"The Spy Who Loved Me" 1977 A Movie a Day Day 29

OK, I’m going to be honest with you. Tonight at midnight, I will be lined up with millions of crazed Twihards seeing Eclipse. My darling wife won’t wait and I’m not sure that I want to yet concede that I am too old to be staying up all hours for a movie opening. I enjoy the Twilight movies as much as any man can but they are really the territory of my wife. I would gladly be seeing the new James Bond movie at midnight but dammit there won’t be one for at least two more years. So I came home today and took a nap instead of putting in my movie right away. Now, if I tried to watch a film, I’d be a dead man. I stopped writing just now to resolve a whole bunch of those issues related to going to the movie, at this point Dee is in the theater, Amanda is here with me and we will head back over to the Vampires at 11:00.

So in order to keep up with the Movie a Day concept, I am posting about a film I know so well that I feel confident about it without having just seen it. “The Spy Who Loved Me”, is our AMAD subject. This film came out in the summer of 1977. Anyone who knows 70’s films will tell you that the summer of 77 belonged to only one movie, and this was not it. The funny thing was that this was the biggest Bond success since Thunderball 12 years earlier, and there had been 5 Bond films in that time period. This was Roger Moore’s third time out as Bond, and the movie that really established his mark on the franchise. I will be talking about one of his earlier 007 appearances later this summer. Although it might have been overshadowed by one of the biggest cultural phenomena of all time, people still remember this James Bond film.

The first time I saw it was with Dolores at the Twin Theater complex outside of the Cerritos Shopping mall. Inside the mall was a multiplex of six small movie screens but the complex outside was much more a movie going experience because the two theaters held at least 500 people each. Later in the summer we went back and saw the movie there again when Art was home for a short leave. I miss my friend every time a new Bond film comes out because it was such a big part of what brought us together. He read all the books also and after we were friends, we saw every new 007 adventure together. There is a better Art story for Moonraker, which I will save for that posting.

The Spy Who Loved Me had the best pre-title sequence of any of the films up to that point. It climaxed with that fantastic shot of the Union Jack floating across the snow capped mountains of Austria. If you have never seen it, I will not spoil it for you but it kicks the attitude of the film off perfectly. This is spectacular nonsense done with flair and showmanship. The rest of the movie lives up to it. They built a sound stage for the movie to shoot in, which became “the” place to film. It was used for the Superman movie, Spielberg extravaganzas, and of course for that film series that started by overshadowing this James Bond picture. It has burned down twice but has been rebuilt each time and it remains the largest sound stage in the world.

They needed that space for a climatic battle featuring two submarines that are supposed to be contained inside of a supertanker. In essence it turns the formula of these films a little inside out. Instead of trying to penetrate the impregnable fortress of the enemy, Bond and his allies are trying to break out. There is a gun battle, and explosions and the evil villain escaping to be confronted later in the movie. You can tell where all the money spent on production went in this movie. The art design and location shooting is really strong. I don’t know if they have a dramatic light show at the Pyramids at night but this movie makes me want to go and find out.

As I said before, this is the Bond that Roger Moore should always consider the gold standard of his seven turns at bat. He looked great in the suits and jackets that are styled in a 70’s form but do not look cartoonish today. People often complain that Moore never seemed threatening and dangerous like Sean Connery had. They are right, but as perfect as Connery was as Bond, Moore was for the Bond of his time. The humor was not strained, the quips came easily to him and he was clearly a Brit. There is a good moment though that shows that this Bond is tough and merciless when it suits him. As one of the heavies he has been fighting clings to Bond’s tie as he is falling back from the edge of a high balcony, Bond presses the situation to get information. Once he gets what he wants, he swats his tie back, basically killing the bad guy with the back of his hand. That was a bad ass moment that went a long way in establishing some tough guy cred for Roger Moore’s version of Bond.

