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  Saturday Night Fever Dance Commander
Year: 1977
Director: John Badham
Stars: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow, Bruce Ornstein, Val Bisoglio, Julie Bovasso, Martin Shakar, Sam Coppola, Nina Hansen, Lisa Peluso, Denny Dillon, Robert Costanzo, Fran Drescher, Monti Rock III
Genre: Musical, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tony Manero (John Travolta) struts down the New York City streets like a peacock, keeping an eye out for any attractive women who might pass by. He is actually running an errand for the paint store he works in, and shows he has some heart when the little old lady he has fetched a can for is offered a discount for having to wait. Otherwise, with Tony it's all about the posturing and he lives for Saturday nights when he can cut a rug on the dance floor of the local disco. But he will soon have to face up to the fact that there's more to life than being the neighbourhood's greatest dancer...

A sensation in its day, a relic now, Saturday Night Fever may to many have little more than camp value to recommend, what with the characters taking disco so deadly seriously, but it's an odd reaction to a film that ends with a gang rape and a suicide. In fact, the film was intended as a sobering drama along the lines of a big studio's Mean Streets, and if there was always a danger of the sincere tone being mumbled into oblivion by a cast of so-so method actors, what saved it was Travolta, in a genuinely great performance that justifiably made him not just a T.V. star but a bona fide movie star as well.

Nowadays, thanks to professional and personal choices Travolta comes across in the media as hard to take as disco is to the naysayers, but just as disco produced some authentically great music (O.K., and a lot of embarrassing dross as well), you shouldn't write either off entirely. It might be true to say that the star never bettered his performance here, standing out against others more mannered, trying to hard to be "street", in the cast. None more so than Karen Lynn Gorney, Tony's love interest, who is saddled with the unlikeable role of Stephanie that might not have been so bad if she was any good at the dancing, which she was not.

Travolta, on the other hand, was and if there's one thing this film needed more of it was him throwing his shapes on the illuminated floor, with the accompaniment of classic tunes from the Bee Gees, which may have been overplayed then and since, but truly enhance what could have been in a worst case scenario a soundtrack of "Disco Duck" imitations, though that is on the soundtrack too, but not taken straight (watch for the guy with the pipe - what was he doing there?). Not that the novelty tunes are a dead loss, as the scene where Tony enters the disco to the strains of Walter Murphy's "Fifth of Beethoven" is among the best in the film.

It's not all fun, though, in fact it's hardly any fun as the inarticulate Tony blunders his way through a modern world that is unfriendly and likely to send you heading into crisis. Among Tony's four meatheaded pals is Bobby (Barry Miller) who has got his girlfriend pregnant and being a good Catholic boy is wrestling with whether to marry her or persuade her to have an abortion - misery ensues. As it does for Annette (Donna Pascow) whose love for Tony is rewarded with abuse and rejection that leads her into self-destruction. Even self-assured, name-dropping Stephanie has her breaking point, although you're not quite as bothered by that because you can tell she will get through it due to her lack of self-awareness. The frustrating, never-satisfied Tony makes mistakes as they all do, and by the end we're supposed to acccept that he is finally growing up, and if this seems trite, Travolta nevertheless sells it. If it weren't for him and the music, Saturday Night Fever would be an ordeal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Badham  (1939 - )

British-born, American-raised director of mostly medium-sized hits. He progressed from television in the 1970s to direct The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, but his second film was the blockbuster Saturday Night Fever. After that came a remake of Dracula, Blue Thunder, classic Cold War sci-fi WarGames, Short Circuit, Stakeout, the underrated The Hard Way, Nick of Time and Drop Zone, amongst others. He moved back into TV in the 2000s.

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