Cinema has gone through many interesting phases. There was a time where there were two movies about the Lambada. We’ve seen films like Armegeddon and Deep Impact compete to be the number one in showing how the world is going to end. Platoon and Full Metal Jacket competed to be the Vietnam film of the 1980s, and in process kickstarted a whole genre of films about that conflict. Does anybody remember when just about every film was almost put in 3D? However, has there even been any time as interesting as that time that Hollywood tried to cash in on disco and roller skating with the film Skatetown, U.S.A.?
With other roller skating films like the seemingly better known Roller Boogie and XANDAU, that were also trying to cash on this roller-disco fad, Skatetown U.S.A. is the standout. This film, centered around one night at a skate competition is everything you can imagine from a movie of this ilk in 1979. There is a major beef between Ace (Patrick Swayze) and Stan (Greg Bradford). Sure money and prizes are at stake but so is pride amongst the skate community. As you can probably guess, we’re still talking about Skatetown U.S.A. in 2021 because it’s literally a living breathing incubator of pop culture. You want a Halloween connection? Skatetown U.S.A. has it. A Happy Days connection? Skatetown U.S.A. has that as well. How about the fact that this movie introduced the world to the late (but always great) Patrick Swayze. So whether you’ve seen this film, or are being introduced to it for the first time, sit back for some awesome facts about what has been described as “greatest story ever rolled”!
Skatetown U.S.A. was Patrick Swayze’s first film
If you remember this movie for nothing else know that it brought us Patrick Swayze in his first film. In the role of Ace he is cool, calculating and there doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do on a pair of skates. With bravado to burn, Swayze literally acts everybody off the screen, but never seems like he’s a bully doing it. While most actors in their very first movie roles don’t often show a lot of flair, Swayze clearly has the goods. Whether he’s angrily eyeballing Greg Bradford across the skating rink, or performing some move that taps into his dance background, Skatetown U.S.A. is worth watching simply to see him in action. That he would go on to become one of our biggest stars in films like The Outsiders, Dirty Dancing, and Ghost certainly isn’t lost on anybody who first saw him in this film. Lets also not forget that Swayze would also be named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1991.
After Dirty Dancing, Skatetown U.S.A was re-titled Dirty Skating by fans
Dirty Dancing was one of those films that legitimately came out of nowhere to become a mega-hit, and, like Skatetown U.S.A.(to some degree) a piece of pop culture. Released in 1987, Dirty Dancing seemed to tap into the public’s desire for the “simpler times” of the 1960s. As you can guess by the title, the film featured numerous dance numbers, a soundtrack packed with hits by such artists as The Contours and Frankie Valli, and many memorable screen moments. It grossed $214 million worldwide and sold many copies of that thing known (before streaming anyway) as home video. With all of that Swayze saturation it should surprise nobody that many people would start looking back at what the actor had done previously. Pre-internet, it was probably a lot of harder to score a copy of Skatetown U.S.A. than it would be today. However, that seems to be precisely what happened (or fans of Dirty Dancing also caught Skatetown U.S.A. in the theater), but eventually, among the diehards, Skatetown U.S.A. was nicknamed Dirty Skating.
Skatetown U.S.A. was written by Michael Myers (Halloween) actor, Nick Castle
How’s that for a “force” behind the screenplay? Nick Castle, who is more known today for being “The Shape” of Michael Myers in Halloween, is the scribe behind Skatetown U.S.A.. However, don’t just think that that screenplay was a one-off and then Castle never got behind the typewriter again. In fact he would go on to direct The Last Starfighter, The Boy Who Could Fly, Tap, and Dennis the Menace among other films. He would write such screenplays as Lockout, Escape From L.A., and Hook! So while his beginnings with Skatetown U.S.A. might seem more than humble, Castle has actually had a hand in helping shape a lot of the cinematic landscape that is still with us today. The fact that he played such an iconic role in the Halloween franchise and also happened to write Escape from New York right after that, is further proof of the talent that was just bursting as the seams of Skatetown U.S.A..
Skatetown U.S.A. was actually released before Roller Boogie
While Roller Boogie is often looked at as the gold standard as far as “roller-disco” movies go, Skatetown U.S.A. made it to theaters first. Roller Boogie(a tale of good-hearted skaters banding together to keep a rink from being shut down) arrived in theaters on December 21st, 1979. Skatetown U.S.A. hit theaters in October of that same year. Now as awesome as Skatetown U.S.A. is, the box office champ among the two films is clearly Roller Boogie. That skating saga grossed $13 million dollars while Skatetown U.S.A. brought in a haul of $3 million. One could look at those numbers and say that Skatetown U.S.A. just didn’t have the marketing muscle of a studio behind it (Roller Boogie was distributed by United Artists), but that film was released by Columbia Pictures. Perhaps the public just didn’t think they could handle two roller skating films? Maybe when they saw the trailers for both films Roller Boogie looked like the better bet? Whatever the case Swayze went on to be a bigger star than anyone in Roller Boogie, and that probably accounts for why we still talk about both films today.