The movies go a little over the top after this outing, and they do come back to earth again, but this is the quintessential James Bond film of the time. At the end of the credit crawl, the 007 movie announced the Return of James Bond in the next film. This movie ended with a promise for “For Your Eyes Only”, but the success of that other 1977 film actually caused the producers to renege on their promise and Bond came back in the space based adventure Moonraker. Not hard to guess why they thought that was a good idea. By the way, the British based American actor I mentioned in the Rollerball post last week, has his second biggest part in this movie as the American submarine captain. Shane Rimmer is going to be the answer to a trivia question someday and you will thank me for mentioning this stuff.

Murder By Death 1976 A Movie A Day Day 28

Neil Simon was the biggest comedy writer of the 60s and 70s. He had plays on Broadway, books on the bestseller list and movies opening with his name above the title. What Steven King was to horror stories, Neil Simon was for comedies. His work was not always deep, but sometimes it was poignant and meaningful. He won the Pulitzer prize for one of his plays in the 1980’s. So it is inevitable that one of his works turns up on my list for summer movies in the 1970’s. Although many of the plays and movies were lighthearted romantic comedies, it is his slapstick work that seemed in tune with the summer seasons of my youth. The first of these movies I’ve watched this summer is “Murder by Death.”

The story is a take-off on every mystery movie cliche from the thirties and forties. Including Charlie Chan, Sam Spade and the Thin Man movies. Throw in a couple of late arrivals like Miss Marple and Herciot Peroit and you have a meal that is much like on of the lines in the film, “lamb stew, a lot of ingredients gone to pot.” These characters are all invited to a weekend at a spooky mansion for dinner and a murder. The mystery actually makes no sense at all by the end of the movie, and it is not really supposed to. The whole point is to baffle the audience and divert them with funny dialog and rich performances by the stars. All the actors do a terrific job impersonating the original movie characters, but making them memorable for completely different reasons.

Cast and dialog are the main reasons to see this movie. If you watch the trailer above, you will notice no shortage of star power. Peter Falk and Peter Sellars are dead on and politically incorrect beyond belief. The non-sequiters that Falk’s Sam Diamond tosses out are hysterical, but you have to listen for them. Sellar’s Sidney Wang could give fortune cookies a boost by comparison to some of his stupid sayings. Everyone is just a gas. I don’t remember how much longer David Niven worked, but his light touch and elan were perfectly suited to an English version of Nick Charles. Most of the light comedians of today have him to thank, Hugh Grant may not know it but he steals from Niven in every movie he is in. The only link in the chain that seemed weak to me was James Coco, but I believe it was due to his part being broadly written that makes the performance a little too shrill. By the way, his driver/assistant in the movie is played by a young James Cromwell (Farmer Hogget from Babe).

A special note must be made of the appearance of Truman Capote in the film. He basically plays himself with a different name. Of all his work I only read “In Cold Blood” and I had seen “Breakfast at Tiffanys”, but I knew him best as a kid through his appearances on talk shows. He was on Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin’s shows quite often I think. He made up stories to share about people he had never even met. If anyone really believes that Errol Flynn and he had a love affair, they never saw an Errol Flynn movie. His high nasally voice was creepy by itself, but put into this silly plot, it stood out like it’s own weird joke.

The movie is sometimes a criticism of the sloppy writing that detective stories might sometimes employ. Lionel Twain’s rant at the end about characters that appear in the last five pages of a book, or clues that are not revealed to the readers until the climax of the story, sound a little too on point just to be taken as a joke. By the way if you miss the joke in Capote’s character’s name, you will miss a lot of the clever puns and plays on words that make the movie entertaining. There are other things to recommend it as well, but the writing of the dialog is the key element in the films success.

This movie played at the Hasting Theater in Pasadena, which at the time was a huge stand alone movie house. Later they added some other screens to the complex to make it more profitable, but if you got 1500 people in to see a movie there, I doubt they were losing money, and when I saw it the theater it was packed. Inspired by the success of this work, Neil Simon tackled another spoof based on the same kind of characters a couple of years later. Peter Falk returned as “The Cheap Detective”. As I recall, I did not enjoy it as much and was a little let down, but that could be faulty memory. I hope by the end of the current summer blog to be more definitive and add that film to the list here.

