It debuted in 1978, and has grossed more than $340 million worldwide, becoming the biggest grossing movie musical in film history. It still ranks as one of the top ten video titles sold in the United States. What is it about "Grease" that convinced Paramount to re-released it in a spiffy new print (uncut, enhanced color, digital sound) 20 years after its conception?
In the late 1970s John Travolta was hot off the success of "Saturday Night Fever," a film that single-handedly launched the disco phenomenon, and television's "Welcome Back, Kotter." Olivia Newton-John was the Princess of Pop, racking up People's Choice and Billboard's Favorite Performer Awards. They were a golden couple, and their chemistry was electric. She could sing, he could dance, and they could front a lavish musical production with their eyes closed.
The story is simple, easy, and fun. Sandy (Newton-John) and Danny's (Travolta) summer romance suffers disastrous consequences when they find themselves at the same high school, members of polar opposite cliques. She's a Sandra Dee-like good girl, and he's a cool, leather-jacketed slickster. Throughout the film, Danny and Sandy attract and repel, with the help of typical teen roadblocks such as slumber parties, auto shop, and sock hops. The wacky high-schoolers cheerfully hoof their way through perky fare like "Summer Lovin" and "Greased Lightning," all the while searching for a Technicolor happy ending. The supporting cast lists such stellar thespians as Stockard Channing, Eve Arden, and Frankie Avalon, who stars in a dippy dream sequence. Intense studio debate last year centered on the choice of "Grease" or "Saturday Night Fever" for the red-carpet, re-release treatment.
"Saturday Night Fever" is a more complex film, a slice of urban anthropology tackling such issues as date rape, family dysfunction, and the contemporary mating game. But "Grease" has family appeal; witness my teen-age daughters who already have weekend plans to be at the Cineplex on opening day. A nostalgia fix for baby boomers and lots of jingling in the coffers of Paramount Pictures. Looks like a win-win situation.
Rated PG. 1 hour, 50 minutes.
- Jeanne Aufmuth