The movie which single-handedly made disco the dominant force on the planet for a brief period of the 70s and launched John Travolta to stardom.
It also changed disco from the elite pastime of a few drug-crazed Americans with liberal views on sex into a global pastime for all the family. And it gave punk something else not to sound like . . .
Under John Badham’s tight direction Saturday Night Fever emerged as an engrossing study of the rites of passage of the working-class American male. 19-year old Tony Manero’s routine life as a weekday nobody – he works as a paint store clerk in Brooklyn and is mocked at home by his father and unflatteringly compared to his brother Frank, a priest – is transcended by his stunning skill on the dance floor at the 2001 Odyssey disco on Saturday night.
On a floor lit from below he dances dynamically in ensembles, pairs and solo. Here he is a stunning stud, popular and admired – the king of the disco.
Tony Manero is brought to heel by the love of a good girl, Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gomey) that he meets at the club. She’s beautiful, from Manhattan, has a nice apartment and is a great dancer – but she wants more out of life.
The first step is to see if, together, they can win the upcoming disco dance contest . . .
The story originated from a New York magazine article by Nik Cohn entitled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night which told of no-hoper Brooklyn kids escaping the grind at the disco. These particular kids are, however, not easy to like: they’re sexist, racist, selfish and charmless. And Tony really is no better, except that Travolta’s Tony does charm you into thinking “if only that kid really believed in himself he could go places”.
The movie was filmed in the predominantly Italian neighbourhood of Bay Ridge (Brooklyn) and in Manhattan. The Brooklyn scenes have a gritty reality and the dance scenes are electrifying.
The best-selling score featured songs by the (at the time) hugely popular Bee Gees, including Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love? and Jive Talkin’.
Sylvester Stallone directed Travolta in a sequel called Staying Alive (1983) but the film was a disappointment.
Karen Lynn Gomey