Rollerball (1975) A Movie a Day Day 27

I have gone back and forth on this movie just about every time I saw it. The first time was in June 1975 with my friend Dan Hasegawa. I think we saw this without Art because he had just left for the Army. Either that, or Art was still trying to make time with Laura Charca and he did not have time for us. My guess is that if Jaws had not opened a few weeks later, this would have been the big picture of the summer and my favorite movie that year. As it was, I remembered it, but I did not have much loyalty too it. Second viewings reveal a lot of problems with the story and the film making. I still think it is a pretty good movie, but I look at it much more realistically now then I did then.

We saw it initially at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood on Sunset Blvd. The screen there was curved to accommodate films shot in cinerama, this one was not and it was simply blown up to fit the screen, which it did quite nicely. I don’t remember noticing the importance of sound in a movie much before this. Maybe “The Exorcist” impressed me, but I don’t think it was the stereo system that did it. This movie on the other hand, is much more impressive seen in a big theater with an immense sound system. At the dome, the opening segment with the Bach toccata was amazing. When the teams did their warm up laps on the Rollerball track, the rumble was impressive. Most of the hits, grunts and crowd noise was enhanced by simple volume. At the end the chant of Jon-na-thon, was almost hypnotic.

It’s funny that sound is one of the big things I remember from the movie because it is also one of my biggest criticisms of the film. James Caan appears to have been directed to underplay every scene except the Rollerball matches. I suppose this is to show that he is not a crazed individualist out to take down the system, but just a guy who is really good at his job and doesn’t understand why the corporation wants him to stand down. That is the essence of the conflict in the story, but Caan mumbles so much in the film, that it is hard to have a take on what his point of view is. His vocal delivery is low key and in many instances inaudible, and when you can hear him it sounds a little bit like the slow parts of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, where Kurt Cobain is inarticulate and gave Weird Al Yankovic an opportunity at an easy parody.

The look of the film is supposed to be futuristic, the key components of that are the Stadium itself and the architecture of the corporate world they live in. The plastic in the board rooms, and the odd shapes of buildings and hallways, are a quaint effort at a futuristic vision. The other thing that gives it away is the costuming. On the track, the players look like they could be competing in a real game set in the future. Off the track, they look like models from a Sears catalog in 1977. Leisure suits are not futuristic, they were fads. The corporate guys are still wearing suits so that part worked, but the non-executives look like they are dressed for a part in the chorus of a Cher concert. James Caan has the stupidest hat, it looks like a Spanish caballero hat with a ten inch brim. He tosses it into the crowd a couple of times, but every time he changes one of his leisure suits, there is another hat with material to match the suit. Having everything provided by your corporate masters does not guarantee good taste. The element that is accurate about the future is the video display. Big Screens for home viewing, with three alternate views on the top. You can’t quite tell what the programs and pictures are recorded on, maybe small tapes, maybe disks but the effect is a lot more accurate than most of the other things in the movie.

The themes of the film are power and individualism. It is never quite clear why Johnathon is such a threat to the corporate order, but that ambiguity works toward making things a lot more ominous and believable. At one point, John Houseman’s character explains how the corporations took over when the governments were all bankrupted. Maybe they were anticipating a world where the U.S. would triple it’s debt in one year and spend itself twenty trillion dollars in the hole in a very short time. The vision of the corporations as evil overlords would be darker, if everyone on the movie wasn’t so beautiful and happy. Hey, there is a side note that suggests that people in the future were medicating themselves into happiness. This looked like a pretty good criticism of the “if it feels good do it” attitude of the times, but I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers intended.

John Houseman made his last years very comfortable, by playing corporate types like this. In fact Smith Barney, an investment company that I don’t even know still exists, built their image on his answer to the question how Smith-Barney customers get their wealth? “They earn it”. Ralph Richardson appears in a scene that is basically unnecessary, just a little extra dig at the corporate future. He is as always, charming and there are two or three big laughs in this segment. An actor everyone will recognize but I will bet no one knows by name, plays the Coach-Executive in charge of the Houston team. This may be the biggest part he had in movies, but you will see him in two or three Superman films, at least three James Bond films, and even the first of the Christian Bale Batman movies. His name is Shane Rimmer, he is an American that ended up living in England, so all those movies produced at Sheppardton Studios that needed an actor with an American accent typically sought him out.