The cast also includes Scott Baio and comedian Flip Wilson
In the late 1970s Scott Baio was one of the most sought after actors for his work on the seminal TV show Happy Days. Flip Wilson was a popular comedian known for his work on Laugh-In. Yet, not even these two actors could make Skatetown U.S.A. the movie the producers aspired it to be when it was initially released. In fact Baio apparently didn’t want to do this movie. The film’s backers kept raising his price and eventually he relented to play the role of Richie. Now, Baio wasn’t playing the main character, but rather the role of a “skating manager” who encourages the the aforementioned Stan to compete for prizes and glory. Flip Wilson plays Harvey Ross, a man who runs the club and also is part of the underhanded dealings that go on during contests in movies like this. Wilson also plays the character of Mama who just happens to be Harvey’s wife. Yes, you have read that correctly and all of it plays into the insanity and fun that is Skatetown U.S.A..
Dorothy Stratton had a very small role in Skatetown U.S.A.
Yes, the late actress and model appears throughout this film even though her role wouldn’t be described as moving the story along. The interesting thing about Skatetown U.S.A. is that it honestly seems like the movie had a solid bankroll behind it. They were able to toss in some moderate level stars, but beyond that it’s up to the viewer to make sense of it. Honestly, Skatetown U.S.A. is a lot of fun and it’s buoyed by having people like Dorothy Stratten in it. The actress clearly captivated viewers and she seems to be in on the joke that is this film. Whether she’s hearing jokes from an old-time comic (comedian Leonard Barr), or simply moving around the skating rink, the actress always has a clear command of her on screen space. Interestingly, the actress being a Playboy Playmate in 1979 didn’t help how Skatetown U.S.A. fared at the box office. She would go on to do bigger and better (sorry!) films with the likes of Peter Bogdanovich. Sadly, the last film she did was Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed. The actress was tragically killed by her estranged husband which makes her luminous performance in Skatetown U.S.A. all the more special and poignant.
Marcia Brady and Horshack From Welcome Back, Kotter Hook-Up
Skatetown U.S.A. does a lot of things in its breezy runtime, but perhaps the most amazing feat it pulls off is the Brady Bunch Meets Welcome Back, Kotter crossover you probably never knew existed. Trying to break away from her squeaky-clean Marcia Brady image, Maureen McCormick takes on a rare leading role in a motion picture, playing skater Susan, sister to the main hero, who only has eyes for Frankey, Patrick Swayze’s right hand man. Frankey is played by non other than Ron Palillo, best known as Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter. Maureen, wearing hot pants and a tub top for the duration, spends a great deal of the story trying to woo Palillo’s Frankey, which puts Horshack in tough guy garb. This culminates with the pair drugged-up and making out in a convertible towards the big climax of the movie. So if you’ve ever wanted to watch Marcia Brady make out with Horshack, Skatetown U.S.A. offers that opportunity.
Skatetown U.S.A. was released in 1979 but only came to Home Video in 2019
With just about everything coming to home video in some form between 1979 and 2019, doesn’t it seem odd that Skatetown U.S.A.(a film with stars like Patrick Swayze, Scott Baio, and Dorothy Stratten) took so long to come to the small screen? One would think with the myriad offerings of streaming services that some company would’ve brought this film out in some way, right? There doesn’t seem to be a reason why it took so long other than that Sony was just taking their sweet time. Then when it finally came out it didn’t seem to satisfy the fans. People that congregate around a movie like Skatetown U.S.A. don’t just want a DVD or Blu-ray release. They want spectacle. Users want to know that Sony made this release just for them. Well, some people did note that the film looked solid in its small screen form, there were many that were upset by it’s quick release job. For starters, Sony didn’t even take the time to put a menu on this disc. You literally put the disc in and it starts playing. There aren’t any special features or any other extras of note. So… why did it take 40 years to come to home video again?
Patrick Swayze would later re-team with Gary Hudson in Road House
Who would have thought that after Hudson had a very minor part in Skatetown U.S.A., that he and Patrick Swayze would re-team (sort of) ten years later in Road House. Remember the guy Steve that Dalton catches having carnal relations with a lady the closet of the establishment? Well, that actor is none other that Gary Hudson. While I would hardly say that Swayze and Hudson were co-stars together in this film, it is pretty interesting that they both did such a seminal skating film as Skatetown U.S.A.. Why? Well, I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think that Road House is much more than a cult classic. The film elicits something in viewers that is quite similar to how people feel about Skatetown U.S.A.. Yes, Road House is more well known but both fan bases are equally as vociferous. Lastly, how awesome is it that Patrick Swayze essentially carries both films!
Skatetown U.S.A. still has a relevant soundtrack
Maybe all the songs didn’t come out on the soundtrack that was released in physical form, but in the film itself the music that was used is nothing short of prescient. With groups like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Jacksons, and Anita Ward (not to mention acts that appeared on-screen like Dave Mason), this soundtrack is clearly one for the ages. When you consider that Skatetown U.S.A. was in many ways a forgotten film, one can only really look at this soundtrack (and by proxy this film) as a succes d’estime. Factor in all the talent that was involved in this movie (both in front and behind the camera), and it soon becomes clear that Skatetown U.S.A. is actually a very important film. Sure, it might not be up there with Rollerball and Whip It that got more attention but that isn’t really the point. This movie captured something special. With it’s look, feel, and impossible to ignore soundtrack, Skatetown U.S.A. is still being talked about today. People are still interested in it over 40 years later. If that isn’t a sign of a movie that is special than what is?