Written by / 9/10/2013 / No comments / , , , , , , ,

GROOVING THROUGH GREASE

year: 1978 cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway rating: ****1/2
Eddie Deezen, who played Eugene, the hyperactive geek on the outskirts of Rydell High student activity, a campus balancing stupid jocks and wily hoods, phony cheerleaders and sexy tough chicks, described GREASE in a Cult Film Freak interview as “A two month party, the happiest time I ever had on a film… Just magic.” And that sums up the entire movie… a magical masterpiece, indeed. And even while viewing the GREASE SINGALONG there’s so much more than just music and catchy songs...

That's not to say the music isn't extremely important. It's a musical, after all, and each track provides insight and exposition to both the T-Birds, led by John Travolta’s supercool Danny Zuko, and the Pink Ladies, with scene-stealing Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo. Here are two gangs with the same purpose: hang out and, despite being saddled with education, have a good time… But then, like in real life, it takes an outsider/new kid to stir up the pot...
Olivia Newton-John sings outside the slumber party
If there’s one musical “ringer” in the cast, it’s Olivia Newton-John. While Travolta has an effective voice, Olivia is the genuine article, belting out hopeless devotion towards her rebellious boyfriend Danny, who, in her perspective, wasn't always such a leathery lowlife…

The prologue has both Sandy and Danny running on a wave-crashing beach, full of the kind of breezy romance you’d read in a Harlequin novel…
Danny turns from greaser to sap after seeing Sandy
One particular moment, when both characters happen upon each other during a bonfire pep rally, could be Travolta’s best – he lights up seeing Sandy but quickly recoils into his usual James Dean jangle to please his onlooking friends...

While Danny is the heart of the T-Birds, Jeff Conaway’s mechanically inclined Kenickie provides the lungs, and most importantly, the vehicle. How he winds up transforming his dilapidated 1948 Ford Deluxe into a drag-ready hotrod is equally important as Danny’s attempt to, once Sandy hangs out with a jock (Lorenzo Lamas), become an athlete. The montage where Sid Caesar's Coach Calhoun tries Danny out in sports, ranging from wrestling to baseball to track, is a personal favorite.
The tail-end of the scorching one-shot with Jeff Conaway lighting up
In this reviewer's opinion, Randal Kleiser has never received worthy respect as a filmmaker. Yet there are fantastic shots in GREASE... One in particular involves a “telephone game” as Rizzo tells a secret to her gossipy friend Marty, who, in the exterior of the drive-in theater, shares the information which is then transferred through a line of cars – all in one shot without a single cut, a complicated technique that Orson Welles described to Peter Bogdanovich as (in the world of directors) separating the men from the boys.

Now a few words on the SINGALONG, adding lyrics to the screen, which could have easily ruined the entire theatrical experience… but this was no boring font with a ball bouncing over each word. Every tune had it’s own style of animation and, overall, the device of displaying words is surprisingly peripheral, blending in without intrusion or distraction.
Stockard Channing's Rizzo turtlenecks with James Dean in the opening credit sequence
The song that only a few dedicated fans sang along with: With no words on the screen, if you don't count the opening credits... That's right, the MAIN THEME written by Barry Gibb and sung by Frankie Valli...

Combining a glitzy disco beat with a smoothly gliding shuffle, we learn that "Grease is the word" with groove and meaning and, most important of all, "conventionality belongs to yesterday." Not only does this slick anthem begin and finish the movie, the lyrics prepare us for an adventurous romance that, despite being set in the stuffy '50s, has some of the '70s looseness attached: And the incredible animated opening is one of the best curtain draws in cinema history, summarizing the time and the place and the motion in less than four minutes...
Animated Danny Zuko with bed head right before getting the grease
If there was one particular song that didn't live up to the others, it's BEAUTY SCHOOL DROPOUT, Frankie Avalon’s crooning advice to Didi Conn’s lovable airhead Frenchy, whose desire to dump education for the beautician trade evokes a whimsical daydream that, unlike the other tracks, doesn’t really move the story along. But for a distraction it’s not a bad little tune...

Meanwhile, in more important musical sequences, Danny and Sandy sing their own melancholy valentines about each other: Sandy sees Danny’s reflection in a puddle and, later on, Danny's left alone and heartbroken in a drive-in theater...
Olivia Newton-John with a lighting bolt fingered John Travolta
While GREASED LIGHTENING, the rock n' roll number where a dusty garage transforms into a bright white greaser's palace, provides the coolest track, SUMMER NIGHTS, a he said/she said perspective on the romance that started everything… as Sandy and Danny’s friends coax contrasting viewpoints from each participant… really brings the characters together while catapulting the story at hand... “Wella, Wella, Wella…”

And perhaps the most "epic" scene, homage to the popular AMERICAN BANDSTAND hosted by Dick Clark... in this case Edd Byrne's smooth-talking Vince Fontaine... is the dance competition with flowing choreography liken to the Sock Hop sequence in AMERICAN GRAFFITI...
The late Annette Charles as Cha Cha after stealing Danny from Sandy
Sandy and Danny make for a talented couple on the floor… Yet while Sandy’s voice was her strong point, it's Travolta’s stage now… The strutting SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER star steps out with gusto – and when Sandy’s replaced by the girlfriend of the rival gang, the dance goes into overdrive and makes for one helluva boogie.

With all the songs and dancing around, it can be said that GREASE is more suited for girls than boys, or rather, dolls than guys. So a drag race sequence shot at the Los Angeles River injects some much-needed testosterone. This also provides the talented Jeff Conaway with a heartfelt moment... After getting conked on the head he turns the wheel over to Danny, who leads the T-Birds to victory.
The drag race scene filmed in the Los Angeles River
The race is shot simply, if economically, with only a few closeups including the villain’s BEN HUR attempt to slash tires. And afterwards, Sandy realizes what Danny realized before he went against nature to become a jock, leading to a climax that is “electrifying” indeed...

Sandy goes from a stubbornly prudish goody-good to an esthetically slutty vixen, entering the last-day-of-school carnival, dressed to kill… And that she does: A shocked Danny is smitten and the two sing together, finally with each other, and eventually fly off into the sunset...

That’s right, folks, the car is literally able to take flight… something that could have marred a more conventional project but with GREASE, an element of fantasy fits within a story that, through two hours of musical bliss and surprisingly fleshed-out characters spouting memorable (and often poetic) dialogue, just about anything and everything is possible!
T-Birds Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Jeff Conaway and John Travolta
The quotable Eddie Deezen with Barry Pearl, Kelly Ward and Michael Tucci
John Travolta as Danny tries becoming a jock
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
Susan Buckner's usually cheery Patty Simcox isn't smiling
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