Grease (1978)


Anguish - thy name is Grease
Anguish - thy name is Grease

Genre: Musical Romance

Starring: John Travolta (Pulp FictionBattlefield Earth), Olivia Newton-John (XanaduLet's Get Physical)

Directed By: Randal Kleiser (Big Top Pee-weeFlight of the Navigator)

Overview: After a 1958 summer of love, Sandy and Danny split up only to learn that they are both attending the same high-school. When Danny’s runs into Sandy with his gang watching closely, he plays it all too cool. He spends the rest of his time trying to get with the woman he loves.

You all know that Squish hates Musicals, and when he needs to punish himself for some ill, like not being outside exercising on a beautiful day or having too big a stack of unwatched garage-sale DVDs staring at him from the “watch me once” shelf, he looks to a Musical to set him back on his path to righteousness. Musicals – they’re like hairshirts.

After a short intro telling me that Grease was the highest grossing movie Musical of all time, we jump into the beach-strolling arms of Sandy and Danny. They’re spending their last day together before she has to go back to Australia. Next we watch the worst the 70s has to offer in the way of animated credit sequences as we listen to the title song, "Grease". We meet the T-Birds gang of greasers, led by Danny Zuko (John Travolta, as I imagine he would choose to look like in Heaven). We are introduced to the Pink Ladies gang, a bunch of greaser-chicks led by the high school’s loosest-legged-lass Betty Rizzo (Stockard Channing). Enter the newest student on her first day of school - wouldn’t you know it, the prim and proper Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John)! So far pleased that the first 14 minutes of Grease was song-and-dance free, I settled into that well known classic “Summer Nights”. As I began to recede into the cavern of my mind that is my safe, happy place where people never burst into chicken dances on bleachers, where people extremely concerned with ‘cool’ would never dream of choreographically prancing in public, I was jostled back when I heard a couple of downright perverse lyrics:

Zuko: She swam by me she got a cramp
He ran by me and got me so damp

Too embarassed to tell a girl how he feels, but ponching around flamboyantly with his chums...
Too embarassed to tell a girl how he feels, but poncing around flamboyantly with his chums...

I scrambled for the remote and made sure that I had actually heard such brazen perversion. Wow. Suddenly my expectations of what I was subjecting myself to grew - that is, until the unoriginal plot wrapped around a terrible premise reared its ugly head: when Danny finds out that Sandy is a student at his school he’s ecstatic, but his gang expects him to be tough around the dames, so Danny acts like a douche in front of his crew, acting like she was nothing special and makes it clear that he’s no longer interested. She’s sad but moves on. Danny starts trying to impress her by being more like Sandy’s type – a jock. Enter a string of gags where he tries out for several sports and pulls other stunts to win her back. At least there’s scenes where he’s true to his greaser ways, like fixing up a car the T-Birds name Grease Lightning – that song’s most awesome lyric being "She's a real pussy wagon." Hello! Other subplots include Betty and her loose ways, a big drag race with the rival and awesomer Scorpions gang decked out in a flame bursting, fire-decaled black 1949 Mercury.

Apart from the too obvious overdubbing and random breaking into dance (yeah, I know: "Musical"), there were moments that made me happy, most notably the filthy mouths of our characters. Not being one particularly into musical segments, it’s rewarding filling those pop culture gaps by properly seeing a song I’ve only ever heard out of context. Sandy’s “Hopelessly devoted to you”, Rizzo’s “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and the T-Birds’ “Greased Lighting” songs hurt me, as expected, but I was surprised to find enjoyment in Frankie Avalon’s cameo of “Beauty School Dropout”, and Grease’s big finale “You're the One That I Want” doesn’t disappoint. Grease is fantastical, it's dramatic, it's vibrant and though not quite Busby Berkley class, the cinematography is quite decent. What Grease should pride itself in is having a story that embraces so many elements of 50s nostalgia: The big dance, the Drive-In, drag-racing, a day at the fair, and chicks, lots of chicks hotpants. As Musicals go - for people who hate Musicals - Grease is pretty innocuous, with songs that, if nothing else, allows one the opportunity to pick on individual extras and hate the living Hell out of their histrionic bullsh in the background.

There really *IS* a lot of monkey-knees goin' around.
There really *IS* a lot of monkey-knees goin' around.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (It's Ok. It Slid Out Just Fine)

I couldn’t really wrap my head around how Grease would top The Sound Of Music as the highest grossing Musical film of all time. Well I did an inflation-adjust search I found that I was correct: The Sound of Music is #1. In fact, not counting two Disney animated films, Grease comes in at number 6, beat out by The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. Lies, Damned Lies, and statistics, eh?

Man, I want to be a Scorpion.

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I'm pretty sure the lyric Sandy/Olivia NJ sings is "he swam by me, got my suit damp", as in swimsuit. So not that the sight of Danny in a pair of Speedos causes her knickers to fizz with excitement, rather that he splashed her.

So not as dirty as it sounds, although I agree there are some great lewd lines scattered in the other songs.

Apparently, the original musical score lyrics are more risque than the film: the scene during Greased Lightning where Travolta runs around the workshop with clingfilm and then rubs it over his crotch is apparently an allusion to something to do with condoms from the original musical that the Director didn't want to include and Travolta improvised at the last minute. 

Ah! That's amazing!

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