The film opens with an animated credits sequence accompanied by the theme song, “Grease”, composed expressly for the film by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and performed by Frankie Valli.
In 1958, during their summer vacation, and before the title credits, Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) meet at a beach. Scenes from their holiday are shown, but then the summer ends, and Sandy is due to return to Australi. She is upset, knowing that this is surely the end of their romance and that they will never see each other again. When she asks him, “Danny, is this the end?” he smiles and tries to comfort her, saying, “Of course not; it’s only the beginning.”
Unbeknownst to Danny, Sandy’s family has a change of plans and she does not return to Australia. Instead, she attends Rydell High School as a foreign-exchange student, where Danny is a student, as is Sandy’s new friend Frenchy (Didi Conn), a member of the schoolgirl clique “The Pink Ladies”.
Danny is the leader of the boys’ gang, “The T-Birds”. Kenickie, second-in-command of the T-Birds (and Danny’s best friend), encourages Danny to tell them about his holiday experiences, while the Pink Ladies likewise persuade Sandy. This results in “Summer Nights” – Sandy and Danny describe their holidays, and it is made clear that Danny is exaggerating; at the time, however, neither is aware of the other’s presence at the school.
Encouraged by the preppy school spirit girl, Patty Simcox (Susan Buckner), Sandy joins the Rydell cheerleaders. The Pink Ladies decide to reunite Danny and Sandy, but Danny wants to protect his cool image, and his behavior towards Sandy causes her to storm off in tears. Danny stares after her for a moment, but then quickly turns back into a cool guy and goes off with his friends. Rizzo (Stockard Channing) on the other hand knows Danny’s true nature and walks away smirking. It is implied earlier in the film that Danny and Rizzo have a history.
Frenchy attempts to cheer Sandy up by inviting her to a sleepover at her house with the rest of the gang; Sandy comes along, but Rizzo soon gets fed up with Sandy’s goody-two-shoes behavior: Sandy chokes on a cigarette, cannot stand the taste of wine, and is horrified at the idea of having her ears pierced. Frenchy is insistent, and takes her into the bathroom, but Sandy vomits at the first sight of blood. Frenchy announces to Jan (Jamie Donnelly) and Marty (Dinah Manoff) that she is dropping out of Rydell and going to beauty school, which she calls “a very strategic career move.” Rizzo has had enough and lampoons Sandy, even having Frenchy joining in, singing the sarcastic “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”.
The T-Birds arrive outside Frenchy’s house. Rizzo leaves the sleepover and she and Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) flirt, then Kenickie invites her into the car, and dumps the other T-Birds. Danny leaves of his own accord while Rizzo and Kenickie drive off together and the other T-Birds go for pizza. Marty, the flirtatious member of The Pink Ladies, decides to write to one of her (numerous) pen pals, while Sandy goes outside, and decides that in spite of everything, she still loves Danny, singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, a poignant love song that was added for the movie and was a big hit as a single.
The scene shifts to Rizzo and Kenickie making out passionately in the back seat of his new car. They plan to take things a step further, but Kenickie’s condom breaks. He mentions that he bought it during the seventh grade. Rizzo, however, is unable to resist Kenickie, and they decide to have sex anyway. They are soon interrupted when Leo (Dennis Cleveland Stewart), leader of rival gang, The Scorpions, accompanied by his girlfriend, Cha Cha DiGregorio (Annette Charles) damages Kenickie’s car.
Whilst at work repairing the car, the T-Birds fantasize about what it will look like when it has had a paint job, singing “Greased Lightning”. Soon, Danny gets the other T-Birds convinced that the rickety old car could actually be a “major piece of machinery”. Danny meets Sandy at the Frosty Palace, and tries to apologize for his actions. He sees that Sandy is sharing a soda with Tom Chisolm (Lorenzo Lamas), a jock, and decides that if that’s the sort of man she likes, he’s going to join the jocks to impress her.
We next see Danny’s disastrous performances in basketball, wrestling, and baseball, where he keeps losing his temper when he loses. He finally finds his ideal sport in cross country, until the sight of Sandy distracts him, and he falls. Sandy leaves Tom Chisolm to see if Danny is alright, and they are seemingly reconciled.
Danny attempts to go to the Frosty Palace with Sandy so that they can be alone and not worry about ruining his image in front of his friends. They end up discovering the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are already there and Danny finds it hard to charm Sandy without looking like a sissy in front of his friends. After everyone leaves the malt shop, Frenchy, who has been hiding her pink hair under a scarf, imagines a guardian angel to tell her what to do with her life, who turns out to be Frankie Avalon singing “Beauty School Dropout”.
Later, Danny takes Sandy to the school’s dance, where the TV show National Bandstandplans to broadcast live from the school. Kenickie asks out Cha Cha—who turns out to be Danny’s ex-girlfriend—to the dance. Rizzo, feeling jilted, asks out the rival gang’s leader Leo to the dance. The disc jockey Vince Fontaine (Edd Byrnes) develops a sordid crush on Pink Lady Marty. The dance features several well-known songs from the ’50s covered by Sha Na Na. During the dance-off, Rizzo leaves in a huff, seeing Kenickie dancing with Cha Cha, and Danny and Sandy are one of the few still in the dance-off. But soon, Sonny pulls Sandy away from Danny, and Cha Cha starts dancing with Danny. Sandy realizes that Cha Cha was one of Danny’s past girlfriends—and a much better dancer. Sandy leaves the gym upset, and Danny and Cha Cha end up winning the contest. When they share their spotlight dance, the T-Birds (minus Kenickie) run in front of the camera and moon the crowd (because Blue Moon is playing).
