stop the music!

Can't Stop the Music

For the soundtrack album see Can't Stop the Music (album). For the title song see Can't Stop the Music (song).

Can't Stop the Music is a musical comedy film directed by Nancy Walker in 1980. It is a pseudo-biography of disco's Village People which bears only a vague resemblance to the actual story of the group's formation. It was produced by ITC Entertainment.

The film's producer, Allan Carr, was coming off a massive worldwide hit with the pop musical Grease when shooting began in 1979 at the height of the disco craze. Walker shot at MGM studios in Hollywood with location shooting in New York City and San Francisco. By the time of its release, however, the disco genre had not only peaked in the United States but was experiencing a backlash there. The film received scathing reviews and audiences stayed away. The soundtrack album was more well-received, actually going top 10 in the UK, and the film actually did well in Australia. At a cost estimated at $20,000,000, the film was a colossal failure financially, bringing in only a tenth of that in gross revenue. Compared to Carr's next film, also considered a failure, Grease 2 brought in more than twice as much on its opening weekend as Can't Stop The Music grossed in its entire run, that sequel nearly making back its investment in the U.S. gross alone. In another instance of bad timing, Can't Stop the Music coincided with the first annual Golden Raspberry Awards, and—nominated in every category except "Supporting Actor"—became the recipient of its first "Worst Picture" and "Worst Screenplay" awards.

Since its initial failure, however, Can't Stop the Music has gained something of a cult status as a camp film. Released on DVD in 2002, the film has been screened at gay film festivals, including the 2008 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.


Songwriter Jack Morell (Guttenberg) gets a break DJing at local disco Saddle Tramps. His roommate Samantha Simpson (Perrine), a supermodel newly retired at the peak of her success, sees the response to a song he wrote for her ("Samantha") and agrees to use her connections to get him a record deal. Her connection, ex-boyfriend Steve Waits (Sand), president of Marrakech Records (a reference to Village People record label Casablanca Records), is more interested in getting back with her than in Jack's music (and more interested in taking business calls than in wooing Samantha), but agrees to listen to a demo.

Samantha decides Jack's vocals won't do, and recruits neighbor and Saddle Tramps waiter/go-go boy Felipe (the Indian), fellow model David (the construction worker, who daydreams of stardom in the solo number "I Love You To Death"), and finds Randy (the cowboy) on the streets of Greenwich Village, offering dinner in return for their participation. Meanwhile, Simpson's former agent Sydney Channing (Grimes) orders Girl Friday Lulu Brecht (Marilyn Sokol) to attend, hoping to lure the star back. Ron White (Jenner), a lawyer from St. Louis, is mugged by an elderly woman on his way to deliver a cake Samantha's sister sent, and shows up on edge. Brecht gets Jack high, which unnerves him when a friend (Altovise Davis) brings singing cop Ray, but Jack records the quartet on "Magic Night". Ron, pawed all night by the man-hungry Brecht, is overwhelmed by the culture shock of it all, and walks out.

The next day Samantha runs into Ron, who apologizes, proffers the excuse that he's a Gemini, and follows her home. Spilling leftover lasagna on himself, Simpson and Morell help him off with his trousers before Morell leaves and Simpson and White spend the night. Newly interested in helping, Ron offers his Wall Street office to hold auditions. There Glenn the leatherman climbs atop a piano for a rendition of "Danny Boy", and he and Alex the G.I. join up. Now a sextet, they get their name from an offhand remark by Ron's socialite mother (Barbara Rush). Ron's boss, overwhelmed by the carnival atmosphere, insists the firm not represent the group, and Ron quits.

Ron's new idea for rehearsal space is the YMCA, where a production number set to the song features its athletic denizens in various states of undress (the film is one of the few PG offerings to feature male full frontal nudity). The group cut a demo ("Liberation") for Marrakech, but Steve sees limited appeal and Samantha refuses his paltry contract. Reluctant to use her savings, they decide to self-finance by throwing a pay-party.

