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''Saturday Night Fever'' isn't happening this year

Despite the film’s 20th anniversary and continued popularity, Paramount opts not to re-release it into theaters

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It’s Saturday evening at the 2001 Odyssey Club in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but Tony Manero won’t be dancing tonight.

Two decades after Saturday Night Fever briefly made this working-class neighborhood the center of the universe, WKTU, New York’s premier disco station, is throwing the mother of all disco films a 20th-birthday party. From Argentina to Japan, 37 camera crews have descended on the scene. New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani is expected to salute Fever as the most important thing ever to happen to Brooklyn. Members of the newly re-formed Jane’s Addiction are begging to get in; snarky New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is flying in from Washington. The Bee Gees and Yvonne Elliman (rescued from housewife obscurity in Los Angeles after a nationwide search), and actresses Karen Lynn Gorney (Tony’s upwardly mobile dance partner) and Donna Pescow (Tony’s first partner and jilted love), are in the house. So is every principal cast member — save for a certain Italian-American star, who, presumably, has better things to do. In his place, the station has thoughtfully provided three dozen white-suited John Travolta look-alikes.

Tickets are impossible to come by. An hour-long giveaway for the Nov. 1 event attracted the single biggest call-in audience (as many as 400,000) in KTU history.

There’s just one problem: A baby hurricane is brewing, and all the performances have been scheduled outside. Rain falls horizontally, flattening the coifs (”Don’t touch the hair!”). The only fever that’s likely to strike around here is a nasty head cold.

So, despite more than 4,000 partygoers who should be dancing, Fever‘s big bash is canceled due to inclement weather. And suddenly, a rain-out becomes the perfect metaphor for why filmgoers will have trouble stayin’ alive this Christmas season.

Think about it: has there ever been a better time for a large-scale rerelease of Saturday Night Fever? Critically acclaimed, ’70s-centric films like Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm have increased our insatiable appetite for anything and everything ’70s. Fashion magazines are virtual paeans to the day, Travolta’s more gargantuan than ever, and the Bee Gees are no longer pop-music pariahs. And best of all, practically no one under the age of 30 has ever seen the film in a theater.

As last spring’s 20th-anniversary rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy demonstrated, a lot of people are willing to pay for that privilege. But when Fever‘s 20th birthday arrives Dec. 15, the only place to catch it will be on video — or maybe TV.

In a strange game of corporate switcheroo, Paramount Pictures has decided to forget Fever, opting instead to put its money on the other Travolta classic that’s celebrating a significant birthday. When Grease turns 20 next June, it will do so publicly at theaters around the country.

”Obviously, we had to consider both films,” says Paramount vice chairman Robert G. Friedman. ”We decided Grease was a better choice.” Why? Paramount’s betting that the PG-rated Grease, which grossed $400 million worldwide, will outdraw the grittier, R-rated Fever, which grossed $350 million.