood --- a prized 16 mm sound print of the film suitable for living room screening.

Ironically, though years later, its cult status resulted in small private viewing requests which expanded the social status of a college film reviewing geek. A KEE-Jay (WKEE Radio) added me to a private midnight tour of the Keith Albee for a living room viewing. Later, an astute (but engaged) female dorm president passed word of mouth as a nice guy safe date, which resulted in screening in exchange for accompanying me to a monthly dinner/stage First Nighter review. And what happened to the dorm president? She became, what else, an attorney!

Like "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever,"  the musical soundtrack propelled the story ("At the Hop," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Goodnight Sweetheart," "Surfin' Safari," "Love Potion #9 among others), which increased the sleeper hit  likelihood that  viewers would come back and come back and come back to see it again.  Securing "rights" led to a hold out --- RCA, which meant that none of Elvis Presley's tunes were featured.

Lucas coming of age film did not stir controversy as James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause" and it did not exploit sex, violence or vulgar language. That caused Universal to release it, other than American International known for R rated beach blanket teen flicks.

You can once again see this one on the screen with an audience Sept 4 & 7 as part of the Flashback Series from Marquee Cinemas. Showings are at 2 & 7.

FLASHBACK is similar to the Turner Classic Movie sponsored series, except the film choices are 70s and 80s, not 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Upcoming will be   Molly Ringwald's "Sixteen Candles" (Sept. 11 & 14) and Michael Keaton as "Batman" (Oct. 2 & 5). Previous showings have included "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Top Gun," and "Grease."

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