Like I said, I run hot and cold on this movie. There have been plenty of times that I thought it was a ponderous and pretentious movie that would benefit from being trimmed by half an hour. There are other times when I look at it and admire the 70’s sensibility, that movies ought to be about something. Rollerball is supposed to be about the loss of individualism and the evil of corporate thinking. Or maybe it is about how the citizens will be satisfied with bread and circuses as in Roman times, entertained and distracted by a violent sport while the powers that be control their lives. But if you ask me what it’s about I’ll tell you it’s about two hours.

Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday A Movie a Day Day 26

This is one of the films on my list that I never saw in a theater. I can’t explain how that happened at all, this movie has Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and Robert Culp as the stars. They are all actors I have enjoyed over the years. What it must have been like on the set with Marvin and Reed together. These two never found the bottom of a bottle. What is especially odd though is that Strother Martin is in it and he has a pretty good part. I must have been involved in something to miss an opportunity like this. You know what, this came out in the bicentennial year and my family was on the road for a month that summer. We went back to Battle Creek, driving across the country. I got to drive a lot because I had my license and my Dad needed to be spelled. I know we listened to Queen “A night at the Opera” and The Blue Oyster Cult on eight track most of the way. Dee and I had just gotten serious about seeing each other and before we left on the trip her mother had passed away and we took my Dad’s new car up to the funeral in Bakersfield. It was also an election year and I watched both of the conventions while we were traveling. I remember the speech that President Ford gave and all the hoopla about Reagan maybe being on the ticket with him. We were also on our way to Atlantic City where the Ice Capades was getting their tour ready for the road. We had built several props for the show and Dad was going back as a technical adviser. Dorothy Hamill had just joined the show after her star turn at the winter Olympics and we got a chance to meet her. So, I guess I was a little distracted.

The movie is a comedy with several broad strokes that might be a problem these days. There is not only a white guy playing an Indian, but he is also an English actor to boot. Rape and the clap are the basis of several big punch lines in the movie, and women get popped in the face in a couple of scenes. It was not as crude at the time as it actually plays now. That is a little backwards I suppose, but the problem was not language or nudity or violence, but the way that some of those things were portrayed. If you did not know, “Cathouse Thursday” is the name of the lead female charater played by Kay Lenz, and she is basically trapped in what was euphemistically referred to as White Slavery. She gets the nickname when our drunken Indian (played by a drunken Englishman) steals her and several other girls, he is planning on using them like underwear with the day of the week on it. You can get a good sense of the humor from that set up.

For the first hour, the movie is all over the place. Things happen for no reason, people are connected without really understanding how and there just seems to be a lot of chasing slapstick. It feels like they are stretching to make incidents funny intead of letting them grow out of the characters or the plot. Once we get to the main confrontation between Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and their former partner played by Robert Culp, things make a little more sense. The movie is set in a very interesting time and place, it is a western but one that takes place after the myths of the west are settling into place. The election of 1908 is in the background and there is a funny campaign song that gets sung by our heroes. They support Taft because they always voted Republican. When it turns out that their traitorous partner is using the Taft campaign as a way to connive his way into office and promote a big prize fight, they start seeing the advantages of William Jennings Bryan.

As I said before, there are a lot of slapstick chases and crude jokes about Indians and their ways. The movie has some charm but it feels like a mess. The clearest part of the story is in the last half hour, but I’m not sure you will sit still and wait for it. There are a number of very clever gags in the film. Strother gets a terrific introduction in a bar scene where he and Lee Marvin turn out to be flimflamming the locals using a rattlesnake. Later there is a bit with a jar full of hornets. Jay plays dirty old man for most of the middle part of the movie, but the characters all yo-yo between wanting revenge and wanting to do right by the girl they end up traveling with.

