In the summer of 1963, 17-year-old Frances "Baby" Houseman is vacationing with her family - cardiologist father Jake, mother Marge and older sister Lisa - at Kellerman's, an upscale Catskills resort in the Borscht Belt owned by Jake's sarcastic best friend Max. Exploring one night, Baby secretly observes Max instructing the waiters, all Ivy League students, to romance the guests' daughters, no matter how unattractive. Max also demeans the working class entertainment staff, including Johnny Castle, one of the dance instructors. Baby is attracted to Johnny and dances briefly with him after his kindhearted cousin, Billy, introduces them at a secret "dirty dancing" party for resort staff. Max's grandson Neil flirts with Baby in the meantime.
At the end-of-season talent show, Dr. Houseman gives Robbie a recommendation letter for medical school, but when Robbie admits that he got Penny pregnant, and then insults her and Baby, Dr. Houseman angrily grabs the letter back. Johnny arrives and disrupts the final song by bringing Baby up on stage and declaring that she has made him a better person, and then they perform the dance they practiced all summer, ending with a successful climactic lift. Dr. Houseman admits he was wrong about Johnny and reconciles with Baby, and all the staff and guests join Baby and Johnny dancing to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life".
Dirty Dancing is based in large part on screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's own childhood: she is the younger daughter of a Jewish doctor from New York and had spent summers with her family in the Catskills where she participated in "Dirty Dancing" competitions; she was also nicknamed "Baby" herself as a girl. In 1980, Bergstein wrote a screenplay for the Michael Douglas film, It's My Turn; however, the producers cut an erotic dancing scene from the script, prompting her to conceive a new story that took inspiration from her youth dance competitions. In 1984, she pitched the idea to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) executive Eileen Miselle, who liked it and teamed Bergstein with producer Linda Gottlieb. They set the film in 1963, with the character of Baby based on Bergstein's own life and the character of Johnny based on the stories of Michael Terrace, a dance instructor whom Bergstein met in the Catskills in 1985 while she was researching the story. She finished the script in November 1985, but management changes at MGM put the script into turnaround, or limbo.
For the female lead of Frances "Baby" Houseman, Winona Ryder, Sarah Jessica Parker and Sharon Stone were considered. Bergstein chose the 26-year-old Jennifer Grey, daughter of the Oscar-winning actor and dancer Joel Grey (e.g., of the film Cabaret (1972)). Grey was paid $50,000 for her role. The producers then sought a male lead, initially considering 20-year-old Billy Zane, though initial screen tests when he was partnered with Grey did not meet expectations. Val Kilmer and Benicio del Toro were also considered for Johnny. The next choice was 34-year-old Patrick Swayze, who appeared in Grandview, U.S.A. (1984) and had co-starred with Grey on Red Dawn (1984). He was a seasoned dancer, with experience from the Joffrey Ballet. The producers were thrilled with him, but his resume read "No dancing" after a knee injury. However, Swayze read the script, liked the multi-level character of Johnny, and took the part anyway. After this, Johnny's heritage was changed from being Italian to Irish. Grey was initially not happy about the choice, as she and Swayze had difficulty getting along on Red Dawn, but when they did their dancing screen test, the chemistry between them was obvious. Bergstein described it as "breathtaking". Other casting choices were Broadway actor Jerry Orbach as Dr. Jake Houseman, Baby's father; and Jane Brucker as Lisa Houseman, her older sister.
The part of Baby's mother was originally given to Lynne Lipton, who is briefly visible in the beginning, when the Houseman family first pulls into Kellerman's (she is in the front seat for a few seconds; her blonde hair is the only indication), but she became ill during the first week of shooting and was replaced by actress Kelly Bishop, who had already been cast to play resort guest Vivian Pressman. Bishop moved into the role of Mrs. Houseman, and the film's assistant choreographer Miranda Garrison took on the role of Vivian. (When Baby is dancing in the final scene, the line that her mother says to Jerry Orbach, "She gets that from me ..." is a wink to the fact that Kelly Bishop was in the original cast of A Chorus Line, using the name at that time of Carole Bishop, and had been a professional dancer.)
