The Official Site of Gene Siskel The Official Site of Gene Siskel The Official Site of Gene Siskel
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GENE SISKEL'S MOVIE REVIEWS FOR THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Saturday Night Fever
December 16 1977
(Page 1)

There's an apocryphal story in the movie business about the wise old producer who used to applaud at the end of every movie because he knew how hard it was to make even a bad movie. But "Saturday Night Fever," a very good new movie, makes a sucker out of that old producer, because "Saturday Night Fever" makes good moviemaking seem easy.

All that "Saturday Night Fever" contains are flashes of reality and tons of energy. It's the story of a 19-year-old disco dancer, a very fine disco dancer, the very best at his local Brooklyn club. One minute into "Saturday Night Fever" you know this picture is onto something, that it knows what it's talking about.

The film begins with a helicopter view of New York City. Within seconds we're brought into the small business-lined streets of Brooklyn, which look very much like our own Lincoln Avenue, between Diversey Parkway and Foster Avenue. Lots of shops. Suddenly there's John Travolta (Vinnie Barbarino of "Welcome Back, Kotter" TV fame) striding toward the camera. Feet first. Shoes first. He's wearing some pointy-toed mid-calf boots and he's pumping his way down the street.

Travolta stops at a shoe store. He looks at the boots in the window. Travolta holds up his own shoes to the store window as if to compare. His boots are better. And suddenly we know that this kid is into his feet, just as deeply as this movie is into its main character.

The streetwalking, shoe-comparing scene is backed by a strong disco song called, appropriately, "Staying Alive." The title and lyrics make sense because "Saturday Night Fever" isn't just a happy-go-lucky dancing movie. It's very much about a youngster "staying alive" and flirting with violence. Travolta's character, Tony Manero, belongs to a social club, which is nothing more than four guys called the Faces. They will do battle in the film with a Puerto Rican gang.

But the main story of "Saturday Night Fever" is what Manero is going to decide to do with his life. He's through with high school and is now a stock boy in a paint store. The job pays barely enough to keep Tony in boots, tight pants, and rayon-slick shirts.

He lives at home with his working class Italian parents and grandmother. His father has been out of work for seven months, and his mother, a deeply religious woman, lives now only for Tony's older brother, a priest. "She thinks because her son is a priest that's gonna score her some points in heaven," Tony explains. The dialog in this film is as real as that shoe-comparing scene.

So what's Tony going to do? He avoids the issue by living for Saturday night, for the night he gets into his dancing duds and strolls into his local disco as if he were a king. Which is precisely what he is there. Girls fall all over him there. You'd think he was Elvis Presley.

The most enjoyable scenes in "Saturday Night Fever" take place in the club. The way Tony is treated is a bit much, but Travolta's dancing almost justifies it. Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.

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