The poster tag line may have been too prophetic for this movie. I did not choose to leave them out on purpose, but the movie is pretty forgettable.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 1974 A Movie A Day Day 25

In 1974, I was 16 and generally able to make a lot of choices for myself. My parents had enough problems with my older brother, that they chose not to bring the hammer down on me for much. In truth I was such a goody two shoes they didn’t have much to worry about and they knew it. I was movie crazy and I would go whenever the chance afforded itself. This was one of those opportunities I took advantage of. I’m sure it pissed my Dad off because I went with his friend Rusty to the show for the day. Rusty is a guy I mentioned before. He was only a few years older than my brother, and he basically wanted to grow up and be a magician. Specifically, he thought my Dad was the best act he had seen and wanted to emulate him. I don’t know how serious he was because I never saw him practice and the one show I ever saw him perform, he needed more practice. Rusty had the same bug I did, he loved going to the movies. He was in one of the craft unions in Hollywood, and worked on TV sets as a carpenter. This meant he had money and he could indulge his whims. While, I was one of those whims. He would call and ask if I wanted to see a show and off we went. Most of the time my Dad shrugged it off, but when we would disappear into the theater for the whole day, he would blow his stack when I got home. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a movie I saw on one of those days. We may have gone to five films that day. I know we finished with a double feature that includes “Dogs” and “Cutthroats Nine”, but we started the day at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. with this Clint Eastwood action film.

At first it appears that Clint is a hunted preacher, lucky to escape a crazed killer, but of course it turns out more complicated than that. As I was watching this film today, I was surprised at how little of the first half I remembered. The opening was not in my head at all. I thought Clint picked up Jeff Bridges character as a hitchhiker, it is almost exactly the opposite. There are some bits of character development that I did not recall at all, and the whole interlude with the two girls (one of them Catherine Bach) was just a haze. It actually takes almost an hour to get to the main point of the plot. This is a heist film and Clint was part of a gang that committed a big robbery. They decide to repeat the crime because the money from the first heist disappeared. The tools that are used in the crime account for Clint’s moniker in the film “The Thunderbolt”. The planning of the heist and set up of events is actually done very effectively. You get enough detail to know what has to go right, but there are also a number of things that can go wrong.

Once again there are a whole stream of character actors in this movie that appear in other Eastwood films. Geoffrey Lewis of course, and he is a comic foil instead of just playing the heavy. Bill McKinney has a brief bit as a lunitic driver who gives the main characters a ride. Burton Gillian, a stunt guy that was in a lot of westerns (although none that I know of with Clint) has a small part as a coworker of Clints’ at a welding job. He is probably best remembered as the nasty but stupid cowboy from Blazing Saddles, he was Slim Picken’s number two. I also saw Gary Busey in this movie as a coworker with Jeff Bridges. If this was not his first movie, it was close to it. This movie was written and directed by Michael Cimino, who’s next picture would win the Academy Award, “The Deer Hunter”. The third picture he made brought an end to the success that he had had. “Heaven’s Gate” ended up destroying not only his career but United Artists Studio. While he was making his four hour western, the studio honchos were very nervous about the time and money. Cimino reportedly used Clint as a tool in his persuasive bag of tricks. He would tell anyone who doubted his ability to shoot efficiently to check with Clint. I don’t know if they ever did, but that cache does him no good nowadays.

The movie looks great, most of it was shot in Idaho and Montana. This may be why Cimino wanted to film there, (and get the studio to subsidize his ranch at the same time). There is a chase scene through the gorgeous Snake River Canyon. The two leads end up leaving on a ferry ride down the river which is a chance for them and us to marvel at the beautiful background. The small town feel of the locations is really accurate. The diner, the bar and the drive-in, all feel like real places that people in that part of the world would encounter. This is why location shooting is important, the back lot at Universal or Warner’s can’t do this as well.

