• Vixen (Arrow Video) DVD Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: March 28th, 2005.
    Director: Russ Meyer
    Cast: Erica Gavin, Garth Pillsbury, Harrison Page, John Evans, Vincene Wallace
    Year: 1968
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    Vixen – Movie Review:

    Tom Palmer (Garth Pillsbury who would later appear in Meyer’s Supervixens) is a bush pilot in the wilds of the Canadian Pacific Northwest (or at least the wilds of Northern California pretending to be the wilds of the Canadian Pacific Northwest) who flies tourists into remote areas for hunting and fishing expeditions. His sultry young wife, Vixen (Erica Gavin, who Meyer would soon use in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls – read our interview with her here), is bored. He’s never around and there’s not a whole lot around to keep the poor young lady occupied, or satiated in the carnal sense. Any time a man does happen to come around her home, she makes short work of him, as evidenced in the first scene where she mounts a Mountie.

    Aside from keeping a loose eye on her younger brother, all Vixen has to do is wait for her next lay, be it from her husband or some other lucky man wandering the area. Her loneliness has made her a sexual predator of the highest pedigree.

    When Tom brings home a couple who have chartered his plane for the weekend, Vixen is soon sizing up handsome Dave King (Robert Aiken of Cherry, Harry And Raquel!), but curvy his wife Janet (Vincene Wallace) is around. What’s a nymphomaniacal young woman to do? To add to her tensions, her brother’s latest friend is a young black man named Niles (Harrison Page who starred opposite the Muscles From Brussels in Lion Heart) and Vixen is very open about her dislike of people of color. He’s hiding out in Canada to avoid being shipped off to Vietnam, and as such, he’s a bit on edge himself these days.

    The more time Vixen spends with this rag tag crew, the more her frustrations, both mental and sexual, become apparent and it won’t take a whole lot before she explodes – Hell, by this point, even her own brother is starting to look good, she’s that hard up. Vixen isn’t the only one whose frustrations are growing, however. Janet knows that her husband Dave has been making eyes at the bush pilot’s wife, and she’s feeling like a little extra marital exploration for herself has come due. Good thing there are a few willing (and unwilling) candidates around, and no shortage of liquor! And then there’s the mysterious Mr. O’Bannion (Michael Donovan O’Donnell who had a bit part as Gillicuddy in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy!) who also wants to charter Tom’s plane, but what he wants it for isn’t exactly clear…

    One of the more political films in Meyer’s oeuvre, Vixen throws caution to the wind and breaks as many taboos as it realistically could, given the climate of the times in which it was made. Incest, black on white rape, homosexuality, wanton free love, extramarital affairs, violence, racism and even communism all play a huge role in the story and in the characterizations which Meyer creates. He overloads the film with blatant sexual imagery and manages to create a few scorching scenes before the end credits hit the screen.

    Gavin is perfect in the lead role. She throws herself into it recklessly and enthusiastically and although she’s not as top heavy as the typical Meyer girl, she’s still extremely easy on the eyes in all the right places. She’s hot, and at this point in her life she knew it and she struts in front of the camera with just the perfect amount of ego to really make the role her own. Her character devours men as voraciously as she can and Gavin handles the plot with enviable skill. Harrison Page is equally impressive as Niles, and when he finally snaps and does what his body tells him he must do, not only is he a little frightening in his intensity but he’s also able to give his character enough of a life of his own outside of Gavin’s role that he is very memorable in the role.

    Meyer, who did most of his own cinematography here and on many of his other films, lets his camera linger over the female forms on display throughout the film and he frames his shots with a photographers eye – no surprise considering he was a prominent Playboy photographer before he made filmmaking his career of choice. Plenty of nutty editing techniques, and copious amounts of sex and violence make Vixen essential viewing for anyone even remotely interested in Meyer’s catalogue.