Principal photography for Dirty Dancing took place in Lake Lure, North Carolina, and Mountain Lake, Virginia. Scenes in Lake Lure were filmed at a former Boy Scout Camp called Camp Occoneechee, which is now a private, residential community known as Firefly Cove. These scenes included the interior dancing scenes, Baby carrying the watermelon and practicing on the signature stairs, Johnny's cabin, the staff cabins, the golf scene where Baby asks her father for $250 and the famous "log" scenes. The climactic lift scene was filmed in the ballroom of the Lake Lure Inn. Scenes filmed at Mountain Lake included dining scenes, Kellerman's Hotel, the beach games, the Houseman family's cabins, the water lift scene and Penny crying in the kitchen.
Rehearsals for the dancing, and some filming, used music from Bergstein's personal collection of gramophone records. When it came time to select actual music for the film, Vestron chose Jimmy Ienner as music supervisor. Ienner, who had previously produced albums and songs for John Lennon and Three Dog Night, opted to stick with much of the music that had already been used during filming and obtained licenses for the songs from Bergstein's collection. He also enlisted Swayze to sing the new song "She's Like the Wind". Swayze had written the song a few years earlier with Stacy Widelitz, originally intending for it to be used in the film Grandview, U.S.A. (1984).
Family Guy also parodies the scene where Baby first sees Johnny dancing with the staff. In the TV series How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson attempts to pass off the Dirty Dancing story as the story of his own loss of virginity because he is ashamed of his actual story; the original "Love is Strange" scene is shown with Barney replacing Johnny.
Well, of course she finds Phelps a bore and Javier a nice and considerate friend, not nearly as sexually vibrant, by the way, as Swayze. Except when he's dancing. She has to choose between the godawful official balls and the excitement at La Rosa Negra, the club where Javier and his friends hang out -- a club not a million miles distant in function from the disco in "Saturday Night Fever."
Why, then, do I give this movie two stars and the original only one? Because I have grown mellow and forgiving? Perhaps, but perhaps, too, because we go to the movies to look at the pretty pictures on the screen, like infants who like bright toys dangled before them. And "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" is a great movie to look at, with its period Havana (actually San Juan, Puerto Rico, with lots of 1950s cars). The dancing is well done, the music will sell a lot of soundtracks, and . . .
Parents need to know that Dirty Dancing is a 1960s-set star-crossed romance starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. It's a guilty pleasure for many due to several campy scenes, flashy dance sequences, and appealing performances by its main characters. Although some parents may find the dancing a little too dirty, teen viewers will likely be captivated. Sex-related content abounds: One character has a botched abortion, the main character loses her virginity, and another experiences being coerced by someone she's dating. An older married woman propositions younger men on staff at the resort and sleeps with one. Language includes "s--t," "ass," and "goddamn." Through its exploration of mature subject matters, the film celebrates characters who demonstrate compassion, courage, curiosity, and integrity.
In DIRTY DANCING, Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family spend their 1963 summer vacation at a Catskills resort, where Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) works. Baby runs into this handsome dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks at a forbidden, wild "dirty dance" party that fellow staffers throw after work. To supplement their meager earnings, Johnny and his friend/dance partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), do a mambo show at a neighboring hotel. But then Penny gets pregnant, and the only time she can arrange an abortion is the night of a big mambo show. The naive Baby steps in, determined to help, asking her father (Jerry Orbach) for money to help Penny, no questions asked, before desperately trying to learn the mambo in time. Romance takes off on the dance floor, accompanied by a great 1960s soundtrack. Johnny is drawn to Baby's fierce optimism and Baby is drawn to -- well, he's Patrick Swayze! What will happen when they're found out?
As the two become drawn to each other, the dancing becomes more seductive, culminating in the liberating energy of the final scene. All of that said, Dirty Dancing's content may well be more mature than many adults remember; be sure to talk to kids about Penny's situation, and why things are so dire for her.
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