Saturday Night Fever is a 1977 American musical drama film directed by John Badham. It stars John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class young man who spends his weekends dancing and drinking at a local Brooklyn discothèque; Karen Gorney as Stephanie Mangano, his dance partner and eventual confidante; and Donna Pescow as Annette, Tony's former dance partner and would-be girlfriend. While in the disco, Tony is the champion dancer. His circle of friends and weekend dancing help him to cope with the harsh realities of his life: a dead-end job, clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents, racial tensions in the local community, and his general restlessness.
The story is based upon a 1976 New York magazine article by British writer Nik Cohn, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"; in the mid-1990s, Cohn acknowledged that he fabricated the article. A newcomer to the United States and a stranger to the disco lifestyle, Cohn was unable to make any sense of the subculture he had been assigned to write about; instead, the character who became Tony Manero was based on an English mod acquaintance of Cohn.
A huge commercial success, the film significantly helped to popularize disco music around the world and made Travolta, already well known from his role on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter, a household name. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. The film showcased aspects of the music, the dancing, and the subculture surrounding the disco era: symphony-orchestrated melodies; haute couture styles of clothing; pre-AIDS sexual promiscuity; and graceful choreography. The sequel Staying Alive (1983) also starred John Travolta and was directed by Sylvester Stallone, but received less positive reception. In 2010, Saturday Night Fever was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
|Saturday Night Fever|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Badham|
|Produced by||Robert Stigwood|
|Screenplay by||Norman Wexler|
|Based on||"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"
by Nik Cohn
|Cinematography||Ralf D. Bode|
|Edited by||David Rawlins|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$237.1 million|
Anthony "Tony" Manero is a 19-year-old Italian American man from the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He lives with his parents, and works at a dead-end job in a small hardware store. To escape his day-to-day life, every Saturday night Tony goes to 2001 Odyssey, a local disco club. Tony has four close friends: Joey, Double J, Gus, and Bobby C. A fringe member of his group of friends is Annette, a neighborhood girl who longs for a physical relationship with Tony.
Tony and his friends ritually stop on the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge to clown around. The bridge has special significance for Tony as a symbol of escape to a better life on the other side—in more suburban Staten Island.
Tony agrees to be Annette's partner in an upcoming dance contest, but her happiness is short-lived when Tony is mesmerized by another woman at the club, Stephanie Mangano, whose dancing skills exceed Annette's. Although Stephanie rejects Tony's advances, she eventually agrees to be his partner in the dance competition, provided that their partnership remains professional. Tony's older brother, Frank Jr., who was the pride of the family since he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, brings despair to their parents when he tells them that he has left the priesthood. Tony shares a warm relationship with Frank Jr., but feels pleased that he is no longer the black sheep of the family.
While on his way home from the grocery store, Gus is attacked by a gang and hospitalized. He tells Tony and his friends that his attackers were the Barracudas. Meanwhile, Bobby C. has been trying to get out of his relationship with his devout Catholic girlfriend, Pauline, who is pregnant with his child. Facing pressure from his family and others to marry her, Bobby asks former priest Frank Jr., if the Pope would grant him dispensation for an abortion. When Frank tells him such a thing would be highly unlikely, Bobby's feelings of desperation increase. Bobby lets Tony borrow his car to help move Stephanie from Bay Ridge to Manhattan, and tries to extract a promise from Tony to call him later that night.
Eventually, the group gets their revenge on the Barracudas, and crash Bobby C's car into their hangout. Tony, Double J, and Joey get out of the car to fight, but Bobby C. takes off when a gang member tries to attack him in the car. When the group visit Gus in the hospital, they are angry when he tells them that he may have identified the wrong gang. Later, Tony and Stephanie dance at the competition and end up winning first prize. However, Tony believes that a Puerto Rican couple performed better, and that the judges' decision was racially motivated. He gives the Puerto Rican couple the trophy, and leaves with Stephanie. Once outside in a car, she denigrates their relationship and he tries to rape her. She resists and runs from him.
Tony's friends come to the car along with an intoxicated Annette. Joey says she has agreed to have sex with everyone. Tony tries to lead her away, but is subdued by Double J and Joey, and sullenly leaves with the group in the car. Double J and Joey rape Annette. Bobby C. pulls the car over on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for their usual cable-climbing antics. Instead of abstaining as usual, Bobby performs stunts more recklessly than the rest of the gang. Realizing that he is acting recklessly, Tony tries to get him to come down. Bobby's strong sense of despair, the situation with Pauline, and Tony's broken promise to call him earlier that day all lead to a suicidal tirade about Tony's lack of caring before Bobby slips and falls to his death in the water below.
Disgusted and disillusioned by his friends, his family, and his life, Tony spends the rest of the night riding the subway into Manhattan. Morning has dawned by the time he appears at Stephanie's apartment. He apologizes for his bad behavior, telling her that he plans to relocate from Brooklyn to Manhattan to try and start a new life. Tony and Stephanie salvage their relationship and agree to be friends.
Donna Pescow was almost considered "too pretty" for the role of Annette. She corrected this matter by putting on 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and relearning her native Brooklyn accent, which she had overcome while studying drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After production ended, she quickly lost the weight she had gained for the role.
John Travolta's mother Helen and sister Ann both appeared in minor roles in the beginning of the film. Travolta's sister is the pizzeria waitress who serves him the pizza slices (and delivers the first dialogue), and his mother plays the woman to whom he sells the can of paint (after being late).
