Release Date: June 16th, 1978 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Randal Kleiser Actors: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Michael Tucci, Didi Conn, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Sid Caesar
lthough “Grease” is nowhere near as well rounded as the similarly themed “West Side Story” or the technically proficient films of Astaire and Rogers, it’s practically a classic, influencing female audiences of the ‘70s perhaps as much as “Star Wars” overtook the male crowd. It’s a shining example of the pieces outdoing the whole – the set designs, characters, and unforgettable soundtrack are each more impressive than the simple, generic plot. With enough style for several movies and stylish, smooth dance choreography, “Grease” is easily one of the catchiest, snazziest, and most successful of contemporary musicals.
Danny Zuko (John Travolta) is back from a summer of discovering true love at the beach. Upon his return to Rydell High School, he discovers that the girl of his dreams, Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John), a prim and proper blonde Australian, didn’t return home as she planned, and is now attending the same school. The problem is that he’s the leader of a hip gang called the T-Birds, and it’s important for his image that he doesn’t openly fall for the innocent and sugary-sweet Sandy. She can’t understand his sudden change of attitude, and reluctantly falls into a group of sassy female rebels dubbed the Pink Ladies. A romance is waiting to be rekindled, but who will be the one to give in to their feelings?
Set back in the ‘50s, when school gangs were more believably sarcastic, wisecracking, leather-clad, slick-haired, switchblade-and-water-pistol-carrying, song-and-dance pranksters, “Grease” boasts outstanding musical performances that transcend the ludicrous notion of spontaneous singing and dancing. It certainly isn’t the easiest form of escapism to accept. Despite near-caricature performances, the “Ben-Hur” styled Thunder Road race climax, and the lengthy dance competition that decidedly do not strike chords of realism (even amongst the lighthearted relationships defined in the film), the pure enthusiasm displayed from every actor screams of entertainment value. Everyone has a kick in their step and a rhythm to their groovy movements that perpetually exude coolness.
And, of course, the principal pleasure in “Grease” comes from the music – considering every single song is recognizable, memorable, and beautifully in tune with the film. It’s hardly about the tried-and-true love story formula, or covering the many highs and lows of adolescence (with a surprising amount of sexual innuendo). Conforming to high school cliques, facing peer pressure, donning current fashions, and managing relationships are elements cleverly stirred into an upbeat, rhapsodic, and wacky musical number. This creative presentation works especially well because of a perfect cast; even though Travolta and Newton-John were the centerpieces, the supporting players (including Stockard Channing as the scheming Rizzo and Didi Conn as the air-headed Frenchy) and special guest appearances by Frankie Avalon and Joan Blondell (to name just a few) are all expertly selected and utilized.
– Mike Massie