One of the countless cheerleader films that captured the minds and tightened the pants of moviegoers in the seventies, Jack Hill's The Swinging Cheerleaders tells the story of a lovely young woman named Kate (Jo Johnstone). She's enrolled as an undergraduate at Mesa University but has more on her mind than just learning and books. Really, she's working undercover for the college newspaper trying to write a report on the school's cheerleading program. The goal here is to expose it for the base exploitation of young women that she knows it really is.
But of course, once Kate joins up with the team, she starts to look at things a little differently. She moves into the dorm to really help sell herself as the real deal, but soon enough she's got a thing going with Buck (Ron Hajek), the captain of the football team. Never mind the fact that her boyfriend is the editor of the paper she's writing for! But Buck's not the nice guy Kate thinks he is. She learns this when he pulls a dirty trick on virginal cheerleader Andrea (Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux‘ Smith). If that didn't make him enough of a bastard, well, Buck was already seriously involved with Mary Ann (Colleen Camp).
When Kate finds out that the coach (Jack Denton) is in cahoots with a local businessman and the college math teacher (Jason Sommers, who himself is hopping into bed with cheerleader Lisa (Roseanne Katon), to rig the football games, she feels the need to blow the whistle on them. But will anyone believe her? Is it possible that…. she's in too deep?
This one definitely has more smarts than your average cheerleader film and, for better or worse, it has a lot less nudity than you'd probably expect too. Hill was clearly reaching for something more here, and at times he achieves it. Some will read a lot into the feminist leanings inherent in the script (co-written by Hill and David Kidd using female pseudonyms (Jane Witherspoon and Betty Conklin), but this seems to be undone in spots (without spoiling it, what happens to Smith's character doesn't exactly propagate the women's' movement). Also contradicting those leanings are some of Kate's own actions. If she's out to expose the exploitation of women should she be encouraging a friend to wear see through clothing to help herself get the guy she wants into bed? You could view that as a woman choosing to do what she wants to get what she wants but it seems more like this was put into the movie not for that reason, but to provide the requisite titillation you expect from a movie with the word ‘cheerleader' in the title!
Pushing politics to the side and judging the movie on its most important quality - that being entertainment value, the movie is pretty successful. As was mentioned, the T&A factor is lower than average here but Hill makes up for that with plenty of nutty dialogue and a really fast moving plot. The movie is light on character development but it's colorful and quirky and it's got some decent humor mixed in that's fairly effective if not always consistent. The movie is also really nicely shot. Yes, it does use stock footage in the football game scenes and fine, the Mesa University set is noticeably limited in size and scope, but the camerawork is solid and the use of color is often times very impressive. On top of that, we get a pretty killer cast. Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon and Cheryl Smith are all in fine form here, both in terms of the physicality they bring to their respective roles and the quality of their performances. The film also comes to a genuinely unexpected conclusion, one that you probably aren't going to see coming and that always counts for something.The Blu-ray:
The Swinging Cheerleaders hits Blu-ray from arrow in a ‘brand new 2K restoration from original film materials' framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. The stock footage inserts of the football games still look like stock footage inserts of football games, that's just the nature of the beast and it can't realistically be helped, but otherwise this is a top notch picture. Detail is very strong and texture is as well. Skin tones look perfect, black levels are nice and solid and there's good depth here too. The disc is free of any obvious compression artifacts and the image shows a nice, natural amount of film grain but very little in the way of actual print damage. This is film like and frequently pretty impressive, particularly when it comes to color reproduction.Sound:
The only audio track on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language with optional subtitles provided in English only. This isn't a fancy mix but it seems an accurate representation of how the movie should sound. Levels are properly balanced, dialogue is clean and the track is free of both hiss and distortion.Extras:
Extras are pretty solid here, starting out with an audio commentary by writer/director Jack Hill moderated by Elijah Drenner. This is a solid track. Hill's memory is very sharp and he's a good storyteller and Drenner is savvy enough to ask the right questions. As the talk evolves over the duration of the film they talk about how Hill came to board to direct the picture, earlier cheerleader themed productions, casting this picture, what it was like working with the different actors and actresses involved in the shoot, some of the locations and some of the more unusual plot devices used in this feature's story. This is informative, nicely paced and just generally very interesting to listen to.
Complementing the commentary quite nicely is a new interview with Jack Hill that runs eight minutes and sees the director discuss how he got into filmmaking after growing up as a movie junkie. He then goes on to talk about working on independent productions rather than big studio films. Also on hand is an archival interview with cinematographer Alfred Taylor that runs ten minutes and which was taken from the Spider-Baby documentary that appeared on that release (and will therefore look familiar to fans). As he shot this film with Hill as well, its inclusion here makes sense and if you haven't seen it before, he's got some interesting stories to tell. A second archival interview sees Hill and Johnny Legend get together share some thoughts on The Swinging Cheerleaders for ten minutes, including where some of the original ideas for the picture came from.
The disc also includes a nineteen minute long Q&A session that includes Hill as well as actresses Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon. Shot at the New Beverly Cinema in 2012 on a night that the feature was being screened, it covers some of the same ground as the commentary and interviews but it's still worth checking out as it's a fun look back from the three participants.
Rounding out the extras, the disc also includes a few vintage TV spots for the film, menus and chapter selection. This is a combo pack release so tucked away inside the keepcase is a DVD version of the movie featuring identical extras. This all comes package with some reversible sleeve artwork featuring the original one sheet on one side and some newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys on the opposite side.Final Thoughts:
The Swinging Cheerleaders is definitely one of the more unusual entries in the cannon of cheerleader films but so too is it one of the most interesting. Arrow Video has done a fine job bringing this seventies oddity to Blu-ray with a great transfer, solid audio and some really strong supplements to round out the package. Recommended.