New to Blu: Arrow Video: The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the underrated Jack Hill sex comedy.

In 1974, el-sleazo t&a auteur turned feminist filmmaker Jack Hill, best known for the likes of such Blaxploitation classics as Coffy and Foxy Brown followed by revenge feminist flicks such as Switchblade Sisters, offered up a seemingly bawdy loose comedy sequel to The Cheerleaders with what is arguably his least seen and most underrated work to date, The Swinging Cheerleaders.  Billed initially as an exploitation skin flick about a college student who goes undercover in the cheerleading squad of the fictional Mesa University for her term paper on how cheerleading exploits and degrades women, the film is an ensemble countercultural piece that successfully eviscerates the collegiate free love movement dominating universities at the time, suggesting all the jock infested male gazing of football coaches and players and female empowerment that comes with it are not without eventual consequences.  Much like the eventual mid-80s comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it deals with budding female sexuality and exploitation realistically by presenting a cavalcade of well written strong female characters in search of their own identity against a male dominated world and as such is an oddly prescient anti-establishment work ripe for rediscovery. 

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Arguably a teen sex comedy as sexual politics, the film features spunky Jo Johnston as the titular undercover journalist while playing off of her fellow cheerleading squadmates plaed by Rainbeaux Smith, future Playboy playmate Rosanne Katon and Colleen Camp.  On the surface it looks like another titillating parade of female nudity concerning precocious and voluptuous beauties but Jack Hill illustrates each character’s identities and dilemmas so well it inarguably becomes one of the strongest feminist works in his brief but still enduring filmography.  Dealing with fixed football games, police corruption including but not limited to the shooting of an unarmed black man, fraternity sexploitation and post-Vietnam War drug addicted college hippies, this raunchy sex comedy has far more on its mind than mere carnality.  Like John Waters’ transgressive Female Trouble, it too slyly draws from Citizen Kane’s shot arrangement and framing and becomes a blistering social critique.  Championed by Quentin Tarantino, you can also see traces of Russ Meyer and what would eventually become Death Proof with the ensemble dialogue and spunky characterizations. 

Paul Feig could learn a thing or two from Jack Hill, who offers up a critique of the chauvinistic male dominated college sports arena without becoming outright misandrist.  A girl power movie with a Hell of a difference, The Swinging Cheerleaders judged by its cover looks like another Jess Franco sexploitation but upon closer inspection carries more relevance with it today than it likely did upon initial release.  This could well have, like the film’s creepy and double-crossing coach, ogled at the short skirted and tall socked cheerleaders.  Instead it presents them as three dimensional characters we come to care about and stand up for themselves in a world Hell bent on objectifying them.  While the years since its inception have softened the raunchiness of it (though the film does push some boundaries in a few areas), the cool and confident attitudes of its ensemble female cast has only grown stronger with age.  Yes you can write this off as another college sex comedy but of the ones that have come and gone over the years, this one holds up remarkably well for presenting a gang of beautiful, intelligent young women who simply put are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore!


- Andrew Kotwicki