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The dawn of the ’70s brought a new permissiveness to American cinema, one aided and abetted by the development of a ratings code that allowed filmmakers to bring racier material into their productions without the threat of legal hassles.  Savvy exploitation filmmakers learned to tie the new sexual liberation being enjoyed by American women around this time into sexy content for films that would also appeal to the men in the audience.

Al Adamson and Sam Sherman were both hip to these concepts and implemented them in a number of Independent-International films that mixed sex appeal with a dash of women’s lib. Here are five standout samples of this approach, all available on Severin Film’s Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection blu-ray box set. Background intro for these capsule reviews is derived from The Flesh And Blood Files, the excellent liner notes booklet by Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes included in the box set.

The Naughty Stewardesses: A number of exploitation films from the early ’70s played out sex fantasies against the backdrop of employment venues friendly to women. The role of stewardess lent itself perfectly to such salacious fantasies and the Adamson/Sherman team threw its hat in the ring with this 1973 film. The plot follows a quartet of stewardesses from airport to airport as they try to balance personal fulfillment with sexual satisfaction. The Adamson tendency towards leisurely pacing fits in nicely here, as the leading ladies – Marilyn Joi, Connie Hoffman and sexploitation vet Donna Desmond among them – are all fun to spend time with and you get nice location photography by Gary Graver, including a nifty early-70s Vegas visit. Patient viewers will be rewarded with a surprising second half that includes a visit to an underground porn set, a ransom, a sniper scene and some chases in the snow. Cowboy film star Bob Livingston was coaxed out of retirement to appear here by Sherman and was rewarded with a few sex scenes at the age of 70, including a surprisingly intense one with porn vet Sandy Carey. We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like Sam Sherman.

Blazing Stewardesses: this is nominally a sequel to The Naughty Stewardesses that brings back Hoffman, Joi and Livingston… but it’s also the wildest bait-and-switch that Adamson and Sherman ever pulled on the drive-in audience. The first half-hour sets you up with the usual feminism-plus-sexploitation moves but the film then shifts gears radically as it allows Adamson and Sherman to indulge a fetish for old-timey Hollywood entertainment. There are horseback robbery stunt sequences staged by a veteran of old-time westerns, Yvonne DeCarlo vamping it up (she even sings!), a geriatric love triangle and – in a move that often breaks viewers of this film – the two surviving Ritz Brothers popping up to mug shamelessly for the camera and do the hackiest vaudeville comedy routines ever captured on film. It’s the weirdest/craziest thing Adamson and Sherman ever made, especially those Ritz Brothers routines: they’re so intensely lame and shameless that they become unnerving.  

Nurses For Sale: This is an Adamson patch-job that takes a German import and refashions it into a sexploitation item for U.S. audiences. The source material is a vehicle for actor Curd Jurgens, who plays a ship captain who dodging corrupt officials trying to jail him on phony charges so he can rescue a group of nurses being ransomed. After throwing out a few reels’ worth of material from the original film, Adamson was drafted in to jazz up what was left by adding a few extra nurses who spend their screen time double-teaming a guy, getting assaulted or coerced by their kidnappers and giving each other comfort when alone. As usual, the matching between new scenes and old footage is hopelessly off (the all-over-the-map accents of the new cast are a hoot) but the German footage is entertaining and smartly-paced, the Adamson scenes bring the sexploitation and the whole thing is over and done in less than 70 minutes. Thus, it’s one of the quickest-moving flicks on the Adamson box set by default and a fun example of middle-of-the-bill drive-in fodder.

Jessi’s Girls: this feminist western was something of a passion project for Adamson, one that he made with outside financing when Sherman didn’t think it would be marketable. Mid-’70s b-movie leading lady Sondra Currie toplines as a Mormon woman who is gang-raped by bank robbers who then shoot her and her husband. She survives, learns how to handle a gun and sets out for revenge with a group of other women dispossessed by Wild West sexism. As many western scholars are quick to point out, this one lifts its core premise from Hannie Caulder but the script takes the concept in interesting directions, adding the women’s gang angle and then playing that out in surprising ways that take chances. It’s a rock-solid little revenge tale that builds to a satisfying, action-driven ending and is bolstered by effective performances: Currie is an excellent, emotionally-complex lead and Adamson regulars Jennifer Bishop and Regina Carrol make strong impressions, rising to the occasion in the best roles they ever got in an Adamson film. Adamson’s direction is more functional than stylish but you get the sense he’s working at the edges of his ability here, making something he cared about.

Angels’ Wild Women: Is this the auteur piece of the Adamson filmography or just a really inspired late-in-the-game biker flick? Either way, you’ll be amazed by the amount of directorial verve that he brings to the proceedings here. It focuses on a group of femme bikers who operate as a sister club to a male biker outfit run by Speed (Ross Hagen). They hole up at a rural commune while Speed’s gang takes care of a drug deal and run afoul of a Manson-esque cult leader. Adamson really threw himself into this one, writing the script solo and bringing all manner of creative visuals (career-best cinematography by Adamson regular Louis Horvath) and editing schemes to each scene. He even makes a meta-cameo as a director of drive-in movies! Each of the vignettes making up the episodic plot has a nice payoff and the heroines are depicted as smart, loyal and tough. If that’s not enough, you get nice performances from Jill Woelful, Carrol and Volante (the latter in particular turns in her best Adamson flick performance here) and a killer original rock score. Simply put, this is Schlockmania’s favorite film in the entire box set.