Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

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The girl in the front row didn't know it, but Travolta's hip thrusts had made her pregnant. With twins.
The girl in the front row didn’t know it, but Travolta’s hip thrusts had made her pregnant. With twins.

Twitter Plot Summary: Whilst wanting to break free from his doldrum youth, Tony Manero struts his stuff on the disco dance floor.

Five Point Summary:

1. Stayin’ Alive
2. Night Fever
3. More Than A Woman
4. Night on Disco Mountain
5. You Should Be Dancing

Saturday Night Fever is often remembered for its soundtrack and “that” dance move, and very rarely anything else. What people often seem to forget is that there’s also a hard-hitting story at its centre and the music is just a pleasant addition to that. Of course, the soundtrack is excellent in its own right, featuring hit after hit mostly crafted by high pitched warblers the Bee Gees, but to ignore the story in any capacity is a shortsighted move.

As for that story, it’s all about young Tony Manero, played by John Travolta, who yearns to make something of himself and to escape the relative level of poverty and lack of ambition that haunts his home life. He might work as a lowly clerk in a hardware store, but Tony can dance. And I mean really dance – he’s a legend at his local club where disco is the flavour of the month and Tony’s boogying is everybody’s talking point.

There are serious themes at play, specifically the notion of religious belief as evidenced by Tony’s brother who leaves said religion behind much to the consternation of his and Tony’s parents. In fact Tony’s not served particularly well by his family – they all want him to aspire to be like his brother up until he leaves the priesthood. Tony’s desire to make something of himself is further explored with his relationship with fellow dancer Stephanie. At first he seeks her company for one particular reason – hint hint – but eventually develops into a potential friendship. Thankfully the script didn’t feel it necessary to force a romantic coupling on these two characters (despite Tony’s best efforts), for the simple fact that it would be entirely out of character for that to occur.

Travolta vs Serpico. Bono estente pussycat.
Travolta vs Serpico. Bono estente pussycat.

There’s also the fact that, being teenagers with nothing better to do, sexual frisson is abundant, even to the point where rape provides a strong and hard-hitting finale. I know the 70s were gritty and all that, but seriously? That was the way the world was, apparently. Casual racism abounds too – the Italian American kids all have a dislike for the Puerto Rican community that turns violent – needlessly, it becomes apparent.

Finally, there’s the bridge – it is abundant with symbolism and plays a key part to many events within the story – crossing it means escaping to a better life, fooling around on it has the potential for tragic circumstances (in more ways than one), and also acts as a bonding point between Tony and Stephanie. Tony’s journey is a delight to watch – initial disgust with his surroundings, hopes seemingly dashed at every turning point, and a misogynistic/racist attitude that slowly softens as he starts to find his way. He’s still damaged by the time we reach the end credits, but it’s a start. Sadly the female characters ultimately get short shrift, but then that’s endemic across almost every film ever made, sadly.

Put it this way: a gritty, well told story? Yeah, great. Combine it with the musical genius that is the Bee Gees? Absolute class. No further questions, your honour.

Score: 4/5

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