Skatetown U.S.A. Blu-ray Review

A bad trip through a 1970s timecapsule 3 Stars

Sony has finally released the long-awaited, much requested (at least here on HTF) skating disco “classic” Skatetown U.S.A. through the studio’s MOD program.

Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)
Released: 01 Oct 1979
Rated: PG
Runtime: 98 min
Director: William A. Levey
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Ron Palillo, Maureen McCormick
Writer(s): Nick Castle (screenplay), William A. Levey (story), Lorin Dreyfuss (story), Nick Castle (story)
Plot: At a roller disco competition, two rivals find themselves becoming good friends while competing for a prize of one thousand dollars in cash.
IMDB rating: 4.7
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: None
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blu-ray keepcase
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/24/2019
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 2.5/5

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, after the success of John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever in 1977, nearly every studio in Hollywood tried to cash in on the disco movie craze, never really understanding what it was that actually made Fever such a success (it wasn’t just the discothèque setting). Movies like Can’t Stop the Music, The Apple, Roller Boogie, Thank God It’s Friday, Xanadu all crashed and burned, more or less, at the box office.

Skatetown U.S.A. is another splashy, colorful bit of nonsense that tried to latch on to not only the disco craze, but roller boogie as well. The film is mostly a string of dance numbers on skates, musical performances by Dave Mason and GQ, and comedy skits hosted by DJ The Wizard (stand-up comic Denny Johnston), all to hang a weak plot about a dance contest (which occurs during the film’s last thirty minutes) and ultimate showdown between gang member Ace (Patrick Swayze, in his debut role) and blonde Valley Guy Stan (Greg Bradford). Ace is the leader of the West Side Wheelers, a roller skating gang whose home turf is the roller disco Skatetown U.S.A., and Frankey (a bearded Ron Palillo) is his second in command. Stan’s skating partner is his sister (!) Susan (Maureen McCormick), and they are “managed” by Richie (Scott Baio). The club is owned by Jimmy (Billy Barty) and managed by his “son” Harvey (special guest star Flip Wilson). The in-house doctor is played by comedian Bill Kirchenbauer, who very likely was allowed to ad-lib most of his performance incorporating his stand-up routine. William E. Levey (better known for such Drive-In schlock as Slumber Party ’57 and The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington) directs the film haphazardly from a screenplay by first-timer Nick Castle (he would go on to write and/or direct Escape From New York, The Last Starfighter, and The Boy Who Could Fly). Look for cameos by such 1960s and 1970s icons Ruth Buzzi, Murray Langston (aka The Unknown Comic), David Landsberg, Sydney Lassick, Joe E. Ross, Judy Landers, and Dorothy Stratten.

Skatetown U.S.A., as a movie, is a disaster, essentially trying to capture a night at what Scott Baio, as manager Richie, describes as “a place of magic!” I can see, though, how the film has become a “cult” classic with its ability to capture the end of the disco craze of the 1970s, plus the fact that the film is just now making its home video debut forty years after its theatrical release.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

As I stated above, Sony’s MOD Blu-ray release is the first time Skatetown U.S.A. has ever been available on any home video format, at least officially. Sony is one of the few studios that takes pride in its catalog when releasing for the home market, regardless of the film’s popularity or quality. That pride in delivering a great looking product shows in this first-ever release. There is some highly noticeable grain during the opening credits (likely due to the heavy use of opticals) that quickly resolves once those credits are over (although it does re-appear later on when opticals are used again). This is a very clean image, free of dirt and scratches, with abundant and well-saturated use of colors (this was 1970s disco, after all). Detail is quite good, at least in the more brightly lit scenes, showing off the grain and scuff marks in the wooden floor, sparkles in The Wizard’s white Afro wig, etc. Detail suffers somewhat in the darker outdoor sequences, likely due to the poor lighting conditions, as does contrast. Fans of the film will be delighted in the care Sony’s technicians took to create this transfer.

Audio: 3/5

Skatetown U.S.A. was released theatrically in optical mono, and Sony has replicated that experience in a nice but by-the-numbers DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. The track, like the picture, is clean with no noticeable pops, hiss, or other anomalies. Fidelity is very good, providing clarity to the music, mayhem, and dialogue. One can imagine, though, what a stereo or 5.1 remix might have sounded like. There are no subtitles or closed captions included.

Special Features: 0/5

This is about as bare-bones as you can get. The disc contains no menu whatsoever, no subtitles, not even a trailer. Pressing the Top Menu button disables the time code display on-screen and returns you to the opening Columbia Pictures logo.

Overall: 3/5

Fans will be delighted, not only with the fact that they can finally own a legitimate copy of the film, but that the transfer of Skatetown U.S.A. was done with care. It’s kind of a shame that there were no extras, but pretty much anyone associated with this film that is still alive would prefer to forget the film (Scott Baio has referred to the film as “crapola,” attempting to block it from his memory, and Maureen McCormick blamed the movie for her cocaine relapse in the late 1970s).

