Review- Grease (1978)

Review- Grease (1978)

Along with most other households in the UK for members of Gen X (the best generation by the way), we had the soundtrack for the film Grease. When the film was finally shown on UK TV I recorded it and watched it fat too much. It was a ‘go to film’ for a time when I was young.

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But this was stopped when I asked my brother’s new girlfriend if she liked the film and soundtrack. She frowned and said ‘It’s a bit tacky…’ This stayed with me. How could I have been into something so lacking in sophistication and tacky?! My love for Grease abruptly ended.

I found myself recently revisiting the film when it was shown on TV again. Would I cringe and snigger whilst wondering how I could have possibly have watched such rubbish as a child? No! I loved it!

For those who have been living under a rock since 1978, the film concerns the holiday romance between Danny Zuko and Australian Sandy Olsson. As Sandy finds that her family are staying on in America rather than returning to Oz she starts at Rydell High School, not knowing that Zuko attends there. She also doesn’t know that he is the leader of a greaser gang known as The T-Birds. This leads to the tough and streetwise Danny she meets rather than the sensitive and caring Danny she knew from her summer holiday. Sandy is taken under the wind of a girl gang known as The Pink Ladies led by the inimitable Rizzo.

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The true star of the show, Rizzo

I love how theres another layer to the wit within the film that completely went over my head when I was a kid. Grease is full of filthy references as the teenagers characters (most of whom look like they’re actually at least 35) are unabashedly full of hormones and lust (except the pure and virginal Sandy). And so we get fantastic ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ gags such as a car door being slammed on Danny’s erection at the drive-in after he tried to get it on with Sandy and the appearance of the cling film during the Greased Lightning sequence.

And then theres the music which is just as steeped in nostalgia and a lost era as the film’s visuals and narrative are. And just like the rest of the film, the songs are just as funny. Possibly the greatest of these is the Beauty School Dropout sequence resplendent with Frankie Avalon. Surreal, hilarious and utterly inspired.

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But there are also poignant musical moments such as Sandy singing Hopelessly Devoted To You and Rizzo’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do. This isn’t a one note movie.

Grease originally started as a stage musical on Broadway  in 1972 and was instrumental in a revival of all things 50’s Americana in the 70’s which continued with American Graffiti and Happy Days. The film imbues the same wistful nostalgia which is gleefully part fact, part fiction as times gone by normally are when viewed through rose-tinted glasses. This doesn’t matter a jot however as Grease is still a fantastic piece of escapism.

In fact, theres very little difference between this and say, John Waters’ Cry Baby which just goes to show what a fantastic era both films draw inspiration from and how close to the bone and risqué they are.

Grease has also been the subject of many different kinds of film analysis. My favourite is the one that sees it as a lesbian text with Sandy being ‘femme’ and Danny being ‘butch’.

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Butch and femme

Grease is a film that was the highest grossing of 1978, with the soundtrack being just as successful when it came to record sales. And it was utterly justified.

Watching Grease after so many years was like being visited by an old friend.

***** out of *****

Review- The Square Ring (1953)

Review- The Square Ring (1953)

A British film from the 50’s about professional boxing. We get to meet those fighters who participate in a one-night event that involves a programme of many fights.

This film is like a snapshot of a long lost era of British filmmaking. We have great characters, a sly sense of humour at play and grit in the way the sport is portrayed as completely corrupt and in turn corrupting.

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The film also shows how truly brutal the sport is. The ending is totally gut-wrenching and completely unexpected.

We also get British film royalty in the guise of legends such as Joan Collins, Joan Sims and Sid James as part of the cast.

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Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Yield to the Night finds the character of Mary Price Hilton shoot her boyfriend’s lover and then spending her time in prison awaiting her execution by hanging. Her story is told in flashback during this stay.

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On the 7th day God created Diana Dors. From her TV appearances on The Two Ronnies (playing the head of a female army who wish to take over and make all men subservient) through to her appearance in the Adam and the Ants video for Prince Charming, Ms Dors was a regular part of my childhood.

