3D cinema may have undergone a bit of a resurgence in recent years, but it’s important to remember that – although we now have an array of new-fangled technology to enjoy it and a whole host of new films to go alongside – the phenomenon isn’t exactly new. Hence this brilliant little factoid on the cover of the Salvation Films Blu ray release of The Stewardesses: apparently, prior to Avatar (!) this was the highest-grossing 3D film of all time. Now if that’s a piece of the much-vaunted ‘fake news’ we’re currently hearing so much about, then it’s the kind I think we can approve of. But who knows? It could well be true. Before audiences wanted to be immersed into fictional universes, perhaps they wanted to be immersed into something rather more, shall we say, earthy…
I’d be flat-out lying to you if I said that plot figured prominently in Stewardesses, but here’s the gist: we observe a group of young air hostesses (natch) completing their shift and then heading out to enjoy themselves for the evening. Some of them opt for nightclubs, one plumps for dinner with an ad executive, one decides to neck some acid and stay in to ponder her table lamp but in every case, the girls get into various states of undress and mischief (albeit with one rather brutal late sequence thrown in, possibly for the sake of completism, which doesn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the film.) It’s all generally ludicrously charming though, and a bit of a hodgepodge. The entirety of the plot unfolds over just one evening, and then it’s back to work for the girls – with the distinct impression that they’ll do it all again the next time they have some time to themselves. Fair play to them; all work and no play etc.
The film was made at the tail-end (pun not intended, but noticed) of the Sixties and a good share of its appeal stems from the good ol’ time capsule effect. Back way, way before the halcyon days of budget air travel, the jet-set lifestyle was genuinely new and glamorous: I’m not sure if pilots really did have leather armchairs in the cockpit in the Sixties, but I now choose to believe that they did. I’m certain that pilots didn’t have voices which sounded like they had already come through the radio when they spoke, however, or if they did, then I suppose there were very few jobs as perfect for them as being a pilot. Anyway, there’s lots of stock footage of planes to create veritas – yes, different planes are shown to represent the same flight, and the engines are clearly not running in some scenes when they’re meant to, but it’s all part of the fun. It’s all just a convenient, novel set-up for what’s to follow, anyway. There are also a few other pointers which fix the film in place and time: for example, there are nods to the Age of Aquarius as the girls check out their star signs and/or meditate; the girls remind each other to take the Pill, which was new technology at the time; there’s a bit of drug use, and one of the girls spends her evening with someone on leave from the Vietnam War.
As for the rest of Stewardesses, there’s clearly evidence of that old conflict between being as salacious as possible, and always toeing the line; the relationship between tolerance and prudishness could be a tough one to manage in the US at the time, hence a lot of the action taking place just off camera, and some of the girls happier than others with full nudity. What the film lacks in some respects, however, it makes up for in variety – even where this, as suggested above, can make some parts of the film a little ‘busy’. The film certainly fits a lot into its ninety-ish minutes. As for the 3D itself : it’s rather better than I’d expected. People passing the screen up close can dip out of focus, but otherwise the quality on offer is surprisingly good for a film which is nearly fifty years old! This does mean a few scenes clearly designed to showcase the 3D – then, as now – but mostly the scenes are fairly crisp and they work well. A drug dream sequence was a particularly ambitious bit of film, and a small number of blips don’t take away from the film’s effect overall. The ghost train and the nightclub were great entertainment, by the way, and these bits were almost completely incidental.
Look, if you like your cinema camp and you can live with a bit of adult content, then Stewardesses would make an interesting little addition to your collections. It’s not every day you get to see the Sixties in three dimensions, after all. You can order a copy of your very own by visiting the Salvation Films website.