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Grease: 40th Anniversary (A Video Review)

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Grease: 40th Anniversary


Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Michael Tucci, Dinah Manoff, Didi Conn, Barry Pearl, Jamie Donnelly, Kelly Ward, Sid Caesar, Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Frankie Avalon, Edd Byrnes, Dennis Stewart, Annette Charles, Susan Buckner, Lorenzo Lamas, Eddie Deezen, Alice Ghostley, Fannie Flagg, Dick Patterson, Ellen Travolta, Michael Biehn, Wendy Jo Sperber and Sha Na Na.

Screenplay by Bronte Woodard.

Directed by Randal Kleiser.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated PG.

Grease is one of those movies that is hard to quantify for a film critic. Intellectually, I know it’s not all that good a movie. In fact, technically, it is pretty bad. The dialogue is often dumb, the acting is broad, the storyline is cheesy.

And yet, I love it. Totally, unashamedly. I’m hopelessly devoted to Grease.

Grease may very well be the film that I have seen the most times of any movie in my life. I’ve certainly seen it many times on the big screen in theaters – in five different states, no less (Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and California). I’ve also seen it numerous times on cable, an 8mm film copy (just selected scenes, and without sound), on an early pirated Betamax copy, VHS, DVD, broadcast TV, streaming, On Demand, YouTube and now on Blu-ray.

No matter how many times I see it, it never really gets old. Watching the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray of Grease (wow, 40 years, who is feeling old?), I could recite most of the dialogue and song lyrics from memory. Yet, even though I’ve seen it so many times, I still got swept up in it. I get transported back to be that young boy who first saw it in a West Palm Beach theater on opening weekend, when I literally got chills during the performance of the song “You’re the One That I Want.”

Years later, I’m older, more analytical and more cynical (and I no longer get chills), but I still can’t resist that scene, and several others throughout Grease.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades, Grease is based on the hit 1972 Broadway musical of the same name – one of the drivers of the big 1950s nostalgia movement of the time, which also spawned things like American Graffiti and Happy Days. The movie is a fairly loose adaptation of the play – really, sometime track down a script of the original musical, you’ll be surprised by how fundamentally different the two are.

For example, the movie added four songs which were not in the musical, in hope of getting radio airplay – “You’re the One That I Want,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Sandy” and the title track. Not surprisingly, those songs included three of the four huge hits from the movie soundtrack, with only a speeded-up and accessible version of the play’s “Summer Nights” reaching the upper level of the pop charts as well. (The play’s “Greased Lightning” also became a minor hit but got very limited radio airplay due to the song’s suggestive lyrics.)

However, the basic storyline remains intact, a mismatched love story between tough greaser Danny (John Travolta) and a pretty, sweet, good girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John). At the time, the two actors were two of the bigger names in pop culture – Travolta was hot off of his breakthrough performance in Saturday Night Fever as well as being the buzz star of the hit sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, while Newton-John was a popular singer taking her first stab at acting.

Yes, technically, they were way too old to be playing high school students – Travolta was in his late 20s, Newton-John was in her early 30s – but then again the entire cast of high school characters was pretty much made up of older actors, from their mid-20s and topping out at Stockard Channing, who was about 34 when the film came out.

Danny and Sandy had a sweet summer romance, but when her family ends up moving to LA from Sydney (a plot point added to explain away Newton-John’s Aussie accent), they unexpectedly end up in the same high school. Therefore, Danny must reconcile between his feelings for Sandy and his reputation as a cool womanizer. Sandy, on the other hand, has to try to decide whether it is worth it to become worldlier to be with Danny. (In full disclosure, when I first saw Grease, Newton-John was my first celebrity crush. However, I seemed to be one of very few people who preferred the sweet original Sandy look to the wilder “Tell me about it, stud” Sandy 2.)

There are all the 50s highlights you could ask for in Grease: dances, diners, races, older 50s celebrities in the roles of the school staff (including Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon, Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell and Alice Ghostley). It also gives a supporting role to Eddie Deezen, the greatest nerd actor ever.

And the music is timeless – both the original songs from the play and the ones made for the movie. (As an interesting extra in this package, they found the original song that was meant to play over the opening credits, before producer Robert Stigwood convinced his top musical act, The BeeGees, to write “Grease,” to be performed by Four Seasons singer Frankie Valli. The theme song that was not used was just awful, so things worked out in the long run, but it was interesting to see and hear after all these years.)

It’s hard to remember now, but in 1978 when Grease came out, the musical as a film genre was pretty much dead. This film singlehandedly revived the art form, and 40 years on it still holds up well. There are very few movies that come out that can be called essential, but even with all of its faults, Grease is one of those. This new Blu-ray version is a terrific way to revisit the film, if you don’t have several formats of it already, which most people do. However, even then, the picture and sound quality and the multitude of extras make Grease: The 40th Anniversary Edition worth a look.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 24, 2018.

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