I then discovered the TV series of Queenie’s Castle from the 70’s (filmed here in Leeds) which fully exuded Dors’ abilities as a great actress.

Yield to the Night was the only worthwhile foray into film for Diana with subsequent vehicles being a complete waste of her talents. This film is amazing. The flashback sequences which show how a sultry goddess could be driven to murder are fully rounded, believable and achingly painful. As are the sequences in which she is in captivity. Check out the internal monologues we’re privileged to partake in and how she is far from a blonde bimbo. These observations about her plight and her fate are reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s musings in Taxi Driver.

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A strong case is made for the brutality of capital punishment in a ‘civilised’ society and how wrong it is. Thankfully since the film’s release this has now been rectified. You will think of this film when someone comments ‘They should bring back hanging’ in response to a news story.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Review- ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954)

Review- ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954)

A young ex-boxer and a priest team up with the sister of a victim of the local mob to find out who killed her brother and try to stop the mob from unfairly controlling all of the work and wages that should be going to the dockers in the area.

This is one of those films that everyone says is a classic but I hadn’t got round to seeing. All I can say is- the people who say this is a classic are undervaluing the film greatly. I knew as I was watching this that one of my favourite films that I hadn’t even seen for the first time from start to finish yet was unfurling before my very eyes.

Karl Malden, Eve Marie Saint and Lee J Cobb are all remarkable.

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But then theres Marlon Brando. One still of him from this movie, any still of him from this movie is worth a million Monets. The fact that he went into acting and the movies specifically is a wonder. To see his face, his expressions, everything about him in this film projected onto a huge cinema screen reminded me why I love the movies. Flawless.

5 out of 5. A masterpiece.

Review- ‘The Blob’ (1958)

Review- ‘The Blob’ (1958)

***CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!***

I haven’t seen this since I was a kid and I loved it. Would this film still be as enthralling now that I was a world weary and cynical adult?

The film was made in 1958 and concerns a mysterious meteor that crash lands on Earth and releases a gelatinous type living organism that engulfs and eats anyone that gets in its blubberous path.

This film is gorgeous. From the nifty title sequence- tumblr_llg0briFQU1qbhsbe

right through the to the locations used-Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, US: Participants in the 13th annual Blobfest

This film is as 1950’s America as apple pie, Coca-Cola and hamburgers. If Norman Rockwell made a sci-fi film this would be it.

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The film also features the debut performance of a new young actor named Steve McQueen. He does a great job as the all American teen who is inquisitive, plucky but considerate.

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Whilst the movie and its characters could sound like some kind of 1950s propaganda film regarding the wholesome American way of life the film is never cloying or irritating. The characters are quirky, likable and engaging.

You get the impression that was made for the drive ins and indeed it was. When it was originally released it was released as a double bill with I Married a Monster From Outer Space. But The Blob was quickly given a release all of its own as soon distributors felt that the film merited it. It certainly does- yes its shlock horror from the 50s but its one of the best examples of this and aesthetically its beautiful. It also captures perfectly a time in American history that was truly iconic.

The actual blob could be seen to signify the creeping growth of communism which was seen as the number one evil in America at this time. The most obvious signifier of this is that the blob is bright red. Also the way that the organism engulfs and takes over its prey is testament to that line of thought.

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The films ending is also like some kind of wishful thinking- the characters in the film discover that the creatures doesn’t like the cold and so use fire extinguishers containing CO2 to destroy the monster. But the film is left open- there could be a sequel/reappearance of the threat of communism! Be afraid, be very afraid. In fact there was a sequel made called Beware The Blob in 1972 and directed by none other than Larry Hagman.

I wondered about the legacy of this film and if it was well respected in American culture and the medium of film specifically. And then I saw that it was- this is evident because it was released on Blu ray on the prestigious Criterion label in the States. High praise indeed and thoroughly deserved. This film is much more than just a classic movie- its a time capsule.

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