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Dirty Dancing (1987, Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze)

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Hugely entertaining rites-of-passage movie set in the summer of 1963, when idealistic 17-year-old virgin Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jennifer Grey) arrives with her family – middle-class New York Jewish doctor Jake (Jerry Orbach), mother Marjorie (Kelly Bishop), and younger sister Lisa (Jane Bucker) – to spend a holiday at a Jewish resort in the Catskill Mountains run by Max Kellerman (Jack Weston). Frances is uninterested in the family games and dancing lessons on offer and resists her parents’ attempt to pair her off with Kellerman’s grandson Neil (Lonny Price). Instead, she stumbles on a staff party and meets the hotel’s resident dance teacher Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze).

Johnny’s partner Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes), discovers she is pregnant by Ivy League medical student Robbie Gould (Max Cantor) who is working at the hotel as a waiter for the summer. When Robbie refuses to help with an abortion for Penny, Frances borrows $250 from her father and, because Penny will miss an important dance show at one of the big hotels, Frances has to learn the routine with Johnny. Their partnership is a success.

Meanwhile Jake Houseman mistakenly believes Johnny is the father of Penny’s child and is horrified when he learns Frances has been spending time with him. By then, however, she and Johnny have been regularly sleeping together. And Lisa becomes involved with Robbie. Johnny is offered money by Moe Pressman (Garry Goodrow) to give his wife a rather more personal service than simply teaching her to dance. Johnny refuses. Later Lisa finds Robbie in bed with Pressman’s wife. When Pressman’s wallet is stolen while he is playing cards, Johnny is blamed for the theft and Frances is forced to reveal she spent the night with him in order to provide him with an alibi. Although the real thieves are unmasked, Johnny loses his job but he and Frances are spectacularly reunited when they dance together at the End of Season show

Under the strong and stylish direction of Emile Ardolino, Dirty Dancing vividly achieves writer Bergstein’s central intention – that the microcosmic world of the hotel should stand as a metaphor for America in the ’60s – orderly, prosperous and essentially good-intentioned. So when Frances loses both her virginity and her political naivety (when she comes to the hotel she is a liberal activist and intends to make a career in the Peace Corps) the collision between ideals and reality is highly effective.

Bergstein based her characterization of the resort hotel on memories of her own childhood holidays at the famous Grossinger’s hotel in the Catskills. Her screenplay, Ardolino’s direction, evocative production design by David Chapman and superbly-chosen soundtrack songs from the period, combined vividly to recreate the ’60s ambience without falsity or fake nostalgia imposed by hindsight.

Ardolino, making his feature film debut, was an accomplished documentary moviemaker and had won an Academy Award for his short picture He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’. Here he was able to avoid most of the standard coming-of-age cliches. His characters are fresh and believable, the situations are involving, and the key performances excellent. There were excellent supporting performances from Orbach, Rhodes, Weston, Brucker, Bishop and Cantor and Lonny Price who was memorably wimpish and arrogant and Weston’s grandson. The two stars worked together splendidly and the film, which cost only $6 million, was a huge cinema success.

production details
USA | 100 minutes | 1987

Director: Emile Ardolino
Script: Eleanor Bergstein

cast
Jennifer Grey as Frances “Baby” Houseman
Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle
Jerry Orbach as Dr. Jake Houseman
Cynthia Rhodes as Penny Johnson
Jack Weston as Max Kellerman
Jane Brucker as Lisa Houseman
Kelly Bishop as Marjorie Houseman
Lonny Price as Neil Kellerman
Max Cantor as Robbie Gould
Charles ‘Honi’ Coles as Tito Suarez
Neal Jones as Billy Kostecki
Cousin Brucie Morrow as Magician
Wayne Knight as Stan
Paula Trueman as Mrs. Schumacher
Alvin Myerovich as Mr. Schumacher
Miranda Garrison as Vivian Pressman
Garry Goodrow as Moe Pressman
Antone Pagan as Staff Kid
Thomas Cannold as Bus Boy
Heather Lea Gerdes as Dirty Dancer
Jesus Fuentes as Dirty Dancer
M.R. Fletcher as Dirty Dancer
Karen Getz as Dirty Dancer
Andrew Charles Koch as Dirty Dancer
D.A. Pauley as Dirty Dancer
Jennifer Stahl as Dirty Dancer
Dorian Sanchez as Dirty Dancer

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