Thursday, January 29, 2009
INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES (1973)
In 1968, pioneering 3-D filmmaker Chris Condon and business partner Allan Silliphant were awarded a patent for the world’s first single-camera 3-D motion picture lens, the Magnavision 3-D, which renders two anamorphized images side-by-side on each frame of 35mm film. To demonstrate the lens’ capabilities, they made a feature-length softcore sex flick in 3-D that went on to break box-office records. THE STEWARDESSES not only became the 6th highest grossing film of 1971 and one of the most successful independent movies of all time, but it revived 3-D for a while by proving the format could be a viable one for low-budget filmmakers. Condon and Silliphant then sank a million dollars into an all-commuter airline and were too busy with business matters to oversee the post-production of SUPERSONIC SUPERGIRLS, the sequel to their high-flying hit. According to an interview with Condon in Ray Zone’s 3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures, the cost-cutting measures of distributor Louis K. Sher -- whose Sherpix company had made a mint with THE STEWARDESSES -- rendered the finished film unwatchable:
The editing was turned over to a third party, and they did a terrible job on editing it. And what’s worse, they decided to release the film in the above-and-below 3-D format using the [Mortimer] Marks system. In order to have a format that’s 1.33:1 above-and-below you’re destroying half the light coming out of the projection lamp house because you’re not covering the full aperture. You’re only covering the center part of it with two small images with one above the other.
We had nothing to do with that. Lou Sher was just talked into that by the Marks Company. They said, “If you use this system, Mr. Sher, you won’t have to send anybody to the theaters.” That is totally false. So they made about thirty prints of SUPERSONIC SUPERGIRLS in the above-and-below process. But the worst part about it is that the images were misaligned. You couldn’t watch the movie. The spacing between the two images was off from scene to scene. You eyes cannot tolerate vertical parallax. So they had to scrap that movie.
We made another one, using some of the outtakes from the second movie, and it was called AIRLINE! That film was never finished. We did the work print, but we never finished it because we ran out of money.
I do want to finish AIRLINE! It’s got a lot of good stuff in it. It’s funny and it has beautiful girls. And it was shot in about eight different countries. (Zone, p. 9-10)
INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES is not referred to at all in Zone’s book and SUPERSONIC STEWARDESSES is written off as an unreleased film when in fact the two are the same movie. SUPERSONIC SUPERGIRLS opened in 22 theaters in the New York tri-state area on October 5, 1973 with a fake R rating, but was awarded an X rating by the MPAA three weeks later. As INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES, it did get playdates in many parts of the U.S. beginning in May of 1974 and continuing through at least half of 1975 -- but this turned out to be only the beginning of this film's confusing history. According to R.M. Hayes' excellent book 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, a version titled THE STEWARDESSES, PART II was announced in 1979, the title was changed to SST in 1980, and then new scenes were shot for the AIRLINE! version in 1984, but it still wasn’t “finished.” Reportedly outtakes from the original cut were mixed with the new footage to create THE STEWARDESSES, PART III in 1987. To complicate things even more, the original INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES surfaced again in the early ‘90s as JET SET, while recent publicity from Condon’s StereoVision International refers to a version of this thing as MR. HOWARD’S CRAZY AIRLINE (Meanwhile, the occasionally reliable IMDb -- which claimed for years that INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES and SUPERSONIC STEWARDESSES were alternate titles for THE STEWARDESSES -- has now wiped all traces of these titles from the database!). Condon’s treatment of INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES over the past 35 years has been disrespectful, to say the least, and after suffering through its 90 excruciating minutes I can understand why. It’s a dreary, depressingly awful movie with no memorable 3-D effects to speak of, making the filmmaker’s talk of “above-and-below” and “vertical parallax” thoroughly meaningless in this context.
The plot, such as it is, has twelve of the most qualified stewardesses from Global Airlines chosen for a grueling 3-week promotional trip around the world in the prototype Condor SST supersonic airplane. Global’s parent company, Hillman Industries, is financially involved with the plane’s manufacturer in England, and Henry Hillman himself -- the eccentric, reclusive Howard Hughes-type head of the company (first seen wearing sunglasses and wolfing down McDonalds takeout in his bunker-like penthouse apartment) -- has committed himself heavily to options on the Condor. In order to prevent a takeover at the next shareholder meeting, Hillman needs to pre-sell fleets of the Condor to airlines around the world.
Of course, this is all just an excuse to show pretty young women walking around Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Athens, Bombay and Hong Kong in sub super-8 sightseeing footage or wiggling on hotel beds in poorly shot sex scenes. Every opportunity for a cool 3-D effect is squandered. When a sadistic passenger tortures a nude stewardess with a lit cigar, you’d think there would be a shot of the guy sticking the stogie in our faces. Think again! When the stewardesses attend a bullfight, you figure it has to lead up to the bull charging at us in 3-D, right? Wrong! When a young couple gets it on while hooked up to a computer at the Institute of Sexual Research, you’ll swear the boring bump-and-grind will pay off with some kind of neat 3-D gag involving fire extinguishers or springs popping out at us. Nope! Even the film’s most perverse moment -- a stewardess’ realization that the senator she’s just seduced is a creepy crossdresser -- fails to take the next logical step and give us the money shot (which in this instance would be his hands emerging from the screen as they wrap around her throat).
An extended sequence in which the Condor is forced to land in the Middle East provides one nice 3-D belly dance and little else of interest. Crown Prince Omar woos one of the stewardesses, while his father (who looks like a wizened Arthur Avenue wiseguy at a Halloween party) spies on the other Global girls undressing one-by-one as warm-up to the servicing of his 40 wives. The sight of the elderly king running from room to room with a tent pole under his robe is supposed to be funny, but Condon and director Silliphant are so bereft of imagination that they again miss a 3-D opportunity by not having him run toward the camera with his bobbing bat. Hopeless! And the payoff for this labored stupidity? A meeting between the stuffy British airline manufacturer and the king, who says -- with no trace of an accent -- “There’s a man in your country, a Mr. Hugh Hefner of Chicago, and I believe he flies a large black plane continually with an entourage of beautiful women, and this is most interesting. I would like to emulate this, in my own fashion of course. Is it not true that your machine is twice as fast and twice as big as Mr. Hefner’s?” I don’t know about you, but my sides are splitting.
Let’s not forget the wacky Hillman, who hides inside a crate that’s loaded onboard the Condor SST at the start of the trip -- and isn’t seen again until the end, when he emerges for a final joke that misfires as badly as all the others. Maybe if Alan Abel had played the part in bandages it would've been amusing. Hell, you're better off reading any chapter of the Clifford Irving book than sitting through INTERNATIONAL STEWARDESSES, which to these eyes is just as big a hoax.