SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977, Paramount Pictures, USA, 118 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Stereo, Cert: 18, Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: John Travolta (Tony Manero), Karen Lynn Gorney (Stephanie Mangano), Barry Miller (Bobby C.), Joseph Cali (Joey), Paul Pape (Double J.), Bruce Ornstein (Gus), Donna Pescow (Annette), Val Bisoglio (Frank Manero, Sr.), Julie Bovasso (Flo Manero), Martin Shakar (Frank Manero, Jr.), Nina Hansen (Grandmother), Lisa Peluso (Linda Manero), Sam J. Coppola (Dan Fusco), Lisa Peluso (Linda), Denny Dillon (Doreen), Bert Michaels (Pete).
Producer: Robert Stigwood; Director: John Badham; Writer: Norman Wexler (based on the article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn); Director of Photography: Ralf D. Bode (Movielab); Music: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, David Shire; Film Editor: David Rawlins; Production Designer: Charles Bailey; Costume Designer: Patrizia Von Brandenstein.
Robert Stigwood purchased the rights to a magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn published in New York Magazine on 7 Jun 1976 and the resultant movie became a smash hit by tapping into the then current disco fever and through the magnetic performance of its new star, John Travolta. Cohn was initially involved in the screenplay before Wexler was brought in to produce the shooting script. Initially John Avildsen was to direct, but conceptual disagreements with producer Stigwood led to him being replaced by Badham.
Travolta plays Tony Manero, a 19 year-old Brooklyn resident in a dead-end job and with a family on struggling financially following his father being layed off from the construction company he worked for all his life. The family are much prouder of the elder son (Shakar) who has left and become a priest. In order to escape his family Travolta cruises the disco clubs with his pals and is a hot dancer admired by all around him – particularly the girls. He hooks up with another dancer he admires (Gorney) to enter a competition. In the meantime the gang get into trouble with another gang resulting in one of them being hospitalised. The junior member of the gang has got his girlfriend pregnant and is at a loss what to do. The story unfolds around these plot threads and shows Travolta’s transition from teenage boy to man.
The musical backdrop provided by The Bee Gees and other disco acts of the time gives the film an added energy, but it is Travolta who drives the story forward in a career making performance. His dancing is fluid and his acting impressively natural. He gets good support from a talented cast – notably Bisoglio and Bovasso as his bickering parents. Bode’s photography of the New York locations captures the economic problems the city had at the time and Badham convincingly captures the spirit of youngsters in the city.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is a highly influential movie, but also is a period piece in that it captures its moment in time so well. An inferior sequel, STAYING ALIVE, followed in 1983.