John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 1 of 3)
Note from the author: This is the first in what hopefully will be an ongoing series of career examinations of actors/filmmakers who have, to put it mildly, a lot of crap on their résumés.
It could be said with a fair degree of accuracy that the patron saint of this website is John Travolta. Given the sheer amount of crap the man has inflicted on us, it’s no shock that he’s represented quite well on the site. Al has taken on Moment by Moment, I’ve poked fun at Staying Alive, Broken Arrow, and The Punisher, and Battlefield Earth has gotten a generous beating.
The fact that the man has been able to stay employed is nothing short of a miracle. Every performer has some items on their résumé that aren’t exactly worth remembering, but our boy Johnny has had not one, but two huge droughts in his career.
And by huge, I mean big enough that even Evel Knievel would look at them and go, “Hell no, I am not going to try and leap that, no matter how much you pay me!”
Before we begin, it should be noted that I haven’t seen all of John Travolta’s movies. Some of them are obscure, some of them simply don’t catch my interest, and some of them you would have to threaten me with severe bodily harm to get me to watch them.
Also, you won’t find any Scientology jokes here. They’re just too played out, and I would prefer not to take shots at the man’s personal life (or anyone’s for that matter)—I’m here for his shitty movies.
With that being said, let’s begin.
Phase I (1975-1981): Good Starts (With One or Two Potholes):
Travolta got started as many young actors do: Small parts in movies and guest shots on TV shows. 1975 was an especially important one for him, as not only did he have a split-second appearance in his first movie, the junky horror classic The Devil’s Rain (hey, any time you have Shatner and Ernest Borgnine sharing scenes together, it’s good, no matter how bad the film is!) but more importantly, he landed a role on the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter as Vinnie Barbarino.
After the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, however, Travolta hit the big time.
In addition to being a landmark for Travolta, as it was his largest role to date and his first collaboration with Brian DePalma, Carrie is also the first film based on a Stephen King novel. Just a side note: if I tried doing an article like this with Stephen King movies, it would be one of the longest things ever written.
Regardless, Carrie is a solid horror flick with good performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Nancy Allen and Travolta are equally good as some of Carrie’s tormentors.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Travolta’s breakout role, this is one of the best films of the ‘70s. A very good script, good performances (thank god Burt Young wasn’t cast as his father!), and the only time disco was ever tolerable.*
[*Your mileage may vary on that one.]
Moment by Moment (1978)
Al did a better job at taking this apart than I ever could, so here’s the link to the recap.
Another smash for Travolta, this is a fun musical that paired him with Olivia Newton-John in one of the big hits of 1978.
Urban Cowboy (1980)
An interesting drama starring Travolta and Debra Winger. This is a bit of a ‘70s relic, actually, as it deals more with an interesting character and how he reacts to the things in his world. Pretty good flick, from what I hear.
Blow Out (1981)
This is a very good thriller from Brian DePalma, that stars Travolta as a sound tech on a low budget movie who accidentally records audio of a murder, and has to find out what happened. Travolta is good, as are Nancy Allen as the woman who helps him, and John Lithgow as the killer. DePalma directs with his usual flair, and the end result is a compelling (if sometimes unpleasant) thriller. Due to the downer ending, it flopped at the box office… a harbinger of things to come.
Phase II (1983-1993): What the Hell Were You Thinking?
This starts a ten year period of bad decisions, making for some memorably bad movies.
Staying Alive (1983)
I think all you need to know about this one is in my recap. Just a hilariously terrible movie.
Two of a Kind (1983)
An exceptionally stupid movie that re-teams Travolta with Olivia Newton-John, in an inane romance that revolves around them having to do something good in order to convince God not to send us a sequel to that whole Great Flood thing. Truly a dire motion picture.
This would be one of the films I mentioned where you would have to threaten me to get me to watch it. I could barely look at the clips on the Siskel and Ebert review I found.