The Film: Pretty Maids All in a Row
The Principles: Starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, John David Carson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, James Doohan and a bevy of beautiful young ladies. Written and Produced by Gene Roddenberry. Directed by Roger Vadim.
The Premise: ‘Tiger’ is a married teacher, football coach and faculty advisor at a prominent California high school who’s carrying on multiple affairs with a large number of the female students. Ponce de Leon Harper is a sensitive seventeen-year-old boy obsessed with having sex for the first time. The problem is that the lovely young ladies of Oceanfront High keep winding up dead and the police are clueless as to the identity of the killer. Will Ponce ever get laid?
Is it any good?: It’s crazy fun and one of the smartest, creepiest teen titillation flicks from that era. Equal parts sex comedy/black comedy/murder mystery; it plays like a flower powered American Giallo with a swinging 70’s attitude. The look, music and tone of the film will make you feel like you’ve traveled to another planet in comparison to the world we live in today, making it a definite product of its time and an outrageous cult classic.
High school virgin Ponce de Leon Harper (John David Carson) discovers the dead body of a female student dumped in the boy’s bathroom. An idiotic redneck police chief is brought in to bungle the case, but he’s replaced by a suave Telly Savalas as Captain Sam Surcher, who immediately starts getting to the bottom of shit. Meanwhile, a smoking hot new substitute teacher named Betty Smith (Angie Dickinson) is urged by fellow faculty member Michael ‘Tiger’ McDrew (Rock Hudson) to help “guide” young Ponce through the difficult time he’s having with the opposite sex. ‘Tiger’ himself is currently banging every single miniskirted beauty enrolled at the school, while maintaining the image of a happy family man and respected educator. Turns out the swinging serial killer teacher is the culprit who keeps bumping off the young girls he’s humping once they start to get too clingy.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Roddy McDowall as the completely clueless Principal Proffer, Keenan Wynn as the racist cop Poldaski, James Doohan (SCOTTY!) as Savalas’ assistant Follo, and an ensemble of some of the most gorgeous young ladies ever assembled together as all the pretty maids. June Fairchild, who plays the precocious Sunny Swingle, (get it?) is my favorite.
The shockingly open sexual attitude shared by both the faculty and the students in this film will definitely blow your mind. It’s a far cry from the politically correct times we live in now, because pretty much every character on screen treats the topic of adult/teenage relations very lightly. Ah, the seventies. Making things even stranger is the fact that this movie was written and produced by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry of all people, who adapted it from a novel by Francis Pollini. It could be one of the most bizarre, subversive scripts ever put to film. Cult movie maverick Roger Vadim (Barbarella) paints a pretty picture of southern California decadence, giving it a bubblegum-slasher vibe. Think American Psycho meets Private Lessons.
Is it worth a look?: Most definitely! It’s an early 70’s psychosexual comedy that’s one of the all out oddest films I’ve ever seen tonally. I first became aware of this gem several years back when Quentin Tarantino programmed it at The New Beverly Cinema for his Grindhouse Film Festival in 2007 and it really roasted my brain like a peanut. I’ve been singing its praises ever since.
Random anecdotes: The film opens and closes with an eerie song called “Chilly Winds.” The music was created by the great Lalo Schifrin and performed by The Osmonds.
A teenaged Cybill Shepherd was offered a role as one of the murder victims but turned it down for The Last Picture Show.
Cinematic soul mates: Swinging Cheerleaders, Private Lessons, and American Psycho.