“Saturday Night Fever”, a sparkling 1970s vintage piece on the big screen which transcends generations with its heart-pounding soundtrack, dramatic disco dance scenes and timeless coming-of-age story, had its world premiere on this day in history, December 14, 1977.
The film debuted at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles before enjoying national distribution two days later.
“Well cast, well acted and well directed, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ received positive reviews from many critics, including the late Gene Siskel, who called it his favorite movie of all time,” writes History. com.
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“But whatever its other cinematic merits, even the film’s staunchest supporters would agree that it was the heart-pounding disco soundtrack of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ that made it a work of enduring historical significance.”
The film opens with one of the great “A star is born“moments in Hollywood history.
John Travolta, Slender, handsome and just 23 years old, with a majestic feathered pompadour, plays king of the nightclubs Tony Manero.
He struts gloriously through the streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyndressed in a red open-necked shirt, black pants and a black leather jacket, to the sound of the soundtrack title “Stayin’ Alive”, during the opening credits.
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“Well you can tell by the way I use my walk / I’m a ladies man no time to talk,” the Bee Gees sing as the heels of Manero’s shoes click on the asphalt and his arms swing to the beat.
“One minute after ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ you know that picture is onto something, that it knows what it’s about,” said Siskel, the acclaimed film critic, elated with the production.
The film opens with one of the great “a star is born” moments in Hollywood history.
“Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts around like crazy.”
Travolta was a goofy sitcom star at the time, known for his role as Vinnie Barbarino on the hit TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
“Saturday Night Fever” made him an international celebrity.
Manero was an uneducated black sheep son of a struggling working-class Italian-American family who rose to nobility on the dance floor of 2001 Odyssey, a veritable Bay Ridge nightclub.
The infectious soundtrack featured a string of radio hits from KC and the Sunshine Band (“Boogie Shoes”), Broadway star turned disco diva Yvonne Elliman (“If I Can’t Have You”) and historic hit-maker The Trammps (” Disco Hell”).
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The album was carried by a series of classic dance club tunes by Australian actor the Bee Gees, including, in addition to the title track, “Night Fever”, “Jive Talkin'” and “How Deep is Your Love”, among others.
The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, with more than 40 million units sold, according to Billboard.
“Saturday Night Fever,” the film, was the first of a trio of Hollywood hits, backed by dance and best-selling soundtracks, that made Travolta one of the biggest stars of the era.
He was followed in quick succession by his roles as high school bad boy Danny Zuko in “Grease” (1978) and Houston Roughneck Bud Davis in “Urban Cowboy” (1980).
“Saturday Night Fever,” it turns out, was a pop culture sensation that never should have been.
The film was based on an article by British journalist Nik Cohn, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”, which appeared in New York Magazine.
“One minute into ‘Saturday Night Fever’ you know this picture is onto something.” — Gene Siskel
“Vincent was the best dancer in Bay Ridge,” Cohn wrote on June 7, 1976.
“Everyone knew him. When Saturday night rolled around and he walked into 2001 Odyssey, all the other faces automatically stepped back in front of him, cleared space for him to float, right in the center of the dance floor. .”
The scene was recreated, almost down to the dance moves, in the film, with “Vincent” replaced by Travolta’s Manero.
The Briton later admitted he fabricated the whole story after witnessing a fight outside the nightclub one night.
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“My story was a fraud,” Cohn told The New York Times in 1996.
“I had only recently arrived in New York. Far from being immersed in the life of the streets of Brooklyn, I barely knew the place. As for Vincent, the hero of my story, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd’s Bush mod I had known in the 60s, a former King of Goldhawk Road.”
“Saturday Night Fever” was based on a magazine article by British journalist Nik Cohn that turned out to be a fraud.
Despite its manufactured origins, the story has stood the test of time.
“‘Saturday Night Fever’ endured…because its narrative is as flexible as 23-year-old John Travolta was,” Entertainment Weekly wrote in an insightful 1990s retrospective shortly after the fraud was revealed.
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It’s “the story of a working-class palooka who thinks he only has one thing special – his dance – and his struggle to figure out if being a man means using it or transcending it, staying a boy or growing up, behaving like a lover, a thug or a gentleman.”