Monday, April 13, 2009

America's Most Controversial Film

Considering return on investment, this 3D softcore flick is one of the most profitable movies ever made. Shot in nine days for under $40,000 and originally released by Sherpix in 1969, THE STEWARDESSES bounced around hardtops and drive-ins for more than a decade, sometimes with different scenes cut in. All scenes with Christina Hart and Michael Garrett, for instance, were created after the film had already been released and were added to the prints for nationwide release.

Since THE STEWARDESSES is little more than naked or partially naked women having sex with men, lamps, and each other, the real appeal of the film then and now is its 3D presentation. Director/writer/producer Allan Silliphant and co-producer Chris Condon used a relatively simple and lightweight single-camera process that allowed them to film body parts jutting into the audience at little cost.

As flimsy as THE STEWARDESSES is, it was enormously influential, inspiring a decade of R- and X-rated sex comedies—some filmed in 3D—about not just stewardesses, but also teachers, models, cheerleaders, and nurses. Watching it, it’s hard to believe this plotless mélange of boobs, buttocks, and boring chat could inspire anything. One stew takes acid and makes out with a lamp. The new girl pays a booty call on a swinging pilot. Samantha (Hart) seduces an advertising exec (Garrett) in hopes he can get her an acting career. Silliphant claims there was no finished script, and I believe it.

Nevertheless, THE STEWARDESSES made a lot of money, mostly paid by men who wanted to see topless women brushing their hair in 3D. In October 1971, after a year in release, it was #1 at the box office, just ahead of major studio films SUMMER OF ’42, SEE NO EVIL, and KOTCH. Considering it’s less energetic than a Bethel Buckalew joint and less bawdy than a Russ Meyer, the 3D gimmick must have been the key.

More interesting than THE STEWARDESSES is Shout Factory’s 2-disc DVD, which offers the intriguing history of the film and the 3D process on its featurettes. I had no idea, for instance, that filmmakers had been experimenting with 3D since the 1930s, and some of the clips revealed are pretty amazing. Silliphant and Condon still hold THE STEWARDESSES in high regard, but actress Hart thinks it’s “appallingly bad.” I think her opinion is more reality-based, but there’s no denying THE STEWARDESSES is a classic of its type.

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