Reel Classic: Grease



In the summer of 1978, ‘Grease’ was most definitely the word.

The movie of the hit 1971 musical took the world by storm and catapulted its stars to international fame, introducing Australia’s own Olivia Newton-John to the rest of the world in the process.

Set in 1959, Grease followed the ups and downs of the students of Rydell High, from the beginning of senior year right through to the end-of-year carnival. The teens experience all the standard issues, such as friendship, love, sex, alcohol, pregnancy and, of course, the pressure to have an awesome car. All this is set to an unforgettable soundtrack including the songs “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “Greased Lightning”, “Summer Nights”, “You’re The One That I Want”, and so many more.


Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) arrives at Rydell from Australia and becomes a member of ‘The Pink Ladies’, the clique headed up by the always-sassy Rizzo (Stockard Channing). Sandy soon discovers that her holiday fling is none other than Danny Zuko, leader of the ‘T-birds’, a group of ‘greasers’ with a liking for leather jackets, too short pants and air-combing their hair. Their love is initially doomed; Sandy is the good girl with an innocence to protect and Danny Zuko is the bad boy with a reputation to uphold.

Although peppered with American high school clichés, such as the geeks, the jocks, the cheerleaders and the pep rally, Grease cut through quite a few boundaries back in the day. The sexual innuendo throughout is very tame by today’s standards, but in the 70s it could have caused an outrage were it not for quips so subtle, most may have missed it. A strong female character unapologetic about the joys of sex (Rizzo) was also considered groundbreaking at the time.


It is common knowledge that most of the cast were well past the point of being teenagers””Stockard Channing was 33 at the time of filming””and so a more mature cast allowed for these subtleties to occur. The original stage musical was actually much more risqué than the film, which was ironically such a success that later musical productions become closer to that of the Hollywood picture.

For a movie musical that was filmed 37 years ago and set 55 years ago, Grease has proved to have stood the test of time. Iconic scenes such as ‘the sleepover’, ‘the dance-off’, ‘the car race’, ‘the funfair’ and ‘Sandy in those impossibly tight pants’, have all become imprinted into the annals of cinematic history. Although the final message of the film appears to be about getting a man by giving yourself a makeover and smoking a cigarette, most will still proclaim it to be one of the greatest musicals of all time. Go to any family birthday party with a DJ or jukebox and the ‘Grease Megamix’ still has every generation warbling along, believing they sound just like Olivia Newton-John at the end of “Summer Nights”. Yes, this movie is slightly dated, but not in the negative sense; Grease is more akin to a fine wine than a smelly cheese.