Saturday Night Fever

Released:  1977

Cast:  John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow, Bruce Ornstein, Martin Shakar, Julie Bovasso, Fran Drescher

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (John Travolta)

SUMMARY:  In Brooklyn, Anthony “Tony” Manero (John Travolta) is 19 years old and dissatisfied with his life:  he lives with his parents, who favor his older brother, and his job at a hardware store is getting him nowhere fast.  Tony lives for Saturday nights, when he goes to dance at 2001 Odyssey.  Tony is a spectacular dancer, and is widely believed to be the best at the disco club.  When a competition is scheduled at the club, Tony decides to dance with Annette (Donna Pescow), a friend who wants to be much more.  However, when they are at the club one night, Tony sees another dancer, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney), and immediately decides that he must dance with her.  Despite his skill, Stephanie initially refuses to dance with Tony.  When she finally agrees, it is on the condition that their relationship not be more than professional.  Back at home, things have changed dramatically.  Tony’s older brother, Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar), was a Roman Catholic priest, but has recently left the priesthood – to the extreme displeasure of his parents.  For the first time in Tony’s life, he is not considered to be the disappointing child.  More problems arrive when one of Tony’s close friends, Gus (Bruce Ornstein), is jumped by a Hispanic gang and beaten so severely that he has to be hospitalized.  Gus believes he knows the gang that attacked him, and tells Tony and their three other friends, Joey (Joseph Cali), Double J (Paul Pape) and Bobby C (Barry Miller).  Like Tony, Bobby C has concerns closer to home:  his girlfriend is pregnant, and because both her family and his own are devout Catholic, Bobby is facing a lot of pressure to get married.  Bobby does not want to do this, and even considers an abortion, but realizes that the Church will not condone this.

While Gus is still in the hospital, the other four boys take Bobby’s car and drive it into the hangout of the Barracudas, the gang Gus identified as beating him.  When the Barracudas come outside to fight, all of the boys join in except for Bobby, who runs away.  After the fight is finished, they all go to see Gus and tell him what happened – only to hear that he is no longer sure of his identification of the gang.  Tony, Joey, Double J and Bobby are furious, as they realize that they may have a serious problem on their hands.  Despite all of this, Tony continues to practice with Stephanie, and when the competition finally arrives, they win.  However, Tony does not believe that they deserved to win – he thought that a Puerto Rican couple danced better, but didn’t win because of prejudice.  He gives the trophy to the other couple, then hauls Stephanie out of the club.  Outside, he makes advances toward Stephanie, growing more and more aggressive until she is forced to almost fight him off; she then runs away.  After a while, Tony meets up with his friends, who also have a very intoxicated Annette with them.  In an attempt to get back at Tony, Annette agrees to sleep with each of the boys.  Tony doesn’t take the bait, and while Joey and Double J take Annette up on her offer, he and Bobby get out of the car, which they have parked on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  The Bridge is a frequent stop for the boys, who enjoy swinging on the cables over the river with reckless abandon.  Usually, Bobby refuses to join in, but on this night, he throws himself into the activity.  Tony soon realizes that the various pressures in his life have gotten to Bobby, and he is (or is approaching) suicidal.  Tony tries frantically to talk Bobby off the bridge, but Bobby slips and falls to his death.  This serves as the last straw for Tony.  He decides that he must get out of the old neighborhood, away from both his family and friends, so he rides all night on the subway, until he reaches Manhattan.  There, he finds Stephanie’s apartment:  when she answers, he tells her of this revelation, along with his apologies for the way he treated her.  Stephanie accepts his apology, and agrees to be friends again.

MY TAKE:  Frequently, I expect movies to be less-than-spectacular, and am then pleasantly surprised.  The opposite happened in this case.  Because of the awesome soundtrack (the Bee Gees!), it being one of John Travolta’s most famous roles, and the overall hype about the movie, I thought it would be great – if it has Travolta dancing, how bad can it be?  Unfortunately, I was disappointed by this movie.  I found the overall plot to be rather slow and boring.  The dancing, while no doubt very well done, was not what I was expecting.  Mostly, they do the Hustle, which is a misnomer:  it looks rather slow, and there’s not a lot of whole-body movement.  If you’ve seen recent dance movies like Step Up, Black Swan or the TV show So You Think You Can Dance, this isn’t like that.  I’m sure it requires a lot of skill, but I found it hard to appreciate.  The soundtrack is still awesome, although over the course of two hours the Bee Gees wear a little thin.  If the whole movie could somehow live up to the opening scene, where Travolta is strutting down the street to “Stayin’Alive”, it would be a great movie.  However, my conclusion is that in general (there was some good music), disco sucked.

RATING:  A let-down.


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