Baby Pfeiffer, Baby Fran, and the Hollywood Knights

What was the elevator pitch for The Hollywood Knights (1980)? “It’s American Graffiti meets Animal House, only twice as silly and half as fun!” Sold! I don’t care how inferior it is to those films, though. I have a major soft spot for this one. Overall, it’s a frivolous and fluffy affair, a crass teen comedy that would seem tame once Porky’s upped the raunch factor a few years later. That’s not what makes it memorable from a cinema history standpoint, though. Nor is it the mostly meandering narrative about a bunch of Beverly Hills teenagers who love cars, girls, and getting into all manner of juvenile delinquency on Halloween night, 1965.

No, the two big reasons people remember The Hollywood Knights at all are also the two big reasons that I adore this slice of early eighties cheese, and those reasons are named Michelle Pfeiffer and Fran Drescher. It’s Michelle’s first film, so you know what that means: Baby Pfeiffer! Her role is slight, but she manages to imbue the stereotypical blonde bombshell with the sort of introspective ennui she would soon bring to so many better roles. She’s working at a burger joint looking fab in an oh-so-1980 orange and brown outfit, but dammit she has dreams.

Only 21 during filming, Michelle looks like a California golden goddess. She also gives her secondary character Suzie Q some depth. With very little in the script to work from, she manages to make Suzie—not to be confused with our girl Susie—into a California golden goddess with acting aspirations who seems bored with her teenage life as a waitress at Tubby’s Drive-In and the girlfriend to Tony Danza’s character, Duke.

Fran Drescher, in only her fourth film, is funny and sexy, the most entertaining of the cast. More than a decade before The Nanny, Fran was already Fine, with a capital F. She and another up-and-comer, Robert Wuhl, have amazing comedic chemistry. Fran has the best line in the film, too: “This is a party! We’re supposed to have fun, music, pastrami! What’s wrong with you??” Pfeiffer and Drescher together—even if they never share a scene—make this one notable.

The Hollywood Knights isn’t just Michelle’s debut though; it’s also Danza’s and Wuhl’s first films. Danza was already a regular on my beloved sitcom Taxi at the time. He and Michelle certainly make for one helluva dreamy onscreen couple. Even though the script does them few favors, they’re adorable together. In a better movie might’ve had some real sparks.

Being the film debut of my favorite actress, The Hollywood Knights will always be special to me. No matter how groan-worthy or just plain dull it gets in parts, there’s always a jolt of electricity whenever Pfeiffer, Drescher, Wuhl, and Danza appear. That’s mostly because we know each will go on to bigger and much better roles. There’s an undeniable charm to watching actors like Michelle take their initial, formative steps into what we know will be major careers. Like in a scene where Suzie, being her usual, contemplative self, smiles in a way that shows us Suzie wants more out of life than this. In that moment, it’s impossible not to want to follow Michelle into any movie she makes thereafter.

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