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,Thank God It's Friday

Thank God It's Friday

However it may have been kicked into production gear by the success of John Badham's Saturday Night Fever (1977) and the vogue for disco-themed entertainment off the dance floor as well as on (a passing popular fancy whose perniciousness explains the short-lived ABC-TV sitcom Makin' It), the Casablanca Filmworks release Thank God, It's Friday (1978) is stylistically closer kin to Grand Hotel (1932) or International House (1933) for its crush of disparate and desperate characters convening for one night in a common setting where miscommunication, mischief and mishaps flourish. Made in partnership with Motown Records (which had previously backed the Diana Ross vehicles Lady Sings the Blues [1972], Mahogany [1975] and The Wiz [1978]), the film was a bid to get silver screen time for such clients as The Commodores and Donna Summer, whose seventeen-minute "Love to Love You, Baby" was an early disco smash. Summer's audible approximation of sexual ecstasy within the context of the track earned her the nickname "The First Lady of Love."

Born LaDonna Andrea Gaines on New Year's Eve 1948, the former church singer left the Boston suburb of Dorchester at the age of 18 to join the European tour of Hair. Settling in Munich and marrying an Austrian actor (whose surname Sommer inspired her stage name), Summer enjoyed modest gains with her first album, recorded in the Netherlands. While singing backup for Three Dog Night, she made the acquaintance of Giorgio Moroder, who produced the European version of "Love to Love You, Baby" and was hired by Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart to adapt the song for American ears. Summer had two more successful albums to her credit when she was approached to appear in Thank God, It's Friday and perform the Paul Jabara-penned "Last Dance," which earned both the Golden Globe and Academy Award® for "Best Original Song" after it charted at no. 2 on Billboard's "Top 100."

Made for $2 million and change, Thank God, It's Friday tripled its investment without ever coming close to being the box office juggernaut that Saturday Night Fever had been. Casablanca Filmworks seems to have anticipated its modest returns by keeping expenditures small and putting the production in the hands of untested but energetic talent. Filming took place in Osko Karaghassian's labyrinthine discotheque Osko's in Beverly Hills, which boasted no less than four dance floors. Directing the script by freshman screenwriter Armyan Bernstein was Robert Klane. As a fledgling writer, Klane had sold his first novel a decade earlier while slaving as a Madison Avenue ad man. Klane adapted his second novel for the motion picture Where's Poppa? (1970), directed by Carl Reiner. In the ensuing years, Klane wrote several episodes of M*A*S*H and created a number of TV series that never went beyond the pilot stage; Rosenthal and Jones was a bald-faced reworking of The Odd Couple formula with a Jew and a black man sharing close quarters. (Klane would later direct The Odd Couple's belated sequel, The Odd Couple: Together Again, 1993.)

Armyan "Army" Bernstein (first husband of Kate Capshaw, aka Mrs. Steven Spielberg) was a Chicago native whose next script was set in The Windy City. Francis Ford Coppola changed the setting to Las Vegas when he bought the property, which became the troubled but stylish One from the Heart (1982). Bernstein directed two independent films in the 1980s but is best known as the founder of Beacon Films and as the producer of such blockbusters as The Commitments (1991), Air Force One (1997) and Children of Men (2006).

Surrounding Donna Summer's pivotal but all together brief cameo in Thank God, It's Friday is a supporting cast of jobbing actors and rising stars. Apart from its utility as a music industry footnote, the film marks an early lead performance for actor Jeff Goldblum. Four years out from his debut as "Freak #1" in Michael Winner's Death Wish (1974), Goldblum was notable albeit briefly glimpsed in the ensembles of Robert Altman (Nashville [1975], California Split [1974]), Paul Mazursky (Next Stop, Greenwich Village, 1976) and Woody Allen (Annie Hall, 1977) and had contributed a wry supporting role to Joan Micklin Silver's Between the Lines (1977) which anticipated his breakout performance in Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983). Thank God, It's Friday also provided an early paycheck for Ohio-born, Oklahoma-raised actress Debra Winger, who had previously appeared as the kid sister of Wonder Woman for ABC. Winger's big break was still in the wings, as John Travolta's costar in Urban Cowboy (1980), a role rejected by Sissy Spacek. While a few of the cast of Thank God, It's Friday have gone on to bigger and better things and others (Valerie Landsburg, Chick Vennera and Terri Nunn, who scored hit singles with the New Wave band Berlin) have continued quietly plying their trade, some came to tragic ends. Paul Jabara, who plays the myopic nebbish Carl and took home the "Best Original Song" Oscar® for "Last Dance," died of complications from AIDS in 1992 at the age of 44. Ray Vitte, cast here as DJ Bobby Speed, suffered a string of career disappointments post-Thank God, It's Friday. He had inherited the "Mother" role from Bill Cosby for ABC's failed Mother, Juggs & Speed series and was a regular on the Stephen J. Cannell-produced The Quest, which was cancelled after only four episodes. After suffering what seemed to be a psychotic breakdown that lasted for eleven hours inside his Studio City apartment, Vitte died in police custody on February 20, 1983. He was 33 years old.

Producer: Rob Cohen
Director: Robert Klane
Screenplay: Barry Armyan Bernstein
Cinematography: James Crabe
Film Editing: Richard Halsey
Cast: Valerie Landsburg (Frannie), Terri Nunn (Jeannie), Chick Vennera (Marv Gomez), Donna Summer (Nicole Sims), Ray Vitte (Bobby Speed), Mark Lonow (Dave), Andrea Howard (Sue), Jeff Goldblum (Tony Di Marco), Robin Menken (Maddy), Debra Winger (Jennifer), John Friedrich (Ken), Paul Jabara (Carl), Marya Small (Jackie), Chuck Sacci (Gus Micola), Hilary Beane (Shirley), Otis Day (Floyd), The Commodores (Themselves)

by Richard Harland Smith

Ordinary Girl: The Journey by Donna Sommer and Marc Eliot
"Forgotten Authors: Robert Klane" by Christopher Fowler, The Independent, February 2009
Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell by Robert J. Thompson
"Raymond Vitte, 33, an Actor, Dies After Scuffle With Police," New York Times, February 22, 1983



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