Review – Xanadu (1980)


I can’t even begin to imagine what the idea for this movie must have sounded like, when pitched to Universal Studio’s in 1980. It probably went something like this. “Right, we have a muse sent down to earth to help a struggling artist who paints album covers. He’s introduced to an aging musician, who convinces him to enter into a joint business venture, by opening a roller skating rink, to be called Xanadu….. but here’s the good bit. The muse is played by Olivia Newton John, and to play the aging musician, we’ve got none other than Hollywood legend Gene Kelly”. Sounds amazing yeah?? What could possible go wrong??? Well apparently everything.

The movie got the most awful reviews when it first opened. It’s far from the being the finest movie ever made, but by the same token it’s far from being the worst.

Xanadu had everything going for it. It had a leading lady to die for, Olivia Newton John. It had leading man, Gene Kelly, star of classic musicals including Singing In The Rain, Anchors Aweigh, and countless others from Hollywood’s Golden Age. It also had a soundtrack featuring E.L.O who were huge at the time. Surely there was no way this could fail, but it did. The reception this movie received, was at best lukewarm.

The film opens with the E.L.O track I’m Alive, pounding out, as the muses, the nine daughters of Zeus, featured in a wall painting, spring to life, dance to the song, and then shoot back up to Mount “Wherever”, all except one, Kira played by Olivia newton John, fresh from her success in Grease, who promptly comes back down again, roller skates off and literally bumps into Sonny Malone, played by Michael Beck. They kiss briefly, she then roller skates off again. Sonny then sees her image on an album cover he’s been asked to recreate, and goes off to find out who this mysterious woman is. On his quest to find her, he meets Danny McGuire, played by Gene Kelly. He discovers that Danny played in Glenn Miller’s band in the 1940s. To cut a long story short, Sonny eventually finds Kira again, and our three heroes decide to open a roller skating club, and call it Xanadu.

This is old style, Hollywood movie making, at it’s very best, and i loved every cheesy moment. It’s a musical, it’s a fantasy and it’s a romance, all wrapped up in a world of  80s nostalgia, which for me personally, worked on every level. It’s also completely undeserving of the shockingly awful reviews it copped for upon it’s initial release. They just don’t make them like this anymore, and that’s a real shame. Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John dancing to the 40s, big band style number, Whenever I’m Away From You, still gives me goosebumps to this day. Despite his age, Gene Kelly could still dance the hell out of everyone else on screen.

Since the movie’s release in 1980, thanks to midnight screenings in small theatres, and late night showings on television, Xanadu has gained a cult following which has built up over the decades. The film has also gained a new appreciation, amongst a new generation of fans who weren’t around in the early 80s. Unfortunately that appreciation didn’t extend to Michael Beck, who when interviewed, said that The Warriors made his career, Xanadu had then promptly destroyed it again. Can’t win em all i guess.

To sum up Xanadu is light, fluffy entertainment. It’s roots are firmly planted in old Hollywood and it shows. It also has real heart, and a universal message, which is to never give up on a dream. I loved this film 40 years ago, and i love it even more now. If you haven’t seen it, track it down and have a watch, and if you have seen it, then watch it again, if only to remind yourself of how movies used to be made, and how absolutely brilliant they were back then.




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I am passionate about movies and cinema generally. I love talking about them and writing about them.

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