Monday, May 29, 2017

#2,362. The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

Directed By: Jack Hill

Starring: Jo Johnston, Cheryl Smith, Colleen Camp

Tagline: "They live their fantasies on and off the field!"

Trivia: Selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996

With The Swinging Cheerleaders, writer/director Jack Hill has crafted a unique motion picture, one that delivers all the nudity and sexcapades that will keep its target audience happy while at the same time weaving a story which aptly reflects the era's socio-political climate.

Mesa State University needs a new cheerleader, and Mary Ann (Colleen Camp), the captain of the squad, and Co-captains Andrea (Cheryl Smith) and Lisa (Rosanne Keaton) are holding tryouts. 

After sitting through a number of pathetic auditions, they’re wowed by Kate (Jo Johnson), a journalism major who displays the spirit they’re looking for. Despite the objections of Mary Ann, who noticed her boyfriend, star quarterback Buck Larsen (Ron Hajek) ogling the new recruit during her tryout, Kate is welcomed to the squad, and with the last piece of the puzzle now in place, the cheerleaders are ready to spur their football team on to an undefeated season.

But the truth is that Kate has no interest in football; she joined the squad to research a paper she’s writing, one that will condemn the entire sport of cheerleading (which Kate considers sexist and demeaning). 

To her surprise, however, Kate finds that she actually likes her fellow cheerleaders, and even falls for Buck, something that doesn’t sit well with either Mary Ann or Kate’s current boyfriend, hippie/activist Ron (Ian Sander).

Besides, if it wasn’t for the cheerleaders, Kate wouldn’t have stumbled upon an even bigger story: a betting scandal involving football coach Turner (Jack Denton), Alumni head (and Mary Ann’s father) Mr. Putnam (George Wallace), and physics professor Frank Thorpe (Jason Sommers). To fix the games in their favor, Putnam convinces Coach Turner to bench his best players late in the game, so that Mesa doesn’t win by a large margin (and the trio can make a small fortune playing the points spread).

Will Lisa blow the whistle on these three powerful men in time to save Mesa State’s season, or will the team be forced to throw their big game?

As with most cheerleader films produced in the ‘70s, The Swinging Cheerleaders doesn’t shy away from nudity; most of the main cast appears, at one point or another, in various stages of undress. 
There’s even a subplot about Andrea’s quest to lose her virginity; when she’s too uptight to go all the way with her football star boyfriend Ross (Ric Carrott), Angela follows the advice given to her by Kate and Lisa, who tell her to sleep with the first stranger she meets (she does so, with decidedly mixed results). 

The movie also has its share of comedy, culminating in a slapstick-fueled final showdown between the good guys and the villains (though it doesn’t fully work as intended, this sequence manages to lighten the mood a bit).

Yet what impressed me most about The Swinging Cheerleaders was how well it merged the comedy and sex with more serious-minded elements, chief among them the gambling scandal that threatens the team’s chances at an undefeated season. With Watergate still fresh on people’s minds, these scenes likely struck a chord with audiences in 1974 (who knew all too well what can happen when a few bigwigs conspire to commit a crime for personal gain). 

Even some of the film’s subplots, such as Lisa’s affair with the married Frank Thorpe, yield their share of thought-provoking drama (the scene in which Lisa is confronted by Thorpe’s wife, played to perfection by Mae Mercer, reminds us, quite effectively, that there are two sides to every story).

It isn’t often that a sex comedy works just as well on a dramatic level, but as Jack Hill and company prove time and again over the course of the movie, The Swinging Cheerleaders is not your average exploitation fare.

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