In the world of exploitation cinema, there are three types of women’s roles that seem to stand above the rest: nurses, stewardesses, and the subject of today’s film, cheerleaders. To be honest, though, while today’s film certainly has it’s roots in the world of exploitation, it’s actually much more serious than other cheerleader epics. Join us now for Jack Hill’s 1974 film “The Swinging Cheerleaders.”
As the film begins, the cheerleaders of Mesa State are realizing that they need at least one more young lady to join their ranks to truly do an effective job of cheering their football team on. So, Mary Ann (Colleen Camp), Lisa (Rosanne Katon), and Andrea (Rainbeaux…yes Rain-beaux…Smith) set out to hold tryouts. The girl they select, despite Mary Ann’s objections, is Kate (Jo Johnston). It turns out, though, that school spirit is actually the last thing on Kate’s mind. She actually plans to write an expose for the student newspaper on the sinister underbelly of the cheerleader/football player culture on campus. As things progress, Kate is surprised to find herself starting to somewhat enjoy her new life among the rah-rah crowd. The part she especially enjoys is her blossoming relationship with the team’s quarterback, Buck (Ron Hajek), much to the dismay of Mary Ann, of course.
Meanwhile, the other ladies on the squad have issues of their own. Lisa is involved in an illicit affair with Professor Thorpe (Jason Sommers), which he is struggling to hide from his wife. Virginal Andrea, on the other hand, can’t bring herself to go all the way with her football player boyfriend, Ross (Ric Carrott). This leads to one of the film’s most unpleasant moments when, after being dumped, Andrea determines to give herself to the first guy she has contact with. This ends up being Ron (Ian Sander), Kate’s former boyfriend and designated hippie radical of the campus. After Andrea enjoys sex with Ron, she pleads for more, which leads to him inviting a bunch of buddies over to “gang bang a cheerleader.” When we next see her she is a bit bruised up and Ron ends up meeting the business end of Ross’ fist. According to director Jack Hill, this scene earned cheers from crowds in Texas.
All the while, Kate continues to work on her article and soon starts discover some nasty things going on. It seems that influential alumni, and Mary Ann’s father, Mr. Putnam (George D. Wallace) has been conspiring with Coach Turner (Jack Denton), and Professor Thorpe to rig the point spread of the games and thus make big bucks through gambling. When they try to get Buck to work with them to throw the big game, this is the perfect opportunity for the cheerleaders to bring the gambler’s plans to a stop.
With a title like “The Swinging Cheerleaders,” one would expect this to be a goofy sex comedy, but in actuality, Hill plays it pretty straight with this film. Only the final fight which pits the football players and cheerleaders against some corrupt campus cops working for the gamblers has that silly comedy vibe.
Some sequences are very heavy. One scene that is a real highlight, all be it brief, is the scene when Thorpe’s wife (Mae Mercer) whips out a switch blade and threatens to carve up Lisa. The previously described sequence involving Andrea and Ron is certainly nowhere near being lighthearted, as it is never made clear whether their sexual encounter deteriorated into something less than consensual. The whole issue is probably brushed off a bit too quickly for today’s viewers.
On a whole, I was pleasantly surprised by “The Swinging Cheerleaders.” The characters actually have some depth and the various stories are handled in interesting ways. The film does come to a rather abrupt end and could’ve stood to have a bit more resolution, but on a whole the film is quite enjoyable.
Though the film takes many opportunities to show off the, shall we say “pom-poms,” of the titular cheerleaders, it is clear that this was not the primary focus of the filmmakers. The original script was titled “Stand Up and Holler” so as not to scare potential leading ladies away with the Cheerleader premise. Why, Jack Hill and co-writer David Kidd even gave themselves female pen names for the screenwriting credit. I mean a cheerleader movie written by two women can’t be all about exploitation…right? In the end, “The Swinging Cheerleaders” is a pretty effective college drama that has a few exploitation elements to help get some butts in the seats.