    On an interesting side note - according to Meyer’s commentary track, the man who plays Sam the gas station attendant, Mr. John Furlong, is the instantly recognizable voice of the opening narration for his best known film, Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill! Also worth noting is that Vixen was one of the first films to ever receive an X-Rating, thought that hardly prevented it from making boatloads of money for Russ Meyer.

    Vixen – DVD Review:

    The fullfame 1.33.1 transfer presents the film in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the movie looks quite good. While the colors are just a tad soft there isn’t much print damage to whine about and there are no problems with mpeg compression that I noticed. Some mild edge enhancement is present but other than that, Vixen comes to DVD looking very nice indeed (Editor’s note – it doesn’t actually look very good by 2020 standards, just check the screen caps, but sadly it’s still the best version out there).

    The Dolby Digital English language mono track is perfectly sufficient. While it sounds like a low budget movie (which it was… this isn’t a slam so much as an observation) the dialogue comes through fine, as does the score and the sound effects.

    Once again, Arrow has ported over the Russ Meyer director’s commentary track from the long out of print laserdisc. He starts the track off by telling us that this was the movie that ‘put Russ Meyer on easy street.’ He goes on to detail the film’s success and also delves into some good gossipy bits every once in a while, telling how he slept with one of the female cast members and how Erica Gavin’s off screen relationship with associate producer George Costello lead to some problems on set. If you’ve heard any of Meyer’s other commentary tracks you know he makes for really interesting way to kill an hour and change and this commentary keeps that tradition going.

    He’s got a great sense of humor, especially when it comes to spilling the dirt on Roger Ebert, but also a strange awareness to his work that makes the track not only educational and informative but also strangely entertaining and quite engrossing. He also relates how Ernest Hemmingway played a large role in shaping him into the man he would become, and how he was responsible for initiating his passage into manhood, so to speak.

    As if that commentary weren’t enough, Arrow films has teamed up with Blue Underground for an all new interview/featurette that runs just shy of twenty minutes in length. While the packaging and all the advertising for this disc state that it is simply an interview with Erica Gavin, it’s actually an interview with Ms. Gavin and with Harrison Page. Though Gavin has most of the screen time, Page has got a lot to say about how it was awkward at times playing out his role given that America was still going through some fairly heavy racial turmoil while the movie was being made in the hills of Northern California. He talks about how he was very definitely attracted to his costar but never in a million years would have felt comfortable putting a move on her, and he did have some reservations about some of the more tense and physical interaction that his character had with Gavin’s in the film.

    Gavin is genuinely enthusiastic about discussing her work on Vixen and gives us an interesting recount on her side of the story (when she details what went down with George Costello, the details do differ slightly from Russ’ take on things). One of the more interesting aspects of Gavin’s interview is that she talks about how seeing herself up on the big screen when the film played theatrically made her incredibly self-conscious about her size and in turn it led to a serious problem with anorexia that she had a lot of trouble overcoming.

    She also talks about the difficulty she had filming the lesbian scene that she shares with Vincene Wallace and how after working at it for a a while the two girls were able to impress the director to the point where he claimed he had to go and change his shorts. When all the dust has settled though, Gavin has no problem whatsoever thanking Russ for giving her those ‘fifteen minutes’ that so many aspiring actors and actresses never really get. It’s a truly interesting and at times, oddly touching retrospective with the two performers.

    Aside from that, there’s a great still gallery of promotional artwork and photographs, as well as trailers for other films in the Arrow/Russ Meyer collection: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Blacksnake, Mudhoney, Vixen, Wild Gals Of The Naked West, Supervixens, Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens, Cherry Harry And Raquel, and Common Law Cabin. All in all, over twenty one minutes of Russ Meyer movie trailers to get you stoked for the rest of the films in this series.

    Vixen – The Final Word:

    Vixen is another fantastic release of a great Russ Meyer film from Arrow Films. The audio and video quality are about as good as you can expect for now, and the extra features are the delicious icing on an already very curvaceous and tasty cake.