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Saturday Night Fever – Director’s Cut (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Saturday Night Fever – Director’s Cut


Starring John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Donna Pescow, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Barry Miller, Val Bisoglio, Julie Bavasso, Martin Shakar, Nina Hansen, Bruce Ornstein, Sam J. Coppola, Fran Drescher, Denny Dillon, Robert Costanza, Robert Weil, Bert Michaels, Helen Travolta, Ann Travolta and Sir Monti Rock III.

Screenplay by Norman Wexler.

Directed by John Badham.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 122 minutes. Rated R.

Saturday Night Fever is one of those most rare creatures – a film that was so consequential and ubiquitous that it pretty much defined its era, much like Rebel Without a Cause and The Graduate in the two decades before it. When Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977, the movie revolutionized music, fashion, lifestyles, hairstyling, and the dreams of a generation.

Perhaps because it was almost single-handedly responsible for exploding the disco movement – taking it from a small cult lifestyle to a huge musical and societal culture form, just a few years before the harsh and unnecessary “disco sucks” backlash – Saturday Night Fever has undeservedly gained a reputation as a shallow and shiny dance movie.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What has been somewhat forgotten was that Saturday Night Fever was a gritty, rather dark movie. It was a very edgy 70s-era drama, a harsh look at dead-end lives, class structures, sex, drugs, religion, boredom and the need for escape in a pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

Of course, music and dance is vital to this film, too. In fact, Saturday Night Fever spawned the most popular soundtrack album ever at the time. (Eventually 15 years later Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack passed it in sales, but Saturday Night Fever still ranks second of all time.) The soundtrack is the home of several huge hit singles including The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” “Night Fever” and “How Deep Is Your Love?,” Tavares’ “More Than a Woman,” Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You,” The Trampps’ “Disco Inferno” and more. (The Bee Gees also wrote the Tavares song – and recorded it for the soundtrack album, too – and the Yvonne Elliman song as well.)

And the dance scenes feature some of the greatest choreography committed to film, particularly a scene when John Travolta “takes over” the dance floor in an ecstatic solo dance while the other dancers watch in awe.

Saturday Night Fever is the story of Tony Manero, played by Travolta, who was just then becoming a big star on the sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. Tony was a typical dead-end kid: working at a paint store, living with his very dysfunctional family, hanging out with his goofball buddies and one night a week blowing his pay at his favorite night club. He’s a nobody going nowhere, but he has one special skill – he can dance.

At the disco 2001 Odyssey, Tony is a god. He is the local dancing hero. The men are in awe of him, the women want him. For a few hours a week, he knows what it is like to be a star. But still, it is at a sort of sad, sleazy place, a fact that Tony is slowly coming to understand.

His potential salvation comes through a slightly older dancer named Stephanie (played by Karen Lynn Gorney, who looked to be bound for stardom after this film, but never really worked again afterwards). Stephanie is also a Brooklyn girl, but she is moving into Manhattan and trying to move in faster circles, with rock stars, movie actors and athletes. Of course, Stephanie’s big secret is she knows very little more about the flashy world of Manhattan than anyone else in Brooklyn does, she just talks a good game.

Tony asks Stephanie to be his partner in a big dance contest in the disco – breaking the heart of the local girl who worships him (Donna Pescow). Stephanie reluctantly agrees, but as they move towards the contest, Tony’s world starts crumbling all around him.

This director’s cut adds an additional four minutes or so of edited footage. Nothing is greatly consequential to the film – Tony gets out of his buddies’ car and checks out the bridge from the shore, his dad gets his job back, Tony and Stephanie talk and kiss in Bobby’s car after her move, Tony buzzing to get into Stephanie’s apartment. None of it was missed from the theatrical version, but it is nice to have a little bit more.

Do not be fooled by Saturday Night Fever’s completely unwarranted reputation as a sappy “disco” movie. Saturday Night Fever deservedly belongs to the 70s cinema tradition of gritty urban dramas – along with films like Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, The French Connection, as well as two films whose posters hang proudly in Tony Manero’s room – Rocky and Serpico. Yes, it’s that good. This 40th anniversary rerelease reminds us of an underappreciated classic.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: May 2, 2017.

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