February 14, 2011
Badham's melodramatic, out-dated film was the biggest musical sensation and blockbuster of the late 1970's (from co-producer Robert Stigwood) - adapted by screenwriter Norman Wexler from Nik Cohn's New York Magazine story "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." It features one of the most famous song soundtracks in film history, and was responsible for the Disco Craze phenomenon, launching hot disco clubs (like Studio 54) and the film super-stardom of 19-year old John Travolta, previously best known as one of the Sweathogs of the television sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. The film's soundtrack is the most recognizable, with a slew of high-pitched Bee Gees songs from the Gibbs: "Night Fever," "How Deep is Your Love," "More Than a Woman," "You Should Be Dancin'," and "Stayin' Alive" (which accompanies a memorable opening scene when the working-class protagonist struts down the sidewalk to the lyrics: "Oh, you can tell by the way I walk / I'm a woman's man, no time to talk").
In the classic coming-of-age tale, a conflicted, teenaged Italian-American anti-hero from Brooklyn, Tony Manero (Travolta with the film's sole Oscar nomination) works in a dead-end job as a clerk in a local hardware store and lives at home with his oppressive, verbally-abusive blue-collar family. But after dark, he becomes the dynamic, white polyester-clad stud (with platform shoes, flared pants, and a wide-collared shirt) and undisputed dancing legend of a local nightclub (the 2001 Odyssey), with dancing partner Stephanie (Gorney) for a dance contest. The uneducated macho Manero seeks escape from his desperate plight of a staid home life and unambitious friends by finding recognition on the dance floor. However, his swaggering, troubled character also expresses arrogance, racism, immaturity, obnoxiousness, and misogyny (he sexually abuses and disregards girlfriend Annette (Pescow).
Additional popular songs on the soundtrack included Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" and the Trammps' "Disco Inferno." Unbelievably, the soundtrack was completely ignored by the Academy, causing a critical outcry and leading to the extremely unlikely Oscar win by the next year's inferior disco film Thank God It's Friday (1978)'s for "Last Dance" (sung by Donna Summer). An inferior sequel, director Sylvester Stallone's Staying Alive (1983) also starred Travolta reprising his Tony Manero role.