John G. Avildsen was signed to direct but was fired three weeks prior to principal photography over a script dispute with producer Robert Stigwood. Despite this, Travolta's character has a Rocky poster in his room, a film directed by Avildsen.
According to the DVD commentary for Saturday Night Fever, the producers intended to use the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs in the rehearsal scene between Tony and Annette in the dance studio, and choreographed their dance moves to the song. However, representatives for Scaggs' label, Columbia Records, refused to grant legal clearance for it, as they wanted to pursue another disco movie project, which never materialized. Composer David Shire, who scored the film, had to in turn write a song to match the dance steps demonstrated in the scene and eliminate the need for future legal hassles. However, this track does not appear on the movie's soundtrack.
The song "K-Jee" was used during the dance contest with the Puerto Rican couple that competed against Tony and Stephanie. Some VHS cassettes used a more traditional Latin-style song instead. The DVD restores the original recording.
Two theatrical versions of the film were released: the original R-rated version and an edited PG-rated version. (The PG-rated re-issue was in 1979; the middle-ground PG-13 rating was not created until 1984.)
The R-rated version released in 1977 represented the movie's first run, and totaled 118 minutes.
After the success of the first run, in 1979, the film's content was re-edited into a toned down, PG-rated version and re-released during a second run, not only to attract a wider audience, but also to capitalize on attracting the target audience of the teenagers who were not old enough to see the film by themselves, but who made the soundtrack album to the film a monster hit. The R-rated version's profanity, nudity, fight sequence, and a multiple rape scene in a car, were all de-emphasized or removed from the PG version.
Producer Robert Stigwood said in an A&E Documentary of "The Inside Story: Saturday Night Fever", about the PG version:
|“||It doesn't have the power, or the impact, of the original, R-rated edition.||”|
The PG-rated version was 112 minutes. Numerous profanity-filled scenes were replaced with alternate takes of the same scenes, substituting milder language initially intended for the network television cut.
When the film premiered on network television, on ABC in 1980, a new milder version was created to conform with network broadcast standards. To maintain runtime, a few deleted scenes were restored (including Tony dancing with Doreen to "Disco Duck", Tony running his finger along the cables of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, and Tony's father getting his job back). The last two deleted scenes were included in the 2017 director's cut.
When Saturday Night Fever premiered on HBO in 1980, HBO aired both versions of the film: the PG version during the day, and the R version during the evening (HBO had a programming rule of only showing R-rated films during the evening. This was before switching to a 24-hour-a-day operation, while still under their old broadcast standards concerning R-rated films). The premiere of the R-rated edition occurred at midnight on January 1, 1980.
In 2017 the director's cut (122 minutes) premiered at the TCM Festival at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Fathom Events will host special screenings of this version in 2017. This version was released on Blu-Ray & DVD in May.
Both theatrical versions were released on VHS. The PG-rated version never had a Home Video Release on Laserdisc. The R-rated special-edition DVD release includes most of the deleted scenes present on the PG version. The DVD release also includes a director's commentary and "Behind the Music" highlights. Starting in the late 1990s VH1, TBS, and TNT started showing the original R-rated version with a TV-14 rating. The nudity was removed/censored, and the stronger profanity was either edited or (on recent airings) silenced. But this TV edit included some of the innuendos from the original film that were edited or removed from the PG version. Turner Classic Movies has aired the film in both versions (the R-rated version is commonly seen on their normal lineup, while the PG version has appeared on TCM's "Funday Night at the Movies" and "Essentials Jr." program blocks.)
The network television version (which premiered on November 16, 1980, on ABC) was basically a slightly shortened form of the PG-rated version, but contained several minutes of out-takes normally excised from both theatrical releases to make up for lost/cut material. It is among the longest cuts of the film.
On May 5, 2009, Paramount released Saturday Night Fever on Blu-ray Disc in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This release retains the R-rated version of the film along with many special features new to home media.
The 4K director's cut (122 minutes) was released on Blu-Ray on May 2, 2017. This disc includes both the director's cut and the original theatrical version, as well as the bulk of the bonus features from the prior release.
Saturday Night Fever received positive reviews and is regarded by many critics as one of the best films of 1977. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 86% based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s." At Metacritic the film has a score of 77 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". It was added to The New York Times "Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made", which was published in 2004. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Film critic Gene Siskel, who would later list this as his favorite movie, praised the film: "One minute into Saturday Night Fever you know this picture is onto something, that it knows what it's talking about." He also praised John Travolta's energetic performance: "Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy." Siskel even bought Travolta's famous white suit from the film at a charity auction.
Film critic Pauline Kael wrote a gushing review of the film in The New Yorker: "The way Saturday Night Fever has been directed and shot, we feel the languorous pull of the discotheque, and the gaudiness is transformed. These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed...Travolta gets so far inside the role he seems incapable of a false note; even the Brooklyn accent sounds unerring...At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you'd like to be. Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary."
American Film Institute Lists
On April 17, 2012, Fox aired series Glee's episode 16, "Saturday Night Glee-ver", which pays tribute to the film and features various songs from its soundtrack (especially the songs performed by the Bee Gees), covered by the series' cast.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers 2016 music video for their song "Go Robot" is heavily inspired by the film and recreates the opening scene and classic characters from the film who are portrayed by each band member.