Could someone help Judge Christopher Kulik fasten his seat belt?
See the film that made San Francisco quake! Those lusty stewardesses are now leaping from the screen and onto your lap!
Forty years ago, The Stewardesses became a most unexpected blockbuster. Sure, it was a low-budget T&A flick with a cabin full of naked ladies, but its 3-D presentation made it a box-office bonanza. Now, Shout! Factory gives us a super-deluxe two-disc treatment of this erotic curio, but should it be just dismissed as a dated tripe?
Facts of the Case
Are you kidding? Alright, I'll do my best…
A collection of perky stewardesses get naked and have sex during one long night in Los Angeles. The one girl who gets the most development is Samantha (Christina Hart, Helter Skelter), a wannabe actress who eventually gets in over her head (or is that loses her head?) when she goes out with a handsome ad exec.
Otherwise, very little dialogue yields very little exposition. We see these stewardesses play pool, make out, take acid, make out, hump bust-head lamps, make out, do cockpit announcements, make out, and meditate nude with incense. However, making out seems to be their prime motivation…or did I already mention that?
I'm freaking out! Seriously, I just watched 93 minutes of stewardesses making out, complete with pool sticks, guitars, feet, boobs, and butts leaping out from the screen in 3-D! Only in America, baby!
I should proclaim The Stewardesses as soft-core trash that somehow found a way to rake in millions of dollars during its initial release in 1969. By any and all standards, the acting, direction, and writing are amateurish to the extreme. There are several scenes—particularly the erotic ones—that seem to go on forever and get quite tiresome to watch after awhile. There's a stultifying, strange climax that completely destroys the playful tone of the picture…then it jovially jumps back onboard a 747 for takeoff introducing a new set of stewardesses. It's obvious this film's sole purpose is to provide titillation in a new dimension, and its importance is more historical than artistic.
Honestly, it's precisely because of its dated eccentricities that the film kept my attention. Considering when this was made, The Stewardesses scores as a parade of flower power beauties are surrounded by some of the most psychedelic colors and wacked-out production designs you're ever likely to see. Austin Powers would have paid ten quid to see this film in the theater, and he probably would think it was the grooviest thing to ever come from this side of the Atlantic (considering our overly conservative attitudes, that is). I envy those who lived during this era of free love and sexual freedom, as this country is likely to never see those times like those again.
Viewing this film today will also generate a surprising number of genuine laughs, whether intentional or not. The stewardess who gets it on with the lamp is a perfect example. This petite blonde (who I'm sure would prefer to remain anonymous today) arrives at her L.A. home and discovers a note from her parents that says they have gone away on a trip. In response, she says aloud, "Maybe I should go on a trip too. I'll take some acid!" After a shower and some hair-brushing, the effects of the drug are noted by a truly bizarro score that is impossible to describe. Then she gets into bed, takes a bust head of a Greek god (!) with a lamp on top, kisses it and rubs it all over her body until she has an orgasm. Sound weird? You have no idea! All I know is it scared me and made me snicker uncontrollably at the same time. Still, the real comic highlight is a lesbian seduction scene that takes its sweet time with the 3-D gimmick and its allusions to swimming (don't ask!).
I could be wrong, but this might be the beginning of the whole Stewardess sex genre, leading to a string of low-budget lunacies like Swinging Stewardesses, The Stewardess Report, The Naughty Stewardesses, Blazing Stewardesses…anyway, I think you get the idea. Today, the term "stewardess" would never pass muster in our Puritanical, politically correct society, which would condemn the label as rather sexist and degrading. At the time, however, I'm sure ladies who worked as stewardesses didn't think that way, even though I'm sure the airlines promoted their image to get businessmen to fly. Forty years later, there is still a striped mystique about them that has been tarnished in lieu of polite cabin crews who can only provide a two-drink limit. I'm sure Ralph Fiennes is more upset than most people that they're long gone.
In celebration of the film's 40th anniversary—as well as its status as the first 3-D sex film—Shout! Factory and SabuCat productions (who owns the rights) has conjured up a two-disc deluxe edition that is sure to delight devotees. Three versions of the film are provided, with the 3-D versions on Disc One (one in color, the other in black-and-white), and a color 2-D version on Disc Two. As a disclaimer recommends, the B&W version is the best choice, as the colors and images are better and more naturally polarized. The color version is almost super-enhanced, which sounds great, but in fact it contradicts itself by being a little hazy and hard on the eyes (at least this is what my experience was like). The 3-D shots I think are overall more effective in the B&W version, but it's entirely up to you. Shout! has also graciously included two sets of anaglyph 3-D glasses, complete with the film's title in its original font on the sides of both. On the bonus front, we have some original 3-D screen tests and outtakes, which are silent but interesting nonetheless. (For additional tips on watching 3-D films at home, refer to Judge Brett Cullum's review of Friday The 13th Part 3 3-D.)
In terms of visual quality, I decided to scrutinize the 2-D version. Surprisingly, considering its age, The Stewardesses doesn't fare half bad in the 21st century. Expect a moderate amount of grain, splotches, and reel scars, but the colors and flesh tones are preserved well, and I assume some restoration was done to clean up the picture as much as possible. In short, the film looks 40 years young and Shout! is to be commended for treating this relic better than most distribution companies would care too, and this extends especially with the rest of the extras. My only complaint is the lack of proper subtitles or closed captioning; the mono tracks are modestly clean, but I had to raise the volume more often than not to hear some of the dialogue.
Along with the 2-D version, Disc Two also boasts a featurette discussing the history of 3-D in film, beginning in the early '30s, to the major boom of 1953-1954 with the release of Bwana Devil. A second featurette goes into detail about the differences between those older 3-D films and the system utilized for The Stewardesses called MagnaVision, which placed images side-by-side on the same frame rather than depending on two projectors running at the same time. The real meat is contained in the 22-minute "How The Stewardesses Took Off," which has interviews with various members of the cast and crew, including writer-director Allan Silliphant (who used the pseudonym Alf Sillman, Jr.), the younger brother of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Sterling Silliphant (Pillow Talk). There is a theatrical trailer with sound which is pretty funny, but the real hilarity is found in an SCTV sketch in which the host of Monster Chiller Horror Theater (alum Joe Flaherty) presents "Dr. Tongue's 3-D House Of Stewardesses." Mad scientist John Candy and his hunchbacked assistant call upon some stewardesses to disrobe, turn them into zombies, and serve screwdrivers…fun stuff, indeed! Also included is an insert booklet with a short essay on the film by 3-D historian/crew member Daniel Symmes, along with international posters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Am I over-praising The Stewardesses? Perhaps, as its commercial success was based solely on the 3-D gimmick and its original marketing campaign. Still, even without the 3-D, the film would have its own virtues, and I'm not just suggesting the number of trim, nubile young bodies on display as one of them. What's important to keep in mind is that the film wasn't made for the porno or grindhouse crowd, but for rather a wide audience. Modern day hardcore enthusiasts will avoid this relic like the plague, as it's really for those who want a picture of the late-'60s L.A. scene and its many sexual flavors on film.
Hopefully you've made your mind up now whether you want to get The Stewardesses or not. The fact that the film is being remade—in Real D!—as I type this should arouse one's interest even more…but don't say I didn't warn you.
The movie and its makers are free to go. Shout! Factory strikes again, and is given a special commendation by the court for their first-class DVD treatment.
Court is adjourned…have a pleasant flight!
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