To bankroll the party Samantha acquiesces to Channing's plea to return for a TV ad campaign for milk, on the condition the Village People are featured. The lavish number "Milkshake" begins as Simpson pours milk for six little boys in the archetypal costumes with the promise they'll grow up to be the Village People. The advertisers want nothing to do with such a concept, and refuse to air the spot. Ron's mother steps in to invite the group to debut at her charity fundraiser in San Francisco. Samantha lures Steve by promising a romantic weekend but Ron is taken aback by the inference she'd go through with the seduction, and Samantha breaks up with him. On his private jet, Steve prepares for a tryst but it's Jack and his former chorine mother (June Havoc) who show up, to hash out a contract. Initially reluctant, Havoc seduces him with her kreplach and before long they're negotiating the t-shirt merchandising for the Japanese market.

In the dressing room before the show, Ron is relieved to learn Samantha didn't travel with Steve, and proposes. Ron's boss shows up and rehires him as junior partner representing the group. Following a set by The Ritchie Family ("Give Me a Break"), the Village People make a triumphant debut, singing "Can't Stop The Music" to a cheering crowd.

Critical response

  • "Can't Stop the Music ushers in a whole new concept in entertainment -- it's the first all-singing, all-dancing horror film; the Dawn of the Dead of the disco era." Newsweek
  • "The most conspicuous box office calamity of the summer." Film Review
  • "Like nothing you've ever seen before!" Movieline

Golden Raspberry Awards and nominations

Won: Worst Picture
Won: Worst Screenplay
Nominated: Worst Actor (Bruce Jenner)
Nominated: Worst Actress (Valerie Perrine)
Nominated: Worst Supporting Actress (Marilyn Sokol)
Nominated: Worst Director (Nancy Walker)
Nominated: Worst "Original" Song ((You) Can't Stop the Music)

DVD release

Can't Stop the Music was released on Region 1 DVD on April 16, 2002.

Eclectic cast and crew

Can't Stop The Music was Bruce Jenner's film debut after becoming known as the World's Greatest Athlete, the result of three world record-setting performances in the Decathlon, capped by a Gold medal win at the 1976 Olympic Games. Jenner's record stood from 1975 until shortly before this film's 1980 release. Jenner had previously turned down the role of Superman in the 1978 film, and Can't Stop The Music remains his only feature film role.

The film's supporting cast includes two two-time Tony Award winners, Tammy Grimes and Russell Nype, June Havoc (stage and screen actress and sister of Gypsy Rose Lee), Altovise Davis (Broadway Chorus Girl and wife of Sammy Davis, Jr.), character actor Jack Weston, and Emmy-winner Leigh Taylor-Young. The Village People auditioners included Blackie Lawless (a member of the glam-punk group New York Dolls and heavy metal group W.A.S.P.) and James Marcel (who would later find greater success with the name James Wilder). Background dancers included Perri Lister, girlfriend of Billy Idol and mother to his son, and Peter Tramm, who would go on to appear in dozens of music videos and double for Kevin Bacon in Footloose.

Jack's song "Samantha" is credited in the film as being sung by David London, which was the pseudonym for rock singer Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen, who was the lead singer for several rock bands including the Grammy-winning band Toto from 1984-1986, singing on their top 30 hit "Stranger In Town". London/Frederiksen also sings a second song on the soundtrack, "The Sound of the City".

The band's silver and white costumes in the "Milkshake" sequence and red costumes in the finale sequences were designed by Tony- and Oscar-winning designer Theoni V. Aldredge.

Two of the band's three biggest hits—"In The Navy" and "Macho Man"—do not appear in the film, though in reference to the latter, Perrine wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Macho Woman" as she jogs through the men's locker room at the YMCA.

The film's director, Nancy Walker, a theater, film and television star since the 1940s, was nominated for two Tonys, four Golden Globes, and eight Emmys. She had added directing to her list of credits with episodes of popular 1970s TV sit-coms, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, in which she created her best-known role, Ida Morgenstern. Can't Stop The Music was her final effort at direction, and Walker turned her attention back to acting in television.


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