Jeff Bridges is actually a co-star if not the star of the picture. He received an Academy Award nomination in the best supporting actor category. How they figure that is not clear, he has as many lines and scenes as Clint does, and his story arc is the central point of the movie. His character'”Lightfoot” has a great walk on introduction, coming out of a field in the middle of nowhere wearing leather pants. It is clear he is the rock star of the film. I thought that his character’s resolution was unnecessary, but it probably accounted for 80% of the support he got for his nomination. This is a very smooth, good looking heist picture with some great characters. It has some nice twists and there is even a Paul William’s song to go with it. It is a little strange that Clint keeps telling Bridges that he is about 10 years too late to be connecting with him. Clint, was an international sex symbol at this time and his virility was used to sell a lot of movies. I just find it funny that he was playing the old man card in 1974, thirty-five years before he decided he was too old to be playing romantic leads any more.

Rollercoaster – 1977 A Movie A Day Day 24

Here is a movie that had one thing going for it in the theaters that could apparently not be reproduced for home viewing, Sensurround! This was a sound system that used an ultra low frequency bass set of speakers to actually vibrate the theater during key scenes in the film. Imagine going beyond 3-D, or Smell-o-rama, this is almost certainly part of the concept that was being parodied in the film Kentucky Fried Movie, our first Movie-A-Day. Sensurround was actually created for the movie “Earthquake” a few years earlier. The process was only used in three theatrical films, Earthquake,Midway and Rollercoaster. This movie was it’s final bow. The process did receive a technical Academy Award, but I guess competing sound systems ultimately made the process less economically viable. I actually saw the three films made with Sensurround in theaters. I thought it only made sense in Earthquake.

Other than the special effect, this was a very typical Universal release in the summer of 1977. I am not exactly sure what it was about Universal Films in those days, but they often looked like they were lit for television rather than the movies. The film stock seems a little flat. The colors are fine but there is no richness or texture to the images. I was always able to pick these movies out because of this look. Also, there was a very stock set of players in the movie. They were all pros but they seemed to be thrown in as background in studio’s movies, much like a set that you would see repeatedly used. Harry Guardino, Richard Widmark, William Prince were in dozens of Universal movies and played similar parts in other studio efforts as well. Before “On Golden Pond” Henry Fonda spent the last fifteen years of his career, popping up in bit parts on Universal titles. This allowed them to bill a movie star, but one that was not the lead, that they did not have to pay much and was usually in the film for only a couple of scenes.

Rollercoaster is an attempt to combine a suspense thriller with a disaster picture. The opening actually works pretty well up until the actual catastrophe. The effect of the first disaster is created on stage with live action, life sized dolls, and some speed-ed up film sequences. They are satisfactory, but they look really creaky by comparison to things that were being done a couple of years later. Star Wars actually uses some similar techniques but worked so much better. The work was professional but it looked better suited to a less expensive TV production. Before the coaster accident, there is a long suspense segment with the villain eying his target, getting into place, victims and near victims changing places. The climax is a letdown. After that it becomes a fairly standard cat and mouse game between the cops and George Segal’s safety inspector on one side, and a very clever criminal on the other.

The use of Magic Mountain for the final confrontation works well, the park had not been overexposed at that point, the Revolution Roller Coaster is very photogenic, and there is some good background imagery. The roller coaster sequences are shot very effectively, the nighttime accident at the beginning does not afford the same visual impact as the wide screen day lit ride at the end. They probably copied the idea from “This is Cinerama” but it looks exciting from your seat even if you are not in a car on the coaster tracks.

There are a few interesting casting points in the background that I had forgotten about. Charlie Tuna, who is a well know DJ from the 70s up through today, has a part playing himself at the opening of the Revolution. Gary Franklin, was a radio reporter who played a radio reporter. If you don’t remember, a couple of years after this came out, he was the movie critic on L.A. CBS affiliate, where he quickly became widely know for his One to Ten point scale. When he move to KABC Tv a few years after that, he had a ten year run as one of the most powerful film critics in the country. Siskel and Ebert eventually became the gold standard, but Franklin was always distinctive and very opinionated. Helen Hunt has a part as Segal’s daughter, in a red herring appearance at the park during the climax. I think I also spotted Craig Wasson and Steve Guttenberg in the cast.

