Director: Bill L. Norton
Writers: Bill L. Norton, George Lucas, Gloria Katz.1
Candy Clark...Debbie Dunham
Bo Hopkins .... Little Joe the Pharoah
Ron Howard.... Steve Bolander
Paul Le Mat .... John Milner
Mackenzie Phillips .... Carol/Rainbow
Charles Martin Smith .... Terry The Toad
Cindy Williams.... Laurie Bolander
Anna Bjorn .... Eva
Richard Bradford .... Maj. Creech
John Brent .... Ralph
Country Joe & the Fish....Themselves.
American Graffiti, George Lucas's famed second film, helped kick-start the 1970s craze for 1950s nostalgia, boosted the careers of Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, and others, and made Star Wars possible. It also stands as the wilder ancestor to Happy Days2 and the cleaner predecessor to Porky's, American Pie, Dazed and Confused, and a thousand other films about mispent youth. Its phenomenal success led to immediate talk of a sequel. Years passed, however, before viewers could see More American Graffiti (1979), and it proves a very different 1960s trip.
Every major character save Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) reappears. His unwillingness to participate in the sequel dictated his absence but, given that his character moved away from the old home town, it makes perfect sense. Likewise, minor characters played by stars who had become major by the late 1970s-- Suzanne Somers-- do not reappear. Harrison Ford's character makes a brief and amusing cameo, as a favor to Lucas.
Although advertised and generally classified as a comedy, this film differs markedly in tone from its predecessor, and its somewhat lackluster box office may have resulted in part from the expectations created by the original and the marketing. American Graffiti is a comedy with dramatic elements; More.... is a drama with comic elements. The original was about the final night of innocence; this film could not repeat that premise, so it doesn't even try. Instead, it finds its own direction. If it does not always succeed, I give its creators full credit for their willingness to go in an entirely different direction.
American Graffiti ended with the much-borrowed "Where are they now?" end titles. This second film tells us how the characters get there, in a series of storylines set at different times between 1964 and 1967. The cuts from story to story, from time to time, seem jarring, initially, but the movie eventually settles into a pace, and the cross-referencing between stories often adds to the suspense. Particularly in the case of characters who are destined to die, the film keeps us guessing, giving us many (some would say, too many) red herrings. The writers have also paid careful attention to the exact wording of the original end titles. In a couple of cases, equivocations of the "Darth Vader killed your father" variety occur which surprise the viewer. When the first film's "where are they now" sequence reappears at the end of this film, the meaning has altered.
The entire main cast appear briefly together at the start of the earliest storyline, which concerns Milner's racing career and his relationship with foreign visitor Eva. We learn that Laurie and Steve have married and are expecting their first children (the doctor thinks it's twins), and Terry's heading for Vietnam, leaving behind Debbie (their relationship from the first film has developed). Carol has developed, too, from gum-chewing teeny-bopper to full-fledged teenager; by the end of the film she'll be calling herself "Rainbow" and living the hippie life. Of all the stories, hers will end with the greatest ambiguity. From that moment, however, they mostly follow separate, though inter-related, paths to their destinies.
Perhaps the roughest storyline involves middle-class conservatives Steve and Laurie, whose marriage is foundering by 1967, in no small part because of the direction Steve's character has taken. It's nice, for once, to see all-American boy Ron Howard playing a jerk. From their rocky opening scenes, their story plunges us into the protest movement of hippie era, and by the end takes us closest to the spirit of the original film.
Each of the stories has been filmed in a different style. Terry the Toad's life in the 'Nam, for example, has been shot with washed-out film that recalls the evening news. Debbie's increasingly psychedelic journey spreads multiple images across the screen, in a nod to Woodstock and several other late-60s films.
In the end, I enjoyed seeing what happened next, though I understand that some fans won't want to see their beloved characters change; it's nice to think of them out there, in the original, cruising the strip, even though we know life doesn't work that way.
The film has also been released as Purple Haze. Whatever the intention, the different title might help distance this film from the original. It's not as nearly as good a film, but, viewed for what it is, it's not bad.
1. It's generally believed that Lucas receives credit for having created the characters and mapped out their destinies, but not for any direct work on this script. If anyone knows the facts, please contact me.
2. Although Happy Days' pilot episode, "New Family in Town" had already been filmed, the series was rejected and that episode aired on the anthology series, Love, American Style. Only after ...Graffiti's success did Happy Days finally receive the green light.