April 6, 2010

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

SO MUCH HAS already been said about Saturday Night Fever and its impact as a pop culture phenomenon; it can be hard to put the film into perspective. Decades of parodies, tributes, and white guys goofily pointing up and down on the dance floor at weddings make an objective review even harder.

Plot:
Based on an article in New York magazine, Saturday Night Fever tells the story of 19-year-old Brooklyn native Tony Manero (John Travolta) – hardware store clerk by day, king of the local discotheques by night. Despite his kingly status on the dance floor, Tony wants bigger things in life. (He thinks the only way out of Brooklyn is to make it big in Manhattan…but doing what?) In the meantime, he hangs with his boisterous crew of friends and juggles two very different women: a desperate, lost-puppy hanger-on (Donna Pescow) and a hard-to-get older woman (Karen Lynn Gorney) who dances at the studio where Tony works part-time as an instructor.

Critique:

Director John Badham lets long passages of Saturday Night Fever unfold without dialogue, letting the music and dancing do the talking. When there is dialogue, Norman Wexler’s script isn’t very memorable, but that’s part of its appeal – the conversations between Tony, his crew, and the women in his life all seem virtually unscripted, providing a high sense of realism.

In short, there’s no true plot; the film just kind of…happens. (That being said, a subplot involving the return of Tony’s priest brother Frank (Martin Shakar) does seem unnecessary.)

But then there’s the music. Bust all you want on disco, but there’s no denying the sheer power of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack by the Bee Gees, which was a bigger juggernaut than the film – it went on to sell approximately 2.1 kajillion copies and was the number one album for the first six months of 1978.

And it’s not just how connected the Bee Gees’ music is to the film – it’s how specific songs define key scenes:
* “Staying Alive,” as the film opens to Badham’s iconic tracking shot of Tony’s feet strutting down the sidewalk
* “Night Fever,” as Tony goes through his evening ritual of styling his hair, putting on the gold chains, and donning the polyester
* “You Should Be Dancing,” as Tony dominates the dance floor at the local disco with his solo dance sequence

Of course, Saturday Night Fever sent Travolta into the stratosphere of global movie star, jumping from his supporting role on TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter to the big-screen production of the musical Grease (and more recently, Disney's animated feature Bolt).

Tidbits:
* In addition to Saturday Night Fever, composer David Shire also provided the score to another gritty New York drama of the 1970s: The Taking of Pelham 123 (whose 2009 remake featured Travolta as the villain).
* Watch for the cameo by The Nanny’s Fran Drescher, who delivers the infamous line to Travolta, “Are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?”

Rating:

Is it suitable for your kids?
Despite the glitz and glamour of the nightlife and dance sequences, Saturday Night Fever is often a dark and brutal film: coarse language, racial slurs, graphic sex scenes, stripper nudity, date/gang rape, and one of Tony’s cronies falls to his death off the Verrazano Bridge.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Maybe for nostalgic reasons, and to see a very young Travolta in the role that made his career. But she’ll need to be prepared for the rougher scenes interspersed with the fun disco parts.


Click Play, sit back, and soak in the awesomeness.

Saturday Night Fever
* Director: John Badham
* Screenwriter: Norman Wexler
* Stars: John Travolta, Donna Pescow, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Bruce Ornstein
* MPAA Rating: R



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11 comments:

Retro Hound said...

When I was a kid we had HBO for a while and they showed a PG version during the day and the R version at night. My folks let me see the PG version, which was still quite rough. I don't know that I've seen the entire R version.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Haven't watched this in years. Kinda why I wish I still had cable. So I could happen upon it one night.

Geof said...

I know this might sound weird as a memory of a classic, but every time I think of SNF, I think of the scene where Tony's friend jumps off the bridge. I have no idea why but thought I'd share.

Luke said...

Ha! I actually bought this on DVD yesterday... I've never seen it, looking forward to it now.

Raymond said...

Travolta doing his solo is one of the all time greatest scenes for me.

Kathy B. said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. 'Twas when I first fell in love with Travolta. Still feel the same way after 33 years!
Love,
K,

Cinema Du Meep said...

One of my favorite films. It's kind of a masterful mix of entertainment and real grit.

Apparently shortly before he died Gene Siskel named this his favorite film of all time.

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Saturday Night Fever said...

Thanks for reviews ! Directed by John Badham with John Travolta , Robert Costanzo, Sam Coppola . I am very much curious about this film as John Badham is one of my favorite director..

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