Saturday Night Fever

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Saturday Night Fever' has become something of a joke, but John Badham's film deserves better than that. Away from the flashing lights of the discotheque, this is dark stuff, littered with racism, violence, date rape and salty dialogue. Lose the dancing, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a Ken Loach movie.

At the heart of all this seediness is John Travolta's Tony. An angry young man in the tradition of '50s melodrama or '60s kitchen sink, he is nasty, dumb, insecure and utterly compelling. Badham shoots him like an icon from frame one - the legendary strut along the Brooklyn street, paint can in hand - so we're hooked on his charisma before he's revealed as a shop assistant in a neighbourhood hardware store.

Throughout the film, loser beats work in counterpoint with movie star moments: the smack on the head from his old man comes right after a sequence in which Tony styles his hair, clad only in skimpy black briefs and his own narcissism.

Travolta is mesmerising in every scene, carrying the film despite some woeful performances from the supporting cast. Naturally, his dancing is etched on the culture's collective consciousness, but it was the dramatic work which earned him an Oscar nomination (criminally, he lost out to Richard Dreyfuss' showy wiseass in The Goodbye Girl).

To borrow from a later Bee Gees hit, the fact that 'Saturday Night Fever' is remembered only for the disco action is a real tragedy.

Only the dancing has dated in this classic, but Travolta's sense of helplessness and despair is easily translated to modern America in this criminally underrated performance. - Empire


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