Feb 23, 2011
The Stewardesses 3-D (1969) (part 1 of 4)
Editor’s Note: This recap contains screencaps in 3-D! View them using the red and blue glasses from any 3-D DVD in your collection, or make your own! And if you don’t have 3-D glasses, you can switch over to the 2-D version of this recap at any time.
SUMMARY: Don’t dismiss it as “just a sex movie”. This historically significant film helped usher in the flight attendant as an iconic figure in pop culture. It rode the wave of the cresting sexual revolution. It serves as a chronicle of the advancement of women in the workforce. And yes, I suppose, there is that small matter of it being the first 3-D porn film in history.
3-D films may be all the rage these days, but they’ve been around for a really long time. The first 3-D projector was patented in the 1890s, using the stereoscope as the basis of its creation. It showed two versions of the same film side by side, and viewers had to don a bulky-lensed apparatus to view the effect. So it’s telling that even before other cinematic advances such as color film and talkies, audiences were already reduced to wearing goofy headgear in theaters.
Since its original inception, there’s been a roughly 25-year cycle involving the popularity of the 3-D format. The first 3-D film was released in the 1920s; however, it wasn’t until 1952 that the first full-length 3-D motion picture came to the screen, a forgettable action film with a lion called Bwana Devil.
This ushered in the original heyday of 3-D films, with House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon doing huge business. That period soon ended, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the camp value of the format gave 3-D a brief resurgence. Studios thought they were being clever by pairing the third installment of a flagging franchise with the third dimension, but only wound up bringing a quick end to that era as well. And right on calendar cue, one generation later, new technologies have triggered the 3-D renaissance we’re currently experiencing.
But between the ‘50s and ‘80s, there was a notable moment in 3-D history when a cheap, exploitation skin flick not only managed to turn a few heads, but also go on to make cinematic history in numerous ways. The Stewardesses has been largely eclipsed by various other notable films since its release and is mostly remembered as a footnote these days, but in its time it was a surprising success.
The inspiration for the film came from varied sources. First was the release of a book in 1967 called Coffee, Tea, or Me, a tell-all hit written by two women who had worked in the airline service industry. Thanks to this book, the stewardess became permanently entrenched in the realm of male sexual fantasies.
Next was a technological advancement. Writer/director Allen Silliphant and cinematographer Chris Condon had invented a brand new technique for filming 3-D movies. Instead of a development process whereby two images were placed on film stock to produce the effect, they created a camera with a dual lens, which placed the two images on the negative as they filmed. This was a significant advancement over the bulky cameras needed previously, so naturally, they figured the ideal proving ground for such a revolutionary technological breakthrough was the burgeoning pornographic film market.
The pairing of flight attendant sexuality with three dimensional technologies seemed a good way to make a quick buck, and so The Stewardesses was hastily slapped together and released into San Francisco adult theaters in 1969. Despite a lack of hardcore action, the posters declared the movie would take audiences “From 3-D to 3XXX”. The posters also carried the tagline, “The unpublishable novel is now America’s most controversial film!” This is largely accurate, in that a non-existent novel truly can be said to be “unpublishable”.
The original cut of the film was little more than a string of sex scenes, but very quickly the producers saw a frenzy building up around their movie, and rushed to put together a more palatable film for the masses. More footage was shot, containing mostly improvised scenes, and inserted into the print to create more of an actual storyline. This was primarily done in order to sidestep pornography restrictions in some markets, and even garner a softer R rating where needed.
It was a success; struggling theaters put the movie on their schedule to stay afloat, and in some markets the movie played for a full year (or more). The film became so popular that Variety listed it as the top-grossing movie in the country for two weeks, and it landed in the top ten for year-end box office returns. By the time its run was over, the film, which had been shot for $40,000, ended up bringing in almost $30 million—quite a return for a mostly plot-free skin flick.
And now, let us recall the majesty of the type of sights and sounds that your parents found arousing, all the while defiling the third dimension for our entertainment. Please put on your 3-D glasses… now.
Oh, and if you prefer to read this recap while wearing only your 3-D glasses, that’s your business. I won’t say a word. Also, did you know that “stewardesses” is the longest word in the English language that can be typed with only one hand?
Please don’t ask me how I figured that one out.