George Lucas, who directed the original American Graffiti, wanted to make a sequel. However, Gary Kurtz and Francis Ford Coppola, who produced that film, talked Lucas out of it because, in their opinion, “sequels weren’t well received.” So Lucas vested his time on Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Lucas should have listened: for he ended up with another Howard the Duck.
For his writer and director, Lucas picked Bill L. Norton, who gave us one of the best, if not the best, of the CB trucker romps of the ’70s — as well as one of the best films based on a song*, Convoy. And the Smokey and the Bandit knock off**, Outlaw Blues, with Peter Fonda was pretty good.
Besides, this will work because Ron Howard, Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford — who were nobodies when the first movie was released and now big stars as result of their respective TV and film successes — were returning to do the sequel.
Lucas should have heeded the words of Kurtz and Coppola.
Also on board from the original are Candy Clark, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips, (our beloved) Bo Hopkins, and Charles Martin Smith (of the “No False Metal Classic” Trick or Treat). Richard Dreyfuss, who had Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind under his belt, knew enough to stay away from this critical bomb that, while it make $15 million against its $3 million budget, is still considered a box office flop.
Set over the course of four consecutive New Year’s Eves from 1964 to 1967, the viewer is tossed to and fro from Woodstock to Vietnam to Haight-Asbury, and protests and draft card burning — and Steve and Laurie’s perpetual bickering as their marriage fails (proving why Cindy Williams vanished after TV’s Laverne and Shirley and Howard, wisely, went into directing. Their scenes are just painful to watch). Rewatching this — well, skimming — to review was not enjoyable and the last time I’ll ever look at it. The old Woodstock-era split-screen narrative technique (if you’re familiar with that 1970 concert document) is annoyingly dated in 1979.
Ah, but why we are here — if you haven’t guess by the theatrical one-sheets and our theme week — is the drag racing. In this case, Paul Le Mat’s John Milner — who, it turns out, didn’t die in an insinuated car crash during the word-on-screen epilogue of American Graffiti: he became a struggling drag racer. The scenes (we care about) were shot at the since long gone (it’s a car dealership, of all things) Fremont Raceway, later known as Baylands Raceway Park, (before it being torn down) in Fremont, California.
Luckily, for us, it’s all original shot footage and not cheap-jacked film clips from other sources. But the shot-for-the-film dragging doesn’t help, here. This is a boring film. Drag Racer and Burnout from Crown International Pictures — with their mutual stock footage drag inserts — are more entertaining, since they’re about drag racing and not treating the racing as subplot fodder. Where’s my copy of David Cronenberg’s drag romp, Fast Company?!
More American Graffiti is easy to find in the online marketplace on vintage VHS and LaserDiscs. It finally came out on DVD in 2003 as a single release and as a double feature disc with American Graffiti in 2004. It hit streaming platforms in 2011, Blu-ray (Europe only) in 2012, and eventually in the U.S. on Blu-ray in 2018.
The four-sided double album is easily found on CD and worthy, unlike the film it promotes, of your purchase.
Oh, and Sam the Bossman offers his take on the film because, anyone who is connected to the majesty that is Messiah of Evil — in this case, Bill L. Norton, who acted in that Lucas-Star Wars sidebar – – always needs another take. Always, as guys Bill L. Norton is what B&S About Movies is all about!
* Join us for our “Movies Based on Songs” featurette.
** Join us for our blow out on the good ol’ boy craze of the ’70s with our “The Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List 1972 1986” featurette.