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Saturday Night Fever (1977) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • Nineteen-year-old Brooklyn native Tony Manero lives for Saturday nights at the local disco, where he's king of the club, thanks to his stylish moves on the dance floor. But outside of the club, things don't look so rosy. At home, Tony fights constantly with his father and has to compete with his family's starry-eyed view of his older brother, a priest. Nor can he find satisfaction at his dead-end job at a small paint store. However, things begin to change when he spies Stephanie Mangano in the disco and starts training with her for the club's dance competition. Stephanie dreams of the world beyond Brooklyn, and her plans to move to Manhattan just over the bridge soon change Tony's life forever.

  • The Maneros are typical of many of the working class Italian-American families of their Bay Ridge, Brooklyn neighborhood. Three generations of their family currently live under the same roof. They outwardly abide by their Catholic roots, and as such see oldest son Frank Jr. being a priest as salvation for the family. Everything that housewife Flo does is in the name of God, while Frank Sr. happily collects unemployment and rules what happens in the house when he is not working in construction. Nineteen year old middle offspring Tony seems destined to be stuck in this dead end life, he recently having started working at a paint store in the neighborhood. He hangs out with his Italian childhood friends where acts of machismo dominate. Within this setting, Tony lives solely for today, not having any idea of life outside of Bay Ridge, with the bridges - the Brooklyn Bridge and especially the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge - acting as barriers and symbols to unknown worlds across the water. Part of that living for today is spending all his money on Saturday nights out at the local disco, the 2001 Odyssey, he needing to look and act the part of the king of the dance floor in every aspect. This is the one place where he feels he is in control and where he has respect. Although he is up front with her about not being attracted to her, he strings along insecure Annette who does whatever she needs to be with Tony and his friends. Part of the stringing along is agreeing to be Annette's dance partner at 2001's upcoming dance contest, where they would have a good chance of winning. That changes when he spots a new girl at 2001, twenty year old Stephanie Mangano, who he sees not only as being the best dancer he's seen at the club in a long time, but also someone exotic as she has aspirations of life away from the neighborhood despite being in many ways typical of a Bay Ridge girl. Although she has no interest in him romantically, she does agree to be his dance partner at the contest. Issues with his family, with his friends and with Stephanie up to and including at the dance contest show Tony what his life is all about, something that he had never really thought about before.

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  • Tony Manero is an uneducated, immature Brooklyn teenager. The highlight of his week is going to the local disco, where he is the king of the dance floor. He lives with his abusive, overbearing parents, and works at a dead-end job at a small paint store. Tony meets Stephanie Mangano at the disco and they agree to dance together in a competition. Stephanie resists Tony's attempts to romance her, as she aspires to greater things; she is moving across the river to Manhattan. Gradually, Tony also becomes disillusioned with the life he is leading and he and Stephanie decide to help each other to start afresh.

  • Anxious about his future after high school, a 19 year old Italian American from Brooklyn tries to escape the harsh reality of his bleak family life by dominating the dance floor at the local disco.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In the opening scene, we are introduced to Anthony "Tony" Manero (John Travolta), a 19-year old Italian American living in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City. He swaggers through Bay Ridge on his way to work at a local hardware store. His boss, Dan Fusco (Sam Coppola), likes that Tony charms customers, but he refuses the young man's request for an advance.

    At home, Tony lives with his parents; his alcoholic, abusive and unemployed father Frank Sr. (Val Bisoglio), his uneducated and overbearing mother Flo (Julie Bovasso), his non-English speaking Grandmother (Nina Hansen) and his younger sister Linda (Lisa Peluso). Tony primps to go out that Friday evening and then rushes through dinner with his family, all of whom compare him unfavorably to his older brother, Frank, Jr., a Catholic priest.

    After dinner, Tony meets outside his house with four close friends that he goes out every Friday night. His friends are Joey (Joseph Cali); Double J (Paul Pape); Gus (Bruce Ornstein); and the diminutive Bobby C. (Barry Miller). Another informal member of their group is Annette (Donna Pescow), a neighborhood girl who longs for a more permanent and physical relationship with Tony. They all drive in Bobby C.'s car to the 2001 Odyssey discotheque.

    Crowded and pulsing with music, the Odyssey is where Tony and his friends spend their weekends and their paychecks. Annette, who is a frequent regular at the disco, asks Tony to dance, but he squashes her romantic notions. Later, Tony notices a new girl, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney) on the dance floor. He retreats to the bar/lounge area in the club where Annette joins him, suggesting they be partners for the club's upcoming dance competition. Tony makes it clear they will need to practice often, and the partnership is strictly about dancing, not dating. Joey interrupts because he wants Tony to get Double J. out of the car, where he is having sex with a girl whose name he does not know.

    (Note: One plot device in the story is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects from Long Island to Staten Island, on which the friends ritually stop to clown around, but is particularly symbolic to Tony as an escape to a better life on the other side, in more suburban Staten Island.)

    The next Saturday morning, the five young men express their cynical views of the future, but Tony learns Fusco has given him a raise. That night, Tony's abusive father dismisses the pay increase and Tony angrily points out that the raise and the attention he gets for his dancing are the only positive acknowledgments he has ever received.

    Later that evening, Tony meets Annette at a dance studio and she offers to make love with him, but Tony again insists the relationship remain platonic. When Tony notices Stephanie practicing in another room, he chases off Annette, but Stephanie is cool toward him. Returning home, Tony finds his family somber as Frank, Jr., the priest, has returned to announce that he is leaving the church.