Published by

Todd Erwin

editor,member

16 Comments

  1. I got this last week and noticed something very strange— it’s the only Blu-Ray I’ve ever bought that completely blocks you from fast-fowarding or rewinding (at least on my Oppo). You can skip ahead to or back from a chapter stop, but the disc will not let you use the FF or RW function.

  2. Mark Cappelletty

    I got this last week and noticed something very strange— it's the only Blu-Ray I've ever bought that completely blocks you from fast-fowarding or rewinding (at least on my Oppo). You can skip ahead to or back from a chapter stop, but the disc will not let you use the FF or RW function.

    The disc does some wonky things once Top Menu is depressed, depending on the player. As I stated in my review, time code disappears from the on-screen display but otherwise plays just fine on my Sony UBP-X800M2. Some other review sites have indicated various playback issues on Oppo players, but only after pressing the Top Menu button.

  3. JohnRice

    A lot of the text in the Production section of the review seems to have gotten messed up. Just FYI.

    Thanks! Not sure what happened,as it looked correct when I posted it yesterday.

    At least I know that someone is actually reading my review. 🙂

  4. The timing of this release with a certain HGTV show should not have gone unnoticed by anyone. Maureen McCormick was really trying to get away, or should I say roll away, from the role of Marcia Brady with this and the same year's Take Down (distributed by Disney's distributor Buena Vista but not currently owned by them), yet two years later she went right back to it on The Brady Brides.

    Around the same time Greg Bradford was Steve the Delivery Boy on the Facts of Life, Christopher Knight was also trying to break the chains of Brady in another NBC show from Facts' Norman Lear-owned producer T.A.T. Communications Company: Joe's World. It flopped, and he moved onto Another World shortly thereafter.

    This film's release date was also a few months after Disco Demolition Night in Chicago*, which basically put a mark on its back before it was even released, as well as anything else disco-themed that went into production before May 1979. That was the beginning of the end for American popular music, in my opinion.

    There is no doubt Ron Palillo did this after seeing what Saturday Night Fever did for John Travolta, but this can't possibly be worse than Staying Alive. But if Scott Baio said it was "crapola", well, that means nothing if you've seen Zapped, had to endure an episode of Charles in Charge**, or watched in horror as Ted McGinley, the only NO MA'AM member with any sex appeal whatsoever, got the undeserved blame for the decline and fall of Happy Days. Alec Guinness also hated Star Wars.

    *How quick they were to forget how much their parents hated rock 'n' roll and their grandparents hated ragtime. 40 years later, of which I have been alive for 36, all I can say is to be careful what you wish for.
    **The same people who produced another TV pseudo-comedy that same year about a male domestic (one whose cancellation my father actually cheered, and for once I agreed with him) also made Zapped. Another case of who stole from whom. Personally, I'd rather watch Mr. Belvedere, Benson, or Gimme A Break! or their less ripped-from-the-headlines 1990s successor-in-interest The Nanny.

  5. MatthewA

    The timing of this release with a certain HGTV show should not have gone unnoticed by anyone. Maureen McCormick was really trying to get away, or should I say roll away, from the role of Marcia Brady with this and the same year's Take Down (distributed by Disney's distributor Buena Vista as one of its first PG releases but not currently owned by them), yet two years later she went right back to it on The Brady Brides.

    Around the same time Greg Bradford was Steve the Delivery Boy on the Facts of Life, Christopher Knight was also trying to break the chains of Brady in another NBC show from Facts' Norman Lear-owned producer T.A.T. Communications Company: Joe's World. It flopped, and he moved onto Another World shortly thereafter.

    This film's release date was also a few months after Disco Demolition Night in Chicago*, which basically put a mark on its back before it was even released, as well as anything else disco-themed that went into production before May 1979. That was the beginning of the end for American popular music, in my opinion.

    There is no doubt Ron Palillo did this after seeing what Saturday Night Fever did for John Travolta, but this can't possibly be worse than Staying Alive. Or You Light up My Life, which inexplicably beat four infinitely more qualified Best Song Oscar nominees. But if Scott Baio said it was "crapola", well, that means nothing if you've seen Zapped, had to endure an episode of Charles in Charge**, or watched in horror as Ted McGinley, the only NO MA'AM member with any sex appeal whatsoever, got the undeserved blame for the decline and fall of Happy Days post-Ron Howard. Alec Guinness also hated Star Wars, and Disney is now gambling their future on it***. Robert Reed wrote memo after memo criticizing the writing on The Brady Bunch, yet it's still in reruns after 50 years! If Sony thinks they can capitalize on its anniversary indirectly with one of its stars in another role, more power to them. At least it finally got free from the Music Rights Monster.

