Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Harrad Experiment (1973)



          Adapted from a best-selling novel by Robert Rimmer, a lifelong skeptic of monogamy, The Harrad Experiment strikes an odd balance between tackiness and thoughtfulness. Set at a fictional college where two professors use students as a control group while testing their theories about free love, the movie has a salacious premise—students are asked to ditch their hang-ups and have sex with strangers—yet the onscreen content is gentle to a fault, because the worst repercussion of the experiment is hurt feelings. Nonetheless, The Harrad Experiment gained forbidden-fruit allure during its original release; after all, there’s a kinky thrill to be had imagining a college where sex ed is taken so literally. Also contributing to The Harrad Experiment’s minor cult-fave status is the presence of leading man Don Johnson, later to achieve fame in the ’80s TV series Miami Vice. (Make what you will of the fact that he shares a quasi-erotic scene with screen veteran Tippi Hedren, who in real life is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, Johnson’s on-again/off-again paramour for many years.)
          Much of The Harrad Experiment comprises rap sessions between the students and their teachers, married couple Philip Tenhausen (James Whitmore) and Margaret Tenhausen (Hedren). The Tenhausens organize their students into couples and then encourage the kids to get it on, so a lot is made of the insecurity and shyness of Sheila (Laurie Walters), the meek coed paired with sexually confident Stanley (Johnson). Similarly, mousy Harry (Bruno Kirby) gets matched with gorgeous Beth (Victoria Thompson), so trouble arises when Beth dallies with Stanley.
          It’s all very unintentionally amusing, simply because the performers play everything so straight—even when delivering now-dated platitudes about human connection that are really just veiled pick-up lines. (One memorable bit of hippy-dippy interaction involves the students’ yoga instructor teaching them to do “zooms”—as the kids sit in a circle, they say the word “zoom” one after another, literally creating a mellow buzz among the group.) The irony of The Harrad Experiment, of course, is that the movie is as conventional in its execution (and its morality) as the uptight society that Rimmer’s novel was presumably designed to challenge. As such, it’s a spicy message picture without the spice or the message. A quasi-sequel, originally titled Harrad Summer and later rechristened Love All Summer, followed in 1974. More on that one at a later date.

The Harrad Experiment: FUNKY

3 comments:

Hal said...

Haven't seen this in years, would like to catch up with it again.

A few notes:
Came out in 1973 rather than 1971.

Ted Cassidy (Lurch on THE ADDAMS FAMILY) co-scripted

Ted Post directed this the same year he helmed THE BABY!

Louis Letizia said...

Harrad Summer...its sequel a year later had Victoria Johnson and Laurie Walters from original topless and rated PG! Interested what you think of that one? Gotta love the 70s. HBO used to show yhe sequel in the afternoons

John Wanner said...

It was a thrill back when I was a kid in the mid to late seventies,to see a little bit of nudity on when I got home from school,because Hbo wouldn't show r rated movies until 7pm. Lifeguard was another one that was popular back then. Ah the seventies.