    The next day, Tony is energized and invites Stephanie for coffee at a local diner. She tells him she is not interested in him romantically, pointing out their six-month age difference (she is the older one at age 20) and the cultural superiority she feels because she works in New York City at a public relations firm. She agrees to be Tony's partner in the dance competition, but will not date him because he is immature and his life is going nowhere. Tony tells her that he wants to find other ways to experience the high he feels from dancing because the thrill will not last forever.

    Later, Tony's friends inform him that Gus is in the hospital after being beaten by a Hispanic gang, the Barracudas. Bobby C. announces that he is getting married, but Tony dismisses the idea. He later informs Annette that he has found another dance partner for the competition.

    At the rehearsal studio, Tony and Stephanie begin to click, but when Stephanie again declines Tony's invitation to coffee, he deems her pretentious. When Tony presses to know why they never discuss the romantic feelings that emerge from their dancing, Stephanie says he should have seduced without asking permission first.

    Another evening or two later, Tony and his friends bring Frank, Jr., to the discotheque. While Bobby C. confides to Frank, Jr. that his girlfriend is pregnant, Tony dances solo (to the showstopping tune of the Bee Gee's 'You Should Be Dancing') and the crowd clears the floor in appreciation. Frank, Jr., is impressed by his brother's talent. Afterward, Tony is annoyed to learn from the doorman that Stephanie has not arrived. Annette corners Tony and suggests they can be lovers now that they are not dance partners, but Tony dismisses the idea until she threatens to have sex with one of his friends, instead. Tony escorts Annette to Bobby's car, but their revelry is cut short when he discovers she is not using birth control.

    A little later, the boys and Annette drive to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Tony, Joey, and Double J. climb the support cables and pretend to fall, frightening Annette.

    In the morning, a car arrives to take Frank, Jr. to a settlement house until he figures out his next move. He counsels Tony to pursue his dream of dancing and not let the family limit his dreams.

    Later, at the studio, Tony chides Stephanie for not going to the discotheque the previous night. After rehearsing, they join Tony's friends for burgers and the boys' rowdy behavior embarrasses Tony. Bobby C. hypothetically asks Stephanie what she would do if she was his pregnant girlfriend, and she says she would choose an abortion over marriage. Her opinion moves the Catholic Bobby C. the wrong way.

    The next day, Tony's boss refuses the boy's request for the day off, and when Tony takes the day off anyway, he is fired. Tony borrows Bobby C.'s car and promises to call his friend later. Tony drives to nearby Manhattan and helps Stephanie move into her new New York City townhouse. An older man, named Jay Langhart, is moving out. He kisses Stephanie and tells her to keep the furniture since she picked it out. Alone with Stephanie, Tony asks what is going on and she confesses to having an affair with Jay to boost her career. Upset, Stephanie asks Tony to take her back to Bay Ridge, but Tony instead takes her to Shore Park, where he comforts her and demonstrates his extensive knowledge of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

    Afterward, Tony returns to the hardware store and Fusco reluctantly gives him back his job, promising the boy a prosperous future. However, Tony observes the men who have worked there for years and is unnerved. Later, Tony finds Stephanie dancing with Pete, the owner of the studio, and leaves, enraged.

    Outside the 2001 Odyssey, Annette shows Tony a handful of condoms, but he walks away and Annette is crushed.

    Tony, Bobby C., Double J., and Joey stake out the Barracudas hideout, and Bobby C. tries to tell Tony he has decided to marry pregnant Pauline. Double J. grabs the wheel of Bobby C.'s car and crashes into the clubhouse. A fight ensues with the Barracudas and although Bobby C. hides in the car, he is attacked. Bobby C. puts the car in reverse and drives away. Tony is badly beaten, but Double J. and Joey drag him outside just as Bobby C. returns; however, his friends are angry he left. Tony and the others visit Gus in the hospital only to learn that he is not sure if the Barracudas beat him after all, and that they may have targeted the wrong gang.

    The following evening, cleaned up from the fight, the friends return to the discotheque for the dance competition. An African American couple takes the floor and is treated rudely by the racist audience. Meanwhile, Annette asks Joey for amphetamines. Tony and Stephanie perform the hustle (to the tune of the Bee Gee's 'More Than A Woman'), during which they share a kiss, and the crowd roars its approval. Next, a Puerto Rican couple dances extremely well with a Mambo dance, impressing Tony and most of the crowd, but there are scattered jeers. The judges award first place to Tony and Stephanie, followed by the Puerto Ricans. However, Tony is convinced the other couple deserved to win and he accuses his friends of hypocrisy and racism. Tony gives the trophy and prize money to the other Hispanic couple and takes Stephanie outside to Bobby C.'s car. She rebuffs his sexual advances and they argue. Tony tries to force himself on her and she flees.

    Double J., Joey, Bobby C. and an intoxicated Annette join Tony in the car. As they drive around Bay Ridge, Joey has sex with Annette in the backseat. Double J switches places with Joey and when Annette realizes that Tony is not going to stop his friends, she begins to cry. At the bridge, Joey and Double J. begin climbing on the support beams as Bobby C. watches. In the car, Tony asks Annette if she really wanted to be treated this way. Intoxicated, Bobby C. joins Joey and Double J. on the beams and Tony tries to talk him down, but Bobby C. rebukes Tony for failing to call him the day of Stephanie's move. Then Bobby C. slips and falls to his death. On the shore near the bridge, the police interrogate the friends.

    Alienated with his friends and life in general, Tony leaves on foot and rides the subway until morning. In New York City, Tony visits Stephanie's new apartment. Through the door, he apologizes and she reluctantly invites him in. Tony announces that he is not going back to Bay Ridge and that he intends to get a job in the city. Stephanie is wary, but confesses she enjoyed Tony's admiration and respect. They agree to be friends. They share a warm embrace as the film comes to an end.

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