    *How quick they were to forget how much their parents hated rock 'n' roll and their grandparents hated ragtime. 40 years later, of which I have been alive for 36, all I can say is to be careful what you wish for.
    **The same people who produced another TV pseudo-comedy that same year about a male domestic (one whose long-overdue cancellation my father actually cheered, and for once I agreed with him) also made Zapped. Another case of who stole from whom. Personally, I'd rather watch Mr. Belvedere, Benson, Gimme A Break! or their less ripped-from-the-headlines 1990s successor-in-interest The Nanny.
    ***I wouldn't have minimized the original trilogy characters at Galaxy's Edge.

    First a big thanks to @Todd Erwin For his concise review with a touch of pleasantl sarcasm.

    Another note on the casting of Greg Bradford. Because Greg bore a rather striking resemblance to Mark Hamill (still basking in his Star Wars success), he was referred to, as blogger Bill Gordon put it, “a poor man’s Mark Hamill”. Of course Mark Hamill made far more money from Star Wars than the entire box office take of Skatetown USA. Greg’s resemblance to Mark resulted in a lot of people believing (myself included for a short time) that Mark Hamill was in Skatetown USA confronting a brand new Patrick Swayze and skate dancing in a pink tight shirt (with abs to die for) & white pants to the tune of “Macho Man”.

    View attachment 63613

    Of course we know the truth nowadays but back in that time period (1979) without Wiki or the Internet (which did exist in some form but nothing like today and not accessible to the public ), the truth wasn’t all that easy to find if you missed the opening or closing credits.

  6. MatthewA

    You must have been thinking of Corvette Summer, which Mark Hamill did after the first Star Wars movie. Dusty Springfield did its theme, which could never be mistaken for disco in a million years:

    To be honest at the time I saw Skatetown USA in the Theater (1979-early 1980), I hardly knew anything about Corvette Summer (1978). Didn’t have Wiki or the Internet available back then. So that movie was never any source of confusion about thinking it was Mark Hamill in Skatetown USA. Strictly the resemblance of Greg Bradford to Mark Hamill.

  7. I screened this last night. Visually, the transfer is great. The sound is a mess but I'm sure that's because of funky location sound recording. The movie itself is baffling to me. It's like a Macy's parade of roller skating vaudeville shows. Every time they announced a new one, my interest in the movie dropped like a stone. It certainly was an interesting job of casting. "How about Horshack as a criminal heavy?" "We've got Marsha Brady, not let's get Mrs Kravetz from Bewitched!" "Now that we have a black crossdresser, let's cast his father as a 70 year old midget!" The plot devices like the pills in the pizza and the chicken race on motorized roller skates were dumbfounding. The movie went on too long because of the musical roller skating numbers, but I did come away with a certain fondness for it. I still think Can't Stop The Music is the greatest achievement in this field though.

  8. I like time capsule films like this. This one came out when I was literally like 3 years old but I had a lot of older cousins and I remember them telling me stories about stuff like this (roller boogies, disco, etc.). It's cool seeing this stuff in a more or less almost pristine transfer. The fact that Scott Baio, Maureen McCormick, Patrick Swayze and Billy Barty are in it just makes it cooler. Thanks for the review. Hopefully no one takes this the wrong way, because drug addiction is no laughing matter, but I chuckled a bit hearing about Marcia blaming this film on her cocaine relapse. Seems a little harsh to blame a film on something like that.

  9. skylark68

    Hopefully no one takes this the wrong way, because drug addiction is no laughing matter, but I chuckled a bit hearing about Marcia blaming this film on her cocaine relapse. Seems a little harsh to blame a film on something like that.

    I think she may be correct. This film gave her, a not exactly in-demand, not exactly first-rate, former child star a job and a paycheck – probably the first in quite awhile. So now she finally had the money to buy drugs again.

    But she may not have meant it in that way. 😉

    I look forward to purchasing this. Never seen it, but it sounds like a wonderfully goofy trainwreck.

  10. bigshot

    I screened this last night. Visually, the transfer is great. The sound is a mess but I'm sure that's because of funky location sound recording. The movie itself is baffling to me. It's like a Macy's parade of roller skating vaudeville shows. Every time they announced a new one, my interest in the movie dropped like a stone. It certainly was an interesting job of casting. "How about Horshack as a criminal heavy?" "We've got Marsha Brady, not let's get Mrs Kravetz from Bewitched!" "Now that we have a black crossdresser, let's cast his father as a 70 year old midget!" The plot devices like the pills in the pizza and the chicken race on motorized roller skates were dumbfounding. The movie went on too long because of the musical roller skating numbers, but I did come away with a certain fondness for it. I still think Can't Stop The Music is the greatest achievement in this field though.

    Skating vaudeville shows! Sounds like a pretty accurate description of the various roller skating groups featured (“The Fabulous New Horizon”, “The Jerry Nista Skaters”).
    The presentations did have the effect of taking you out of the main plot, what passes for a main plot anyway. Without them, you basically have a hour long sitcom on skates.

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