I don’t normally blog two days in a row, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity to write about one of my favorite “bad” movies, Roller Boogie, made in 1979. I love the roller disco films, and own the trilogy–Roller Boogie (1979), Skatetown, USA (1979), and Xanadu (1980). These movies are national treasures and are very much a product of the time in which they were produced. Unfortunately, I was born too late for the roller disco fad, so I live vicariously through these movies. Roller Boogie is a particular favorite of mine. Yes, it’s considered bad; but compared to things that people consider “good” or “masterpieces,” e.g. Apocalypse Now, give me Roller Boogie any day of the week!
TERRY BARKLEY: If I’m old enough to be on my own; then, I’m old enough to make my own decisions. I do not want to play the flute. I do not want to go to Juilliard. I do not want to be paired off with Franklin Potter. He is a lecherous jackass! And I never want to hear another string quartet again in my life!
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, now that we know what you don’t want, what is it that you do?
TERRY BARKLEY: Now, I want to win a Roller Boogie contest down at the beach.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: A Roller Boogie contest?Linda Blair as Theresa “Terry” Barkley and Beverly Garland as Lillian Barkley in “Roller Boogie” (1979)
And with that conversation, we have the basic premise of this film. Terry Barkley (Linda Blair) is a young woman whose parents dream of her using her musical talent to pursue a flautist scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard. We’ll overlook the fact that when Terry is seen playing the flute that she doesn’t appear to be very good. We’ll take Roller Boogie‘s word for it that she’s gifted. The point is, Terry doesn’t want to play the flute. She doesn’t want her college paid for. She wants to give all that up for a Roller Boogie contest that will be over before school starts. But that doesn’t even matter. TERRY WON’T BE CONTROLLED. SHE WILL BE A ROLLER BOOGIE CHAMPION.
The fly in the ointment however, is that the skating club, Jammer’s (which holds the annual Roller Boogie competition), is threatened by LA mobsters who want the land that the club is sitting on. They use some rough tactics to harass the proprietor, Jammer, into shutting down the club. Without Jammer’s, how will Terry become a roller boogie champion?
Much of rest of the plot involves Terry, her beau, Bobby (Jim Bray, who might be one of the worst actors I have ever seen) who has Olympic aspirations (last I checked, there was no roller skating event, but whatever), and the other skaters trying to band together to save Jammer’s. The mob of course, is there to try and thwart the skaters’ attempts at interfering with their plans. However, these are the most ineffective mobsters ever. They are forced to flee an altercation with the skaters when the skaters start throwing produce at their car. Later, they chase Terry and Bobby through the city streets. Apparently two teenagers on roller skates can move faster than a car. But whatever. Then there is tension between Terry and her parents, who don’t want to see their daughter give up her scholarship for something trivial, like roller boogie.
This film is absurd. There are so many things in this film that make absolutely zero sense. There are characters in the film who don’t really serve any purpose. Terry’s parents want her to get together with the wealthy Franklin Potter, but he’s a total sleaze, and Terry is not interested. At the beginning of the film, Franklin tries to put his hand up Terry’s skirt after her flute recital. Later, when she’s leaving to head down to Jammer’s, he “surprises” her by trying to trap her in the garage and force her to have sex with him. He’s ready to go, as he’s doffed his pants and underwear, keeping only a towel wrapped around his waist. Thankfully, Terry is able to not only rebuff his advances, but she is able to take off with the towel–leaving Franklin to show off his business to his and Terry’s mothers.
Jim Bray is an absolutely horrible actor. There is nothing redeeming to say about his performance. The only good thing about him is that he can skate. That’s all I have to say about him. There isn’t anything really remarkable about the other skaters in the film. I recognized Terry’s friend, Lana (Kimberly Beck), as one of Lucille Ball’s children from Yours, Mine and Ours. The best performance in the film was probably Linda Blair, as she was probably the most seasoned performer as well. Blair was Oscar-nominated for her role as Regan in The Exorcist (1973). I am not a fan of The Exorcist, but I am also not a fan of horror. Give me Linda in Roller Boogie any day of the week!
