Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Meyer Files #13: Vixen! (1968)

Vixen! tells the story of Vixen, a young woman living in the wilds of Canada with her husband Tom (Garth Pillsbury), a bush pilot. While hubby is off at work, Vixen enjoys having it off with anyone she comes in contact with. Events get more serious when Vixen's brother and an African American draft dodger arrive on the scene. And I haven't even got to the rich couple with marital issues, or the communist with the big red beard.

This is the first Meyer movie I ever saw. And it was probably the right choice. A lot of Meyer movies involve a more moralistic view of their top heavy heroines and their sexual escapades, and really put them through the ringer (or outright kill them) for their sexual adventures. Not this one.

Vixen is far more positive. Though the main character manages to have sex with almost everyone in the movie, the tone is light and playful, and Vixen does not get punished.

It helps that the movie goes away from the violence and cynicism of his black and white period. This movie is really funny, not just because of the typically ham fisted narration that opens the movie, or Meyer's editing, which can turn any random shot into the set up for a joke, but in the performances. This is the movie where most of the humour comes from the fact that the actors take the whole thing dead seriously.

At the time, Vixen! was promoted as an 'adult' picture -- Meyer's response to the more mature pictures being exported from Europe. Today, Vixen! is laughably tame.

There is something wonderfully idealistic and wholesome about the whole show. Maybe it's the ridiculously pompous narration, the overly sentimental library music or Meyer's razor sharp combo of editing and cinematography.

Whatever Meyer's contribution, much of the credit for how good Vixen! is is due to its leading lady, Erica Gavin.

After Tura Satana, Gavin is the best of Meyer's superwomen. Another non-actor, Erica Gavin worked the same clubs as Tura and Haji and so it seems inevitable that she and Meyer would eventually cross paths.

On paper, Vixen is an extremely hard character to like -- her mood swings without warning, she is incurably racist and she is constantly looking for new lovers. In any other movie, she would be the villain. Somehow, in Meyer's universe, she's the heroine. Like the directorial equivalent of an internet troll, he goes out of his way to make her the worst person in the world -- almost like he's daring the viewer to root against her.

The thing that keeps the viewer onside is Gavin -- there's a self-mocking, ironic quality to her performance which is incredibly endearing. Even when she's [CENSORED] her [CENSORED].

From a visual point of view, the movie is not that interesting. The editing and photography are pretty bland -- leaving the fireworks to Erica Gavin.

Her co-stars are a pretty solid collection of straight men. Garth Pillsbury is gloriously square as her oblivious husband and Harrison Page (of Sledgehammer! fame) adds some real bite to his role as an African American draft dodger.

Since we're almost at the end, it's worth mentioning that this movie is famous for two things -- Gavin's eyebrows and the completely random plot turn in the last 20 minutes.

For the first 50 minutes, Vixen! plays like a French farce, with fewer slamming doors and more slamming salmon. Just as the action is about to slow down, an Irish communist, O'Bannion (Michael Donovan O'Donnell) turns up with an eye to stealing Tom's plane.

So the sex comedy we've been watching suddenly turns into the world's least likely hostage situation.

It's a batshit plot turn that had me howling with laughter. It has almost nothing to do with anything, yet it is so gloriously random it somehow fits with the tone of the piece.  If that makes any sense.
In the end, Tom sees off the commie, the draft dodger gets away and Vixen picks up two new paramours -- a married couple.

Vixen! is a lot of fun. It is not as consistently funny as Meyer's other works, and the pacing can be a bit slow, but Gavin's performance and the overall good vibes of the movie patch over any rough spots.

Russ Meyer will return with Cherry, Harry and Raquel!

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

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