Saturday Night Fever

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Anthony “Tony” Manero (John Travolta) is a 19-year-old Italian American man from the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. Tony lives with his parents (Val Bisoglio and Julie Bovasso), and works at a dead-end job in a small hardware store. The stagnant monotony of his life is temporarily dispelled every Saturday night when Tony is “king of the dance floor” at 2001 Odyssey, a local disco club. Tony has four close friends: Joey (Joseph Cali); Double J (Paul Pape); Gus (Bruce Ornstein); and the diminutive Bobby C. (Barry Miller). A fringe member of this group of friends is Annette (Donna Pescow), a neighborhood girl who longs for a more permanent and physical relationship with Tony.

One plot device in the film’s narrative is the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge on which the friends ritually stop to clown around. The bridge has special significance for Tony as a symbol of escape to a better life on the other side—in more suburban Staten Island.

Tony agrees to be Annette’s partner in an upcoming dance contest at 2001 Odyssey, but her happiness is short-lived when Tony is mesmerized by another woman at the club, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney), who executes intricate dance moves with exceptional grace and finesse. Although Stephanie coldly rejects Tony’s advances, she eventually agrees to be his partner in the dance competition, provided that their partnership will remain strictly professional. Tony’s older brother, Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar), who was the pride of the Manero family since he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, brings despair to their parents when he tells them that he has left the priesthood. Tony shares a warm relationship with Frank Jr., but feels vindicated that he is no longer the black sheep of the family.

While on his way home from the grocery store, Gus is attacked by a Hispanic gang and is hospitalized. He tells Tony and his friends that his attackers were the Barracudas. Meanwhile, Bobby C. has been trying to get out of his relationship with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, Pauline, who is pregnant with his child. Facing pressure from his family and others to marry her, Bobby asks former priest Frank Jr., if the Pope would grant him dispensation for an abortion. When Frank tells him this would be highly unlikely, Bobby’s feelings of despair intensify. Bobby lets Tony borrow his 1964 Chevrolet Impala to help move Stephanie from Bay Ridge to Manhattan, and futilely tries to extract a promise from Tony to call him later that night.

Eventually, the group gets their revenge on the Barracudas, and crash Bobby C’s car into their hangout. Tony, Double J, and Joey get out of the car to fight, but Bobby C. takes off when a gang member tries to attack him in the car. When the guys visit Gus in the hospital, they are angry when he tells them that he may have targeted the wrong gang. Later, Tony and Stephanie dance at the competition and end up winning first prize. However, Tony believes that a Puerto Rican couple performed better, and that the judges’ decision was racially biased. He gives the Puerto Rican couple the first prize trophy, and leaves with Stephanie in tow. Once outside in a car, she denigrates their relationship and he tries to rape her. She viciously resists and runs from him.

Tony’s friends come to the car along with a drunk and stoned Annette. Joey says she has agreed to have sex with everyone. Tony tries to lead her away, but is subdued by Double J and Joey, and sullenly leaves with the group in the car. Double J and Joey begin raping Annette while she is still too incapacitated to resist and continue even as she sobers up. Bobby C. pulls the car over on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for their usual cable-climbing antics. Typically abstaining, Bobby gets out and performs more dangerous stunts than the rest. Realizing that he is acting recklessly, Tony tries to get him to come down. Bobby’s strong sense of alienation, his deadlocked situation with Pauline, and Tony’s broken promise to call him earlier that day—all culminate in a suicidal tirade about Tony’s lack of caring before Bobby slips and falls to his death into the river below them.

Disgusted and disillusioned by his friends, his family, and his life, Tony spends the rest of the night riding the subway into Manhattan. Morning has dawned by the time he appears at Stephanie’s apartment. He apologizes for his bad behavior, telling her that he plans to relocate from Brooklyn to Manhattan to try and start a new life. Tony and Stephanie salvage their relationship and agree to be friends, sharing a tender moment as the credits roll.

REVIEW:

Well, it is Saturday and I am running a bit of a fever. What better movie title fits my current situation than Saturday Night Fever, right? I think people fall into one of three camps on this film. They either love it, hate it, or have seen parts of it, but mostly tune in just for the music. Let’s find out which camp I fall into, shall we?

What is this about?

By day, 19-year-old Tony Manero is a paint store clerk, but at night he’s a polyester-clad stallion who rules a Brooklyn disco in this iconic film.

What did I like?

Rise of Travolta. Today, we all know John Travolta as a movie star, but at the time this was released, he was still a TV star trying to break into the movies. On top of that, he was on a sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter. So, the jump to drama was pretty big. I have to say that Travolta makes the leap with no trouble. No wonder he has been able to stick around so long. He can pull off all genres, but dramas, especially the ones where he gets to dance, seem to be where he shines.

Dirty Dancing. Speaking of dancing, I would be remise if I didn’t bring up the dancing in this film. These scenes are probably the second or third biggest draw, behind Travolta and the music. Much like the film, Dirty Dacing, these dance scenes look easier than they are, but are no less impressive to see. Coupled with the fact that these are choreographed with groups of people, couples, etc. Man alive, it is just a site to see, let me tell ya!

Music. If you know anything about this film, I would wager it is the soundtrack, which was done by the Bee Gees. Perhaps the best known track is “Stayin’ Alive”, which is the first thing you hear as we see Travolta strutting down the street in the open. For the rest of the film, we are treated to the great disco sounds of the Bee Gees, which fits perfectly with this film. I feel like I should say something about there not being an actual score, but the Bee Gees (and other disco stars) more than make up for it.

What didn’t I like?

Clones. Travolta hangs out with his friends in some sort of ersatz gang. I can’t help but notice how they all look like clones of him. There is even one that is shorter than the rest, who I would imagine is the one that got damaged in the process. HAHA! Seriously, though, if they were going to use guys that resemble Travolta, why not just make them all brothers?

Family. On the topic of family, am I the only one tired of seeing the loud Italian family everytime a film is set in New York or New Jersey? It just seems to me that this was used as a cop out, rather than an actual plot device, especially since they seemed to disappear half way through the film. Also, the priest brother seemed like he was going to be a subplot/important character but turned out to be nothing more than a cameo. Basically, I’m saying if family was supposed to be such a big factor, then it needed to be more than just a couple of dinners, squabbling, etc.

Treat her like a lady. Haven’t we all had a crush on someone who didn’t have the same feelings for us? Trying to be friends with them is fine, but boy can it be uncomfortable, especially when you see them with someone else! Does that mean the person should treat the crushee like crap? No! Yet, that is how Travolta treats this sweet girl who wants nothing more than to love him. She has her own issues, obviously, but apparently, she was pushed so far that she resorted to drugs and sleeping with all of the “gang”. Had he treated her with a modicum of respect, rather than dumping her as a dance partner and then not giving her a chance as a girlfriend, maybe this could have all been avoided.

Saturday Night Fever is one of those films that is known more for its iconography than the actual plot. Is that so bad? Yes and no. Yes, because this isn’t too shabby of a film and no, because it made the career of Travolta and helped the careers of the Bee Gees. I will say that this film suffers from what I like to call “70s pacing”. It can be painfully slow at time, but the music keeps the audience invested. Do I recommend this? Yes, if nothing else, you can at least have fun with the soundtrack. Some may even get up and dance! Check it out!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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