[12 March 2009]
The Stewardesses was never really intended to be good by any usual standards. The Stewardesses was supposed to be sexy, but it was not simply pornography. With its 3D effects, copious nudity, and intermittent psychedelics, The Stewardesses was designed to be an all-around cheap thrill ride. Forty years after its initial release, it largely fails as such.
At best, viewers today are left with the possibility that the film might be so misguided and inept that it achieves the kind of senseless wonder of, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Indeed, while The Stewardesses is sometimes wincingly bad, it is also laughable often enough to make this DVD worth seeing at least once.
Though not as widely remembered today as other early sex movies like Deep Throat, The Stewardesses was a major cultural phenomenon in the early ‘70s. The film opened in San Francisco in 1969 and enjoyed significant commercial success. The demand for the movie spread across the country and beyond.
During the film’s run, scenes were shot and added to the film to beef up its storyline and make The Stewardesses more widely palatable. Despite how obviously spliced-in these scenes are—they shift the tone of the film jarringly and completely—the tactic seems to have worked. The Stewardesses eventually grossed over $6 million, making it one of the biggest box office successes of the day. Perhaps audiences just needed the excuse of a plot, however lame, to publicly watch women’s legs stick out of a movie screen in eye-popping 3D.
If three-dimensional sex scenes are indeed all that audiences lined up outside theaters to see, they got much more of The Stewardesses, most of which they could probably have done without. Of course, without all the extra ineptitude, the movie would not be worth watching today. Fortunately, the movie offers cheap, amateurish delights from just about every aspect of its production.
The repetitive soundtrack is comprised of flute-driven muzak. The cinematography is simple and non-specific (any shot with the actors in the frame seems to have been sufficient for the director). Often, minutes will go by without a change of perspective, and when the change finally comes, the cut is not likely to be a clean one. In several instances, actors self-consciously look directly into the camera.
The film’s dialogue is painfully awkward, reaching the apex of cringe-worthiness during an ad-libbed lesbian seduction scene. The same can be said about the sex in the film: the actors are often visibly uncomfortable with their love scenes.
The full cheesy/sleazy potential of The Stewardesses is realized in a subplot involving one of the stewardesses who never couples with a lover. This girl heads to her parents’ house during her layover in Los Angeles only to find a note saying they have gone away on a trip. “The whole place to myself”, she thinks in a voiceover. “Hmm…Maybe I should take a trip, too. I’ll take some acid!”
If a DJ has not yet sampled this line, someone’s not doing his job. Under the influence of acid, the stewardess gets naked and makes out with a lamp in the shape of a man’s head as she imagines the rest of the lamp-head’s body making love to her. Was this scene ever considered sexy? Perhaps. But instead of sex, the scene made me think of Steve Carrell in Anchorman announcing “I love lamp!”
This DVD release of The Stewardesses includes three versions of the film, two of which are in 3D (one in color and one in black-and-white) and one of which is two-dimensional and in color. A proper DVD release of The Stewardesses is obligated to include a 3D version of the film, as the 3D spectacle was one of the film’s major draws back in its day. Unfortunately, the 3D versions included here are very hard on the eyes. The color version is unwatchable, and while the black-and-white copy is better, it still left me with a headache.
Everything worth seeing in this set is on the second disc, which includes the 2D version and most of the bonus features. Watching the 2D version, it is painfully obvious what would be popping out of the screen were one to be watching the movie in 3D, a fact that is lampooned in the SCTV sketch included as a bonus feature.
Other worthwhile bonus features include two brief documentaries on the history of 3D film and the specific process that went into presenting The Stewardesses in Stereovision 3D. The collection of interviews with cast and crew is enjoyable and sometimes humorously enlightening. Some of the film’s creators insist that the The Stewardesses should be taken seriously, but Christina Hart, the film’s leading lady, delightfully does not.
One funny story that comes out of the cast and crew interviews involves the film’s marketing. Many posters advertising The Stewardesses during its run in mainstream theaters claimed, “The Unpublishable Novel is Now America’s Most Controversial Film!” Apparently, the novel was “unpublishable” because it didn’t exist.
Indeed, anyone who takes the time to watch The Stewardesses will see that the film could not possibly be a book adaptation. It’s fairly amazing that the film exists under any circumstances, especially as a former mainstream smash. The film has, of course, lost its mainstream appeal, but for those who enjoy movies for their sheer improbability, The Stewardesses is a goldmine of work poorly done but richly rewarded.