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.