Later, Danny takes Sandy to a drive-in movie and apologizes for leaving her. The apology means nothing to Sandy. Danny tries to remove the class ring he is wearing to give it to her, but in doing so he accidentally elbows Sandy in the chest. Danny gives Sandy the ring and she kisses him on the cheek, saying she realizes now he respects her. The scene cuts to Marty and Rizzo in the drive-in toilets. Rizzo’s unprotected sex with Kenickie has come back to haunt her—she tells Marty she missed a period. One of the T-Birds, Sonny (Michael Tucci), overhears Marty accidentally proclaiming to couples making out outside the toilets to make way for the “lady with a baby”, and asks Marty what she meant so she tells him the story, which leads him to tell others until the chain effect makes it common knowledge. When Kenickie asks Rizzo why she didn’t tell him about it, she lies and tells him it isn’t his out of anger. He sarcastically thanks her, and leaves her standing by herself. Marty has also suffered as a result of her crush on Vince Fontaine—she reveals to Rizzo that she caught him trying to put an aspirin in her Coke.
Back in the car, Danny has his arm around Sandy. His hand lingers above her chest and she sees it and he starts trying to make out with her. She screams, gets out of the car (“sin wagon”, as she calls it), slams the door on Danny’s genital area, throws back his ring (which she calls a “piece of tin”), and leaves the drive-in. Danny laments losing Sandy again, and reveals the true extent of his feelings for her in the song “Sandy”—he is helpless without her.
The next scene is the race between Leo and Kenickie in the Los Angeles River. Kenickie asks Danny to be his right hand man, and Marty gives Kenickie a lucky penny. She drops it, and as Kenickie bends down to pick it up, he gets knocked out when one of the T-Birds opens the car door. As a result, Danny has to race in Kenickie’s place. Sandy sits on the hill watching the neck-and-neck race, which Danny manages to win. While she is happy to see Danny win, she has misgivings about her own image, reflected in the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)”. As the T-Birds and Pink Ladies celebrate with Danny, Frenchy spots Sandy and goes over to her. Sandy thinks that Frenchy can help her win Danny’s heart, and asks to go over to her house to take advantage of Frenchy’s suspect fashion skills.
Later, on the last day of school carnival, Danny arrives, having followed through on his track jock plans, in a preppy letter sweater. However, Sandy arrives wearing a black leather jacket, red peep-toe high heeled sandals, skintight black off-the-shoulder top, curled hair, and smoking a cigarette—no more goody-two-shoes. Danny finds her extremely attractive, falling at her feet, and then the two reunite, singing the upbeat “You’re the One That I Want” (another song added for the movie, and a hit single before the movie even came out). Rizzo and Kenickie get together after Rizzo has screamed from the Ferris wheel that she is not pregnant after all, and everyone sings the big finale, “We Go Together”, and Sandy and Danny fly off in “Greased Lightning (the car)” and disappear into the sky.
Grease is one of those feel good musicals that you can’t escape. One review I read said that even if you hate musicals, you know this one and can probably sing a few bars of each song. I happen to believe that is true. Personally, I’ve spent many hours with the music of this film, so I’m well versed in it.
When you strip this thing down to its basic parts, we have boy meets girl, they have a summer romance, boy thinks girl goes back to Australia and he’ll never see her again, then vindictive ex reunites girl with boy where boy acts like a complete jerk, boy then changes his life to get girl back, blah, blah ,blah, girl changes to keep boy. Pretty basic stuff. Let’s admit it, the story isn’t the reason this thins is so wildly popular. That’s not to say its not a good one, but there are so many love stories in movies and musicals, that you just become numb to and tune them out after awhile.
The real star of this film is the music, starting from the sweeping cinematic photography in the first scene in which the music sets the tone, to the disco laden opening theme, to the variety of songs throughout the picture,, all of which could have you singing them in your car at the top of your lungs. They’re just that catchy!
John Travolta was arguably a star when this was releases, but this is what made his career. There aren’t many actors that can sing and dance. As a matter of fact, one comes every generation. Before Travolta, there was Gene Kelly, today I’m not sure, but I think Zac Efron is the closest we have.
Olivia Newton-John was a huge star in Australia, but a relative unknown over here before this came out. As Sandy she played up that girl next door image until the final scenes where she’s “bad Sandy”. I still drool at the sight of her in those spray on pants…lol
Stockard Channing is often overlooked in this film, because she’s not Travolta or Olivia, but her role as Rizzo is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a musical. She has the attitude of a tough gang leader girl, but later in the film, shows her vulnerability, especially in her oratorical ballad, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
The rest of the cast really complete the puzzle, and without them, this film would not be such a huge success.
Grease is up there in my top 5 favorite musicals of all time, but its not without its flaws. Having said that, it is close to perfection. The best thing about this film is that it is just a fun musical that doesn’t try to get too political, the music doesn’t try to be to symphonic/operatic, and is just a great watch.
5 out of 5 stars