Home > In the Spotlight > In the Spotlight: Vixen (1968)

In the Spotlight: Vixen (1968)

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

An in-depth recap and exploration of Russ Meyer’s classic cult film, Vixen. The film, which caused quite a stir in 1968, was the first film in the U.S. to be given an “X” rating and stars bad girl extraordinaire Erica Gavin. For more information on Erica Gavin, check out our recent features, Erica Gavin: the Original Bad Girl of Hollywood parts One and Two.

by Cherene

Vixen starts with the credits first and the intro music makes you feel like you’ve missed something, until you hear the narrator start to talk. The narrator starts speaking about the Canadian Northwest, which is also known as Bush Country, which is where the movie is supposed to be taking place. He then starts talking about the bush pilot and explaining how they developed a reputation for being a skilled pilot, hunter and all around outdoorsman. It then cuts to a plane landing and the pilot exiting turns out to be Tom Palmer, the leading man talking to the attendant, Sam.

He starts talking about Tom’s wife and asks how he manages to leave his young wife all alone at their cabin, while he’s gone for days at a time, flying in tourists, and not be worried about what she’s doing. While he’s saying all this you can tell he knows something Tom doesn’t, so Tom insists that his wife is a flirt but does know where to draw the line. It then cuts to Vixen, in the smallest yellow bikini, playfully running through the woods with some dude who turns out to be a Canadian police officer, not Tom. They eventually end up on top of each other in the grass.

At this point you start to see where the tagline “Is she woman or animal?” comes into play. Even though this dude is pretty much all over her, she starts yelling at him to hurry and telling him what to do. As soon as he’s done she’s up and starts walking away, leaving him on the ground, back to business as usual. She got what she wanted and she’s ready to go. Even though he tries to kiss her, she sort of just blows air in his mouth.

On her walk home, her brother Judd, who is with his friend Nigel (played by Harrison Page from Beyond The Valley of the Dolls), starts asking questions about where she was and why she was walking out of the woods with the constable. She doesn’t like it at all. She turns her anger to Nigel, who she calls all the worst names I’ve ever heard and some that are new to me. Nigel gets mad and insists that he and Judd leave and Vixen starts making a pass at her brother.

Her husband then drives up with a married couple that she immediately starts making eyes at. At just 10 minutes into the movie, you already see that she has almost no sexual boundaries and is a racist, but loves her husband. I haven’t even mentioned the trout scene or what she does to the couple while they’re being shown around by her husband or the most controversial, the baby brother scene.

Even after all that, Vixen still manages to save the day when she she safely lands a plane when Communists take over and knock her husband out. She even manages to make amends with Nigel. Russ Meyer’s Vixen was the first American film to receive and “X” rating. On November 1st, 1968 the Hays Production code was replaced by the new MPAA rating system. An “X” rating meant no one under the age of 17 could see it.

The biggest hurdle was in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the moral group Citizens for Decent Literature did everything it could to stop Vixen from being shown. A Cincinnati court ruled that Vixen was in fact obscene and banned it from theaters in Ohio. Russ Meyer appealed the decision all the way to the supreme court but was denied a hearing. It’s still banned in parts of Ohio.

In Jacksonville, Florida, police closed a theater down after it had been showing Vixen for five weeks. Florida judges ruled in favor of Meyer saying the Florida censorship law was unconstitutional. Producer David Freidman said, “The things that Russ Meyer did, and the good fight that he has fought, have given the whole creative community–and that goes not only for film for theater and printed matter–a freedom that did not exist in this country this country prior to that time. He fought the big fight to ensure the first amendment rights of every American citizen.”

This is very true. Thank you, Russ Meyer.

It wasn’t just Russ Meyer that had to fight or argue for their affiliation with Vixen, Erica Gavin, the actress who played Vixen, had to defend herself on television during an interview on a local Chicago talk show. They put her on the stage with Betty Friedan, writer of The Feminine Mystique and a woman known for sparking the second wave of American feminists. Betty came at her hard with how dare she, and how can she portray women in that way; that she was putting women down.

I don’t think Erica Gavin did anything wrong. She was an adult in a movie and as a women she was proud to be able to be shown that way in a movie. It was just that, a movie; not really related to anyone. If anything, she was showing women on top, getting what she wanted and not apologizing or feeling sorry about her actions. Even with all of this negative feedback from feminists and censorship boards, Vixen proved to be a hit.

The film was made for $76,000 and in a year made 7 million. It played at a drive-in for 57 weeks in Elgin, Illinois. This is where Roger Ebert saw the film and wrote a review for the Chicago Sun Times praising Russ and Erica. An article in the Wall Street Journal alerted executives at 20th Century Fox of Russ Meyer abd he was approached by Fox Studio head, David Brown. Fox wanted a sequel to Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of The Dolls and with one signature, Russ Meyer’s budget went from $70,000 dollars to one million. This was a huge opportunity for Russ and he went on to make one my favorite movies, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

None of this would have happened if Russ Meyer hadn’t made one of the most controversial films ever, if Erica Gavin wasn’t the most believable actresses ever and if people would have just let this movie be and not make a big stink about it, which in turn caused the movie to blow up and become the first movie to ever receive an “X” rating and make Russ Meyer a lot of money.

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