EDITOR’S NOTE: As we celebrate a week of Mark Lester’s films, let’s go back to June 12, 2019 when we shared this epic of skating.
I’m here to tell you that in my small hometown that the Ellport Roller Rink was the biggest deal when I was seven years old in 1979.
Most Friday nights and plenty of birthday parties were spent there, rolling around the track that seemed huge as a child but was probably impossibly small were I to see it today. That’s why if someone watches 1979’s Roller Boogie they probably will laugh at its charming anachronisms and wonder if this could have ever been the real world. It was. I am here to tell you, on some small level, when I was a chubby seven-year-old, my birthday party was my parent’s approximation of this film. Also: I got a Rodan doll, so I’ll say that that was my best birthday ever.
Roller Boogie concerns Terry Barkley, rich girl classical flutist (this makes the third movie in a row I’ve watched where Linda Blair’s family just ignores her) and Bobby James (real-life roller skating champion Jim Bray), the man who she hires to train her to be a skater. Also, Terry drives perhaps the greatest car I’ve seen in a film, an Excalibur Phaeton. Luckily, IMDB informed me that it’s actually an Excalibur SSK, which ended up being an overpriced, hard to drive kit car cover version of a Mercedes SSK that cost way more than it should have.
They’re from different sides of the track, the rollerskating track that is. Both of their respective sets of friends and family make fun of them for falling in love as they’re obviously not made for one another.
Sadly, Jammers, the club where everyone skates, is about to be sold to the mafia to pay off a debt. This means that a fancy party gets ruined and a bunch of rollerskaters have a massive chase sequence. Then there’s a Boogie Contest before Terry goes to New York to be the queen of the flute and Bobby goes to the Roller Skate Olympics.
This is the kind of movie where a DJ leans into a mic and says, “It’s time to play you some of that new sound.” Where people lift on Venice Beach. Where more time is given to people leaping on their skates over barrels than character development. Where Linda Blair wears skimpy outfits and bikinis in the film that’s amazingly her last studio film, yet she continues to act today. Impossibly, it looks gorgeous, which I contribute to the talent of Dean Cundy, the director of photography whose magic helped make Halloween stand out so much.
Roller Boogie was written by Barry Schneider, who also wrote two movies based on hit songs, Harper Valley P.T.A. and Take This Job and Shove It, as well as Ruby, Deadly Force and Class of 1984. Irwin Yablans, who produced Halloween and Tourist Trap, helped create the story and also produced. And director Mark Lester would go on to helm Class of 1984, Class of 1999, Commando and Firestarter.
This movie was a success at the box office and a sequel — Acapulco Roller Boogie — was proposed before disco died. If you’re still in the mood for roller skating movies, however, I can also recommend Skatetown, U.S.A., which features Scott Baio and Patrick Swayze on wheels with Flip Wilson, Maureen McCormick, Ron Palillo and Ruth Buzzi providing the laughs and the love.
This movie came at a crossroads in Blair’s life. She had to fly to Florida right after filming ending to face cocaine possession charges and thought that this film would remove her from being typecast for intense horror fare. However, the very next year, she’d star in Hell Night.
PS: Becca has an eagle eye for movie locations. Terry’s house was also used in the music video for The Cars’ “Magic” and the movie Blind Date.
You can get it from Olive Films.