Some might be surprised that ‘American Graffiti’ was directed by George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. The 1962 coming of age story features a rocking soundtrack, crazy adolescent love, and rockin’ cars. It’s about being a teen in the “good old days” of America. Starring Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Suzanne Somers, Cindy Williams and radio DJ Wolfman Jack, the nostalgic foray hit theaters in 1973. It was nominated for five Oscars.
‘American Graffiti’ highlighted a fleet of vintage cars. Most viewers remember the 1932 Ford Coupe and the white 1958 Chevy Impala. But there was also a 1956 Ford Thunderbird and a cherry red 1951 Mercury Coupe. Memorably, Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) drag races a ’55 Chevy sedan in the final match against a yellow Deuce Coupe.
This action-thriller road flick is about a dude who wants to race cross country to win a bet. He loves speed and the drug too. His gig is to deliver a supercharged Dodge Challenger Race and Track 440 from Denver to S.F. as fast as he can.
'Vanishing Point' stars Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, and Dean Jagger. Kowalski (Newman), a Vietnam vet, a former race car driver, and a dishonorably discharged police officer, is relentlessly pursued by two cops. He gets some help from a radio station DJ and hippie biker named Angel. On the way, Kowalski also gets propositioned to race a Jaguar E-Type roadster. You know who wins. (The maniac in the Challenger.) It’s a rock and roll movie.
They should not have picked up that hitch-hiking sociopath, but then there wouldn't be a movie. Based on a true story, 'The Hitch-Hiker' is a 1953 oldie starring Edmund O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy on the road, and William Tallman as the murderous fugitive. Directed by Ida Lupino, a prominent British filmmaker, this movie was the first film noir by a woman.
The entirety of the film takes place inside of a generic car. The two men are off to a fishing expedition when they made the fatal mistake of giving the wanted murderer a lift. The hitchhiker is a psychopathic misanthrope wanted for murder in several states. The character was inspired by William Cook, who was ultimately executed at San Quentin for his long list of horrific murders.
'Duel', as fate would have it, is Steve Spielberg’s first movie. Before 'Jaws' and 'E.T.', there was this TV movie suspense thriller about a car and semi-truck dueling it out on the open highway. Dennis Weaver played the unsuspecting motorist who found himself pursued in murderous contempt by a deranged truck driver. Universal Studios wanted to show the movie at theaters, so they added some scenes and edited it into a 1972 theatrical release. The movie became Spielberg’s break out film.
David Mann (Weaver), cruising his Plymouth Valiant, minding his own business, notices the 1955 Peterbilt truck tailgating him. Then it gets scary. Just picture the Peterbilt as a great white shark with gaping jaws coming after you, then you’ll get a sense of the suspense in 'Duel'. It’s a chase to the death.
The Italian Job
Streets of LA and canals of Venice were shut down to shoot chase scenes for the American action-adventure heist film 'The Italian Job'. According to director F. Gary Gray, the 2003 movie pays homage to the 1969 British original of the same name. A fun cast of Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Jason Statham, Seth Green and Edward Norton enliven the story of lifelong wealthy criminals and their caper of vengeance. Mos Def is even onboard, contributing to the clever and funny parts.
When Stella’s (Charlize Theron) mob boss dad gets killed by an act of betrayal, a band of high-class criminals work together on a revenge heist. Stella is dragged into their plans, which adds some wild chase scenes in her shiny red Mini Cooper. It is the perfect size for tight alleyways and narrow streets. The playful story shifts from Venice to LA. Three more Minis jump in the action, a nod of authenticity to 'The Italian Job' (1969). Also making an appearance is an Aston Martin DB4 and a Lamborghini Miura.