Russ Meyer's biggest hit--made for $76,000, it grossed more than $6 million--is also his best film, one that still packs considerable erotic punch.
Pilot Tom Palmer (Garth Pillsbury) and his sexually insatiable wife, Vixen (Erica Gavin), run a small fishing lodge in the remote Canadian Northwest. Also staying at the lodge are Vixen's brother, Judd (Jon Evans), and his friend, Niles (Harrison Page), a black man who has fled to Canada rather
than be drafted to fight a war for a government he considers racist.
Lawyer Dave King (Robert Aiken) and his wife, Janet (Vincene Wallace), spend a weekend at the lodge. Although they have an "open marriage," Janet is jealous at the way Vixen openly flirts with her husband. When the four of them go river fishing, Vixen takes Dave off into the woods and makes love
to him. Janet attempts to seduce the strait-laced Tom, who turns her down.
Later that afternoon, while the men are gone, Vixen visits Janet. The two women get drunk and make love to each other. Dave and Janet leave, their marriage revitalized by their encounters with Vixen.
While Tom is away, Vixen decides to carry through her flirtatious relationship with her brother and seduces him in the shower. Knowing her racist hatred of Niles, Judd suggests she take him on next, and Vixen screams in rage.
When his plane is chartered by Mr. O'Bannion (Michael Donovan O'Donnell) for a flight to San Francisco, Tom invites Vixen to come along for a weekend in the city. While they are packing, O'Bannion reveals his true colors to Niles: he is a communist who plans to hijack Tom's plane to Cuba. Niles
rejects O'Bannion's invitation to come along, but changes his mind after being subjected to more of Vixen's racist slurs. O'Bannion's hijacking attempt is foiled when Vixen provokes a fight between him and Niles. After they land safely in the US, Niles escapes, with an apology from Vixen.
VIXEN is the last film Russ Meyer made without his tongue so firmly in cheek that it poked a hole clean through. While it does have its element of parody, particularly in a flag-waving finale that has nothing to do with the rest of the film, VIXEN is the most straightforwardly erotic film Meyer
ever made. Its success in that area is based largely on Meyer's decision to play his material straight, without the burlesque humor of his early films (made at a time when the display of nudity was still grounds in many places for an obscenity verdict) or the runaway self-indulgences of his later
films, when he was trying to compete with hardcore sex films without going "all the way" himself. The best scenes are sexy because they evoke an atmosphere of seduction, in which the characters hitting the sheets isn't necessarily the obvious outcome.
But what really makes VIXEN work is the performance of Erica Gavin in the title role. Equally popular with both male and female viewers, Vixen is a take-charge woman who gets what she wants. She's something rare in American movies, a woman in whom strong sexuality isn't paired with evil or some
other major character weakness. (Well, there is her disturbingly vehement racism, a trait not remotely excused by her wordless apology to Niles at the conclusion, but at least in terms of the film that is not regarded as a fatal flaw.) And Gavin brings exactly the right balance of cartoonishness
and carnality, with a body that is lush but not preposterous and the most garish fake eyebrows seen onscreen before the arrival of Divine. (Violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations.)
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