Catching the ‘Fever’ with Travolta and The Bee Gees

By Judy Berman


That swagger. Those dance moves. John Travolta, as Tony Manero, turned heads and captivated an audience from the opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever” (1977).

The film brings back memories of the disco era and the music of The Bee Gees. Even today, 35 years later, any of their hit songs from the soundtrack – “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” – make me yearn for a return of mirror balls, strobe lights and bad suits made of polyester.

I’m not even a disco fan. But I loved the dance music in that movie. There’s no way I could hit the high notes that Barry Gibb did in his falsetto voice. In my mind, I came a little closer to imitating his brother Robin’s vibrato.

Their music and the movie spoke to a time many can relate to. Many guys like Tony worked dead-end jobs during the week. But, on the weekend, Tony owned the dance floor. Others would step aside just to watch his skillful, stylish moves.

Movie critic Gene Siskel praised Travolta’s energetic performance: “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.”

Tony lives for the moment. He’s on top of his game when he’s dancing. Outside the Brooklyn disco, life is less satisfying. He bickers constantly with his parents, and he becomes disenchanted with his job and his friends.

Tony decides to enter a dance competition. He ditches his partner, Annette (played by Donna Pescow), when he sees Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney) dance. She’s not interested in a relationship with him, only in being his partner in the competition – something Tony hasn’t experienced before.

Tony begins to question his views on life thru his talks with Stephanie, who is wiser but not much older, and with his brother, a disillusioned priest. He begins to see that there is more to life than his appearances at the local nightclub, 2001 Odyssey.

Stephanie and Tony win the dance contest. But Tony feels the outcome was rigged. He believes the Puerto Rican couple performed better and suspects the judges rejected them out of racial bias. Tony hands them the prize. Outside, he and Stephanie fight. She runs away from him, and he gets in more skirmishes with his friends.

When the “Night Fever” had passed, Tony recognized that Stephanie was “More Than a Woman.” She wasn’t just another conquest. She could occupy a spot that no other girl had filled: She could be his friend.

After spending the night on the subway, Tony went to Stephanie’s apartment and apologized. She agreed to be friends with him.

It’s a bittersweet moment.

This movie and the creators of the soundtrack make me feel like I’ve got the moves like Travolta. I wish the dancing would never end, but, like Tony, we all had to move on.

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* Photo: The Bee Gees performing in 1968 (from left to right: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb)

* Photo: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Gorney (Stephanie) in “Saturday Night Fever”

* music video: The Bee Gees performing “Night Fever”

* music video: John Travolta’s ritual preparing for dance, then dancing

* music video: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Lynn Gorney (as Stephanie) to “More Than a Woman”