Perhaps the oddest of all phenomenon movies, achieving huge box-office success at the time and if anything even greater cult longevity thereafter, first as an exercise in fifties nostalgia for seventies audiences, then as seventies nostalgia for original audiences too young to pick up on the references at the time.
(I expect I was one of many that saw it on its original release and understood not one word of it; I didn't even realise it was set in the past. Among a myriad misreadings of the sexual references I thought the line 'Did she put up a fight?' was 'Did she put up and fight?', asked enthusiastically because boys like fighting).
Almost senseless, in the light of what it has become, to offer objective criticism, but overall it’s surprisingly good, if surprisingly plotless: very energetically directed (by Kleiser, a big favourite of John Waters and the director of that other great relic of my youth, The Blue Lagoon) and well edited.
The cutting between shots during the musical numbers is done with dexterity and judiciousness, and some of the songs are charming. (I don't like them all, simply because I'm not a fan of fifties music, and the three show stoppers – ‘Summer Nights’, ‘You’re the One That I Want’ and ‘Greased Lighting’ - are just too accurate as pastiches; I find the latter in particular near-unendurable.)
The leads are all good to excellent, with Stockard Channing taking top honours in a role few performers might, on the face of it, have seemed less suited for, and John Travolta, much underrated for his unusual ability to combine the functions of dramatic actor and self-mocking song and dance man, while at all times retaining possession of one of the weirdest faces on any man ever, is also very impressive.
Best of all, room is also found for Sid Caesar, Eve Arden and Joan Blondell.