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Tulsa Counterculture of the 70s

"The Stewardesses"

Wilhelm Murg

I live in Tulsa, and "The Stewardesses" has a dubious reputation in this city. It seemed to have played forever at The Continental Theater in the seventies. The Continental was our epic 70mm Cinerama movie temple, with a semi-circular silver screen, early quadraphonic sound, lush seats that you melted into, and, of course, the curtain that opened as the film started. This was the place you went to see "Fiddler on The Roof," or James Bond movies.

I have heard varying stories, the most common was that the theater was having trouble keeping up with the multiplexes (which wouldn't have been the case for the initial 1970 run of "The Stewardesses,") and booked the film in order to keep afloat financially. After watching the documentary on the DVD, they were probably blown away at the business this film was doing. This little $40,000 film was paying off to the tunes of millions at the box office. America was obviously ripe for a major sex romp, look at the success of the pornographic "Deep Throat" only three years later.

Courtesy of Wes Horton
Courtesy of Wes Horton

It should be noted that "The Stewardesses" was a roadshow film, that came with special lettering and panels for the marquee, like the major films of the 1960s and early 1970s.

I bought the DVD because everyone I know in my age group (I was born in 1961) was a horny teenager when it played, but none of us ever got to see the film - yet we were tortured by that movie poster, the drawing of the group of beautiful women standing around in sexy poses.

As for the film, we had a screening last week and it was hilarious, not only where it's supposed to be funny, but in a few serious parts too. If I remember correctly, Susan Sontag, in her "Notes on Camp," listed watching erotica for non-erotic reasons is "camp." When you watch this movie you are in the heart of the camp beast!

"The Stewardesses" The film is breezy, like Radley (aka Henry Paris) Metzger's early porn chic titles ("The Opening of Misty Beethoven," "Barbara Broadcast," and "Naked Came The Stranger,") fun for fun's sake, until the last reel. The plot is that a crew of stewardesses get off work, go out on the town and have sex with various people. The most interesting is one woman who drops acid and makes out with a lamp made out of a Grecian sculpted head - with the light bulb, harp, and cord still attached. The film is sloppy with gratuitous nudity, but there is no penetration or male nudity, which keeps it completely in the soft-core realm. Of course, keep in mind that these women aren't built like Jessie Jane; we are definitely dealing with natural, girl-next-door bodies.

We watched the black & white 3-D version, which seemed to show off the 3-D better. Highpoints are a woman's legs scissored around a man, dangling in the air and out of the television set, the famous pool game, where the pool cue comes out of the television, and a lot of mundane shots, like the pilot sitting in the cockpit, which has amazing depth.

The last reel is bothersome not only story wise, but philosophically. In order to make sure the film wouldn't be prosecuted for only appealing to prurient interests, one woman's date bums her out so much that she kills him and throws herself out the window…IN 3D! This is an attempt to show that it is a serious film. It's a weird dark ending to such a "lite" affair, but realistically, it's hard not to spew your soda across the room with laughter when you see the mannequin falling toward you.

I'm reminded of a video released by Secret Key called "Grindhouse Trash Collection," where all three of the pointless soft-core movies (from this same period) in the collection ended in death or even worse, death by rape. I suppose the directors thought that made them socially redeemable, as they had a moral; sex = death. Philosophically it bothers me that drama is seen as something of value, while a simple sex comedy would be devoid of value. In actuality, it take more artistic skill to write a good joke than it does to create something dramatic.

In the documentary that comes on the disc a film professor puts it best, people either love this film or hate it. I have to side on the "love" people. My only complaint it that it's a little long, so around the 90 minute mark my eyes were so tired that the 3-D stopped working. A good chunk of my video collection was put together due to my morbid curiosity.

The 2-Disc set comes with three pairs of red/blue glasses. It features both the black & white and color 3-D versions of the film, and the black & white and color 2-D versions, plus a documentary, a short history of 3-D, a short on how the film was shot, test footage, the trailer, and deleted scenes. It's a must have for 3-D aficionados and fans of soft-core comedies.

© 2009 Wilhelm Murg

From the airport lounge:

(from GB 68) Mike Bruchas said:

"The Stewardesses" and I think "Debbie Does Dallas". Both were 70's "sex" films on a grand scale - but didn't these show initially at the CONTINENTAL? Which always surprised me since that was a "road show" house designed for epics like Sound of Music or Lawrence of Arabia... Also fare that I figured would not make a "mainstream" theatre.

Webmaster: I believe that Debbie did only the "art" theaters in Tulsa, but "The Stewardesses" had an extended layover at the Continental around 1970-1.

(Did you know that "stewardesses" is the longest word in the English language that is typed entirely by the left hand?)

(from GB 77) The webmaster said:

The Continental Theatre showed one of the first "mainstream" X pictures, "The Stewardesses" (in 3D), to sell-out crowds in 1970. The X rating was more of a come-on than a warning.

The Continental had a duplicate in Oklahoma City, and Denver, too.

Lee(from GB 132) Lee Woodward said:

The opening of the Continental was a big event that I was pegged to be the emcee for. The mayor and other dignitaries were there and I believe the kick-off film was a 70mm biblical movie, maybe "The Ten Commandments"?

It was a great theater for wide screen and was the first theater to feature (what else?) Continental seating! Lots of leg room, no aisles.

One of the last movies shown and daring for the time, "Debbie Does Dallas." It would be considered even milder than some of HBO's current "soft porn" flicks. It may have been 3D.

I believe that was a live TV remote as were many of those old deals. I did live remotes from a lot of places in T-Town.

The mentioned Boman Twin Theater is now a "Laser Tag" camp.

Interesting connection to actor-producer John Ashley (Atchley) with that theater as well.

(from GB 132) Wilhelm Murg said previously:

I remember when [the Continental] closed, there was a lot written about a 3D sex film they had played for one run, which was seen as symbolic of the end of an era (I sure wish I had seen it! Where was I, Mars?)

The irony of course is that 3D sex films from the 1970s have a cult following while many of the mainstream ("respectable") films have been totally forgotten. Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels.

(from GB 215) Mike Bruchas said:

Speaking of The Stewardesses - a movie no one heard of - was a biggie in Tulsa? Maybe Dr. Chew can explain why...

Gary Chew (from GB 215) Gary Chew said:

Maestro Bruchas. I remember "The Stewardesses" making a LARGE impact on Tulsa because it was the first time in Green Country history that moviegoers could ascertain the true protrusive qualities and breadth of mammary glands of the human female...and all of them, I might add, on a VERY LARGE screen. My only problem was that my 3-D glasses didn't fit well.

Webmaster: Opportunities to slake the thirst for this particular knowledge had, up to that time, been confined to venues less respectable than the Continental.

(from GB 220, 9/8/2006) The webmaster said:

If you happen to be in Hollywood this weekend, see the World 3D Film Expo at the Egyptian Theater, Sept 8-13. The 1969 X-rated 3D movie "The Stewardesses" (oft-mentioned on this site) is showing. The trailer is work-safe, unless you have the volume high enough to broadcast some brief off-camera huffing and puffing. It's pretty silly.

"The Stewardesses" at Wikipedia

"The Stewardesses" official site    Wilhelm's articles for TTM

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