The band Sparks, appears in a concert sequence during the Magic Mountain scenes. I did not remember they were in this at all, and it is sort of funny because in 1983, Dolores and I along with Kathy and Art, went to a special event night at Magic Mountain, and Sparks was the featured act. I actually saw the movie at the Garfield Theater, down on the corner of Garfield and Valley. The speaker set up took out a large number of seats, but that was a huge movie house that probably seated 600 to 800 people. Quite a change from the elegant but small (200 seats) theaters of today. It’s is an old fashioned movie, that felt old fashioned when I saw it in 1977.

Grease 1978 A Movie A DayDay 23

Grease is the word!!! There is nothing to dislike about this movie as long as you know something about it going in. There are a lot more crude references than you will probably remember, but that simply illustrates how joyful and fun the movie actually is, it blots out some of the crassness. This was a movie that was done inexpensively but very well, they had minimum expectations for it. RSO, the record company that was expanding into the movie business, expected Sgt. Pepper to be their big film of the summer. When this movie was first filming, John Travolta was not a movie star, he was just a well know and popular TV personality. Then lightning struck, because six months before the movie opened, Travolta exploded onto the screen in Saturday Night Fever, and was nominated for an Academy Award. So when they looked at their movie then, things started looking a lot more promising. It was for years the most successful movie musical ever. Watching it again makes you understand all over again.

I must have seen this movie dozens of times. We watched it a lot when the girls were younger and everybody knows the songs. In a few weeks there is actually a revival release planned with karaoke lyrics added so the audience can sing along. I wonder how shocked people will be when they realize they rhyme the word “shit” with “tit” in the Greased Lightning number. There are also some vague reference to oral sex and erections, but again, no one really pays much attention. There is a pretty dark theme at one point about teen pregnancy, but it blows over quickly and all is well at Rydell High. It is a testament to the performers and the production that the audience feels cheerful during the movie and not offended. The movie is rated PG, but if your kids are the kind that want to know what everyone is talking about all of the time, you might want to wait until they are a little older to show it to them. Most kids just like the dancing and singing and except for the one number I mentioned above, it is all pretty tame.

Dolores and I were looking forward to the Sgt Pepper movie when this came out but we were still thrilled when we saw this. I know we went to the theater at least twice to see it. The first time was at the Vogue Theater in Hollywood and the second time was in the mall at Del Amo in Cerritos. We saw a lot of summer movies at that mall, it was not really a great theater but it was close to her house in Norwalk and there was a matinee price. This movie came out the same summer as Jaws 2 and we may have seen them in back to back weekends. The soundtrack was ubiquitous that summer, spawning two or three number one hits, (Including the Barry Gibb penned Title Track sung by Frankie Valli). Ultimately, I would say it was the summer film of that year that everything else was measured by.

Travolta and Olivia Newton John were a little old for the parts but not so much that it took you out of the movie, and they are both really attractive as personalities here. We love the West Wing and Amanda gets a kick out of seeing First Lady Abbey Bartlet as Rizzo the slutty Pink Lady at Rydell. The staging of the dance scenes is done really well at venues that initially do not scream “Musical Dance Number “. The boys versus the girls version of Summer Loving is done on the bleachers of a high school football field and on the outdoor lunch tables. These were not flashy or glossy set ups, and as a result you pay more attention to the characters and the dancing. If you do not see Grease in a wide-screen format, you will lose about 60% of the charm in this sequence. Late in the film there are two other scenes staged in non-theatrical venues that still work like gangbusters. Travola’s lover’s lament at the drive-in is cleverly shown in front of the Drive-in Movie screen showing the intermission countdown. He is back-lit by the light from the projector in some shots and it is a triumph of staging.(The complete intermission countdown crawl is embedded below). Finally, a cheap carnival setting is used for the climax of the film. It also works well, there is a lot of energy in the dancing and the music is infectious.

There was a period of time after this movie came out (1981-1988) that Travolta was scorned by a lot of people. I seem to remember Tom Hollihan referring to him as John Revolta. Of course he established a lot of cred and returned for a ten tear dominance at the box office after Pulp Fiction. He is still in high demand today and I’ll bet a lot of the good will and positive feeling people have toward him are a relut of their fond memories of Danny Zucko in Grease.