For your least-favorite local eatery, the headline “Grease Turns 40” might elicit chuckles of “I TOLD you those bribes to the health inspector would pay off. But for cinema fans, it means the top-grossing movie of 1978 is back in the spotlight.
June 16 marks the 40th anniversary of the nostalgic musical about girl-next-door Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John), greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta, still riding the “Welcome Back, Kotter” and “Saturday Night Fever” popularity wave), Kenickie, Rizzo and the rest of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies of Rydell High.
I’ve loved the film since shortly after its debut (I had already been blown away a few months earlier by a college production of the 1971 stage musical), even though I’d had no personal experience with drag racing, cigarettes, gang membership, summer romances, hickies, pregnancy scares, joining the track team, mooning or televised dance contests. Or being distinguishable from the wallpaper unless I yawned.
Yes, the film has been a pleasure; but it has always been a GUILTY pleasure, even more so with an impressionable teenage son around. I felt a little less solitarily prudish recently when I read a blog saying that a significant number of OTHER fans are troubled that (SPOILER ALERT!) Sandy finds true love only by ultimately transforming into an aggressive sexpot. (Marie Osmond had turned down the role when the script had called for Sandy to be even edgier.)
I mean, our musical heroines had usually been more chaste than that, hadn’t they? Can you imagine the Mother Abbess advising Maria, “Climb every mountain, experience every STD”? Or Nellie Forbush insisting, “I’m gonna wash that DNA evidence right out’a my hair”?
Travolta (who received the inaugural “Variety” Cinema Icon Award at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in May) has been playfully noncommittal about the viral internet rumor that Sandy actually drowned at the beginning of the movie and everything else was just her coma dream.
I am hopelessly devoted to treating the theory as heresy. It would open the door to too many other uncertainties about the “settled science” of our cherished films. Was Hannibal Lecter just a whimsical vegan? Are the Apollo 13 astronauts still up there somewhere? Did Prissy in “Gone With The Wind,” despite her protestations of ignorance about birthing babies, actually operate Midwives R Us? Did Forrest Gump’s friend Jenny actually shout, “Saunter, Forrest, saunter”?
I know the ‘50s weren’t perfect, but “Grease” offers a sort of comfort food for the soul. I would hate to see the movie being rewritten to reflect the world of 2018.
Danny would brag of the hot rod Greased Lightning, “This car is automatic. It’s systematic. It’s hyyyyydromatic. It’s…still about an hour from being fully charged.”
The drive-in scene? Sandy would storm off after Danny let the Uber driver grope her. Instead of declaring, “You can’t just walk out of a drive-in,” Danny would whine, “You can’t just walk out of the Church of Scientology!”
According to USA TODAY, Travolta thinks the characters Danny and Sandy are “the real deal” and are still out there together somewhere in movie land.
Of course, the passing years will have made a difference in their love songs. When Danny sings, “I’ve got chills, they’re multiplyin’/And I’m losin’ control,” instead of passionate necking, there would be an urgent search for adult undergarments and a doctor accepting new Medicare patients.