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT ROLLER BOOGIE:
- The roller skating costumes. There are some crazy costumes in this movie. Some are more conservative than others. Linda Blair for the most part dresses fairly conservatively compared to some of the other women in this film. But I am here for the gold sequined leggings that I saw one woman wearing. I also loved Terry’s white fringe dress in the finale. I also loved her polka dot blouse that she wears during the roller skate chase scene.
- The entire premise of the film. Terry wants to give up a scholarship to a prestigious school in favor of a contest that will be over before school starts.
- The name of the club–Jammer’s. My husband’s name is James and one of my pet names for him is calling him “Jammers.” So that makes me laugh. Unfortunately, he told me that he did NOT want to form a roller disco dancing partnership with me, so that was disappointing.
- Terry’s car. Terry drives a mint green Excalibur Phaeton car that looks reminiscent of a 1920s vehicle with running boards and the spare tire on the side. Researching this car led me to learning about “kit cars” of which I knew nothing about. Not being a car person (except to look at them and say if they’re cool or not), I researched them. I learned that this car was based on a 1928 Mercedes SSK. The manufacturer would take a contemporary car engine and chassis and fit a fiberglass body over the top.
- The montage of Terry and Bobby’s skating lesson. Terry asks Bobby to teach her how to dance on skates so that she can enter the Roller Boogie competition. Their lessons last for approximately one day, where we don’t see Terry get any better, but supposedly, she learns enough to enter the competition and be considered a worthy opponent.
- The LAPD cop who patrols the Venice Beach beat! He wears the standard police cap with police emblem, which is whatever. But then! He wears a white T-Shirt with a generic LAPD emblazoned across the front. BUT THEN, he wears navy blue hot pants and roller skates. YES! This is law enforcement in Roller Boogie-land.
- Bobby wears a shirt with a glittery red “BJ” showcased in all its glory. I know that it’s his initials. But it’s still funny.
- All of the skating scenes. This movie is about roller disco after all, so it wouldn’t even be half as good without good skating scenes. The opening scene of the chain of roller skaters moving throughout Venice Beach in California is awesome and makes you think that you really need to start roller skating to get into shape!
- The dialogue in this movie. There are some real gems in this film when it comes to quotable lines. Some of the things that people say in this film would never be uttered by a real person. See my Favorite Quotes section below.
- The mother’s disapproving of Terry’s Roller Boogie aspirations, while at the same time being hooked on a myriad of different pills. The woman’s purse is a mobile pharmacy. The parents in this film completely disapprove of Terry’s Roller Boogie dreams, with the dad going as far as to say: “It’s the skating isn’t it? It’s that insane disco music thing!” Then, the dad ends up being the lawyer to Jammer’s, then all of a sudden the parents are at the roller boogie contest and are only too eager to present the trophy.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Lovey, you’re giving your mother a migraine.Beverly Garland as “Lillian Barkley,” in Roller Boogie (1979)
(She opens her purse and looks inside, pulling out various medicine vials)
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Diet pills… sleeping pills…diuretics…quaaludes…valium! There you are.
FAVORITE QUOTES IN ROLLER BOOGIE:
TERRY BARKLEY to FRANKLIN: I swear you’ve got more hands than in a poker game!
TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, I’m not in the mood for octopus rallies.
FRANKLIN POTTER: Terry! I need you, your body is driving me crazy!
TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, Barbie dolls drive you crazy. You’re oversexed!
BOBBY JAMES: Hey Terry! Wait up! Hey, wait up!
TERRY BARKLEY: Thanks for skatin’ with me kid.
BOBBY JAMES: We still have 45 minutes left. And my name a’int kid, it’s Bobby. Bobby James.
TERRY BARKLEY: Keep the change, Bobby James.
BOBBY JAMES: Take off your skirt!
TERRY BARKLEY: Okay.
BOBBY JAMES: Look, you’re not no bimbo from the boardwalk.
TERRY BARKLEY: Hi. Remember me?
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Oh, Theresa! Theresa! Oh! Now before I turn you over to your father, is there anything you want to tell me? Pregnant?
TERRY BARKLEY: Mother! I’ve been gone over night.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, how long does it take these days?