Arrow Video gives its all for the team along with Jack Hill's THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS on special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo.
With Mesa State's football team looking at an undefeated season thanks to the efforts of star quarterback Buck Larson (Ron Hajek, V) and passer Ross (Ric Carrott, SLASHED DREAMS), head cheerleaders Mary Ann (Colleen Camp, CLUE), Andrea (Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith, THE LEGENDARY CURSE OF LEMORA), and Lisa (Rosanne Katon, MOTEL HELL) decide that they need to add another girl to the squad. Journalism major Kate (Jo Johnston) needs a topic for her term paper and auditions for the squad in order to write an exposé on the college's most exploitative and demeaning activity. Although sexually liberated – and "vulgar" by queen bee Mary Ann's standards – Kate goes into cheerleading with a lot of preconceived opinions about shallow cheerleaders at the beck and call of "puerile pig-skinned jocks"; some of which seem confirmed with Mary Ann's princess attitude, Buck's sleazy come-ons (he lets Mary Ann think she is keeping him in line by not putting out for him while he keeps up his own reputation by balling chicks on the side), Andrea extensive beauty regime to please Ross, and her discovery that Lisa has been having an affair with physics teacher Frank Thorpe (Jason Sommers, DETROIT 9000). She soon discovers, however, that Buck is actually a nice guy from an underprivileged background, Lisa loves Frank and is waiting for him to leave his wife, and Andrea is actually still a virgin (frustrating Ross to no end). After Kate sleeps with Buck and is accepted into Lisa's and Andrea's confidences, she has misgivings about her paper. Her casual boyfriend/free press activist comrade-in-arms Ron (Ian Sander, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS), however, becomes jealous and seeks revenge when Andrea is convinced to lose her virginity to a stranger and he just happens to be the first "far-out freak" who hits on her. Determined to break up Buck and Kate, Ron teams up with Mary Ann to expose Kate and turn the team against her just as she learns that Coach Turner (Jack Denton, THE HELLCATS), Mary Ann's team alumni father Putnam (George Wallace, LIFEGUARD), and Thorpe have bet on the team and are less interested in an undefeated championship than in rigging the numbers in their favor by any means necessary.
Although it has its share of nudity and sexual hijinks, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS is less exploitative but certainly no less entertaining than Paul Glicker's THE CHEERLEADERS (1973). Hill examines sexual attitudes and contradictions through his central quartet and their relationships with men rather than a series of vignettes to goose the plot (the film's bad guys are genuinely rotten rather than cartoonish). The leanness of the budget shows in the sole use of stock footage for coverage of the games – with cutaways to the Buck, Ross, and the rest of the team in uniforms meant to match the stock footage players only seen when they are off the field – and the enthusiastic but chaotically-choreographed and photographed fight scenes (Hill's staging elsewhere is economic without feeling impoverished). The film ends rather abruptly before the team wins the championship, with much else left hanging in the air as well. Smith and Katon give reliably sweet and sexy performances along with Johnson (who regrettably did not continue acting) while Camp is rather underused with her rivalry with Johnson seeming more obligatory and underdeveloped, although even she is allowed some depth and a grace note or two in the third act.
Released theatrically by Centaur in 1974 and reissued in 1981 by Motion Picture Marketing as LOCKER ROOM GIRLS, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS hit DVD first via Anchor Bay in 1999 in a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 letterboxed transfer with audio commentary by Hill and Johnny Legend and TV spots. In 2003, the same disc would be included in THE CHEERLEADERS COLLECTION with the aforementioned Glicker film THE CHEERLEADERS and Richard Lerner's REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS (the latter two currently available on Blu-ray from Code Red). Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer retains the 1.66:1 framing but – it should go without saying – a much improves presentation of what may be the same source materials provided by Hill for the earlier transfer. Skintones are a bit more varied, looking a healthier pink where the earlier transfer's faces looked more uniform in tone and slightly sallow. However grainy the entire film is, the 16mm inserts are now that much more distinct from the 35mm which now looks much slicker and more expertly lit by Hill's SPIDER BABY cinematographer Al Taylor. The LPCM 1.0 mono track is in good condition, with whatever digital cleanup performed on it done so with the company's usual care. Optional English SDH subtitles are available with only one obvious error (a character says he not injured enough to "collect disability" which the subtitles render as "click disability").
The Anchor Bay DVD's transfer was accompanied by a commentary with Hill and Johnny Legend while the Blu-ray features a brand new commentary track with Hill moderated by AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE's Elijah Drenner. Hill discusses his father's work as an art director for Warner Bros., schooling at UCLA with Francis Ford Coppola, and working for Corman. Of Hill's photographic and editing style, he discusses the influence of teacher Dorothy Arzner (THE BRIDE WORE RED) – virtually the only female studio director from the twenties to the early forties – and the restraint with which he used close-ups for meaning rather than to vary coverage. He speaks warmly of the cast including the late Smith, character actors, and those who should have had better careers including ones who did this film and little else. He recalls the Palisades High School location and that the budget was so low that the football players actually wore the school's logo shirts turned inside out (the lettering still very readable even in the older SD presentation) along with the unexpected and mostly pleasant audience reactions to sequences in the film. Hill also recalls learning that the military had censored all the film's nudity from their version of the film when he acquired a 16mm print of the film and gifted it to Quentin Tarentino.
A brand new interview with Hill (8:08) covers his youth while his father was an art director at Warner Bros. and he appeared as a child extra. Initially planning to be a composer, he joined UCLA's cinema program with the interest of scoring films before being encouraged to take writing and directing courses. He discusses his tutelage under Arzner, his 1960 student film THE HOST (on Arrow's Blu-ray/DVD combo of SPIDER BABY) starring Sid Haig (WONDER WOMEN) and photographed by Stephen Burum (BODY DOUBLE), and being recruited by Roger Corman at first to fix and finish projects initially assigned to schoolmate Francis Ford Coppola. Cinematographer Taylor (10:15) appears in 2006 interview recorded for the Dark Sky disc of SPIDER BABY, in which he discusses how his wartime work in munitions lead to his design of custom housings for the cameras he would use on his films, including the teeter-totter-like assemblage he used on THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS that rested on his shoulders with the camera counterbalanced by the battery pack that would rest behind his head.
Hill and Johnny Legend also appear in an older videotaped interview (10:37) in which Hill reveals that he wanted to do something different after doing two Blaxploitation films for AIP and that THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS was pitched to him by a producer who had been Corman's former sales agent. Most entertaining and enlightening is the New Beverly Cinema Q&A with Hill and actresses Katon & Camp (19:19) recorded at the 2007 Grindhouse Film Festival screening of the film in a double bill with SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. They start off with their memories of Smith – who was pregnant during the shoot (and would be pregnant again during REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS which ends on a freeze frame of Smith and her real newborn) – the twelve-day shooting schedule, the challenge of shooting black actors on the cheaper Fuji film of the period, and the whereabouts of Johnson, as well as the influence of Germaine Greer's second-wave feminism on the script. Carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD are the film's 30-second and 60-second TV Spots (1:37). Not supplied for review was the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. (Eric Cotenas)
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