Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pretty Maids all in a Row (1971)

          A quick description of Pretty Maids all in a Row explains not only why the movie’s disparate elements couldn’t possibly have merged into a coherent whole, but also why the picture is a genuine cinematic oddity. Gene Roddenberry, the idealistic ex-cop who created Star Trek, wrote and produced the story, from a novel by Francis Pollini, about a high-school guidance counselor/football coach (Rock Hudson) who’s sleeping with half the girls in his school. Demonstrating a shocking lack of creative vision, Roddenberry’s script is an all-over-the-map mélange of murder mystery, psychodrama, romantic comedy, and sex farce. Directing this enterprise is Roger Vadim, the leering Frenchman best known for the exploitative ’60s movies he made starring two of his wives, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. With these men pulling the story in a hundred directions at once, Pretty Maids seems like a different film in each scene.
          When it begins, it’s the tacky story of horny teenager Ponce (John David Carson), who’s flummoxed by his constant erections, though it should be noted that in Vadim’s lurid fantasy world, Ponce’s high school is populated by gorgeous college-age women who walk around in body-hugging sweaters and micro-miniskirts; it’s difficult to imagine any straight boy keeping his wits about him in this sexualized environment. Ponce loses his mind when he literally gets an eyeful of his hot substitute teacher, Miss Smith (Angie Dickinson), because she leans over and presses her breasts into his face. He excuses himself to the restroom (presumably to take matters in hand), and discovers a seemingly unconscious girl in the next stall. When he reaches over to cop a feel, however, he discovers she’s actually dead. Classy!
          Once it becomes clear the girl was murdered, the school’s prissy principal (Roddy McDowall) and the local-yokel sheriff (Keenan Wynn) prove useless, so suave state cop Sam Surcher (Telly Savalas) takes the case. Then, when the bodies of young women keep piling up around the school, Ponce’s mentor, Michael “Tiger” McDrew (Hudson), emerges as a suspect. Somewhere in this mess of a story, Tiger finds time to push Ponce and Miss Smith together, apparently eager to get his young apprentice laid; this leads to cringe-worthy seduction scenes between Carson and Dickinson. Adding to the almost surreal quality of the storyline, most of the characters in the movie seem more concerned with whether Tiger’s team will win the big upcoming game than with finding the serial killer in their midst.
          One fears that satire might have been the intention.
          Pretty Maids all in a Row is a narrative disaster from any rational viewpoint, but the movie delivers a lot of vivid texture. Vadim fills the screen with beautiful women, often in some state of undress, and the leading players are entertaining even if they don’t have real roles to play. Hudson’s mildly creepy as a power-hungry nut who transitions from sexual conquests to getting away with murder; Dickinson is cartoonishly sexy in a performance that borders on camp; and Savalas is so bitchy and urbane that he’s one evening gown away from coming across like a drag queen. Strange stuff. (Available at

Pretty Maids all in a Row: FUNKY


Cindylover1969 said...

Roddenberry AND Vadim? You have to feel for the female cast and crew.

rockabilly said...

This was a Pay Cable TV staple in the early eighties (Showtime, HBO, The Movie Channel, Cinemax). I've always wondered about the theme song by The Osmonds. Did the highly moral Osmond family okay this or did Mike Curb at MGM records just slap it onto the movie as was his habit at the time?

fakebaconimprov said...

This is the third Vadim film I've seen and I'm still not convinced that he knew anything about making films. He's like a dirty little boy with an Super 8 camera.