‘Grease’ is still the word for movie-mu­si­cal fun

Medicine Hat News - - MOVIE REVIEW -

“Grease” al­ways will be time­less, and for a good rea­son.

Now stream­ing on Net­flix and HBO Max, the 1978 screen ver­sion of the hit stage mu­si­cal un­apolo­get­i­cally presents ac­tors who clearly are well beyond their high-school years as ... high-school­ers. The au­di­ence is in on the joke from the start, though, so the Ran­dal Kleiser-di­rected pic­ture’s campy un­der­cur­rent is a huge part of its ap­peal.

John Tra­volta was just com­ing off a gar­gan­tuan suc­cess with “Satur­day Night Fever” when he went back to his prestar­dom roots with this project, which he had done in live theater with a tour­ing com­pany. As cooler-than-cool gang mem­ber Danny Zuko, he lets his guard down dur­ing a sum­mer fling with the vir­tu­ous Sandy (de­picted here as an over­seas ex­change stu­dent to ac­com­mo­date Olivia New­ton-John, a charmer in her first ma­jor film role).

Flash for­ward a bit, and Danny is stunned to find Sandy has trans­ferred to be one of his fel­low pupils at Ry­dell High – where he puts up a cha­rade to try to keep oth­ers from dis­cov­er­ing the softer side he showed with her. Nat­u­rally, she isn’t happy with his turn in at­ti­tude to­ward her, so she aligns with rough-around-the-edges Rizzo (Stockard Chan­ning) and the other Pink Ladies to win him back.

Ad­mit­tedly, this is not the deep­est of plots, but where “Grease” re­ally suc­ceeds is in top­ping that with mas­sive doses of star ap­peal and great mu­sic. Though many of the tunes come from the orig­i­nal ver­sion, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Hope­lessly De­voted to You” were added for the film, as was Frankie Valli’s ti­tle song (writ­ten by Barry Gibb). All were enor­mous hits on the charts, as was “Sum­mer Nights,” from the orig­i­nal stage score.

An­other cast no­table is the late Jeff Con­away, who had un­der­stud­ied (and even­tu­ally starred in) the role of Danny on Broad­way and ap­pears here as pal Kenickie. Didi Conn and Di­nah Manoff also stand out as cou­ple of Pink Ladies, and ow­ing to the nos­tal­gic feel here is a pa­rade of stars from ear­lier eras; Eve Ar­den, Sid Cae­sar, Frankie Avalon and Edd “Kookie” Byrnes are among those who turn up in that vein.

Se­quel-itis be­ing what it is in Hol­ly­wood, a “Grease 2” was at­tempted sev­eral years later, but its most mem­o­rable as­pect was that Michelle Pfeif­fer largely stayed away from singing and danc­ing from then on. The orig­i­nal “Grease” is that kind of movie magic that hap­pens rarely, where a le­gion of fans is will­ing to sus­pend dis­be­lief and just go with what they see and hear. And not only is a new gen­er­a­tion do­ing that, so are long­time fans who are happy to ex­pe­ri­ence the film’s many joys again.

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