THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW"
Every so often, I enjoy a good WTF? movie. Because so many films, especially today, are market-tested to death, it's refreshing to come across one that seems to defiantly go down its own path, no matter how bizarre that path may be. Pretty Maids All in a Row from 1971 is just such a picture. The fact that it was written by "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and directed by Barbarella's Roger Vadim gives you an inkling as to what a cinematic oddball it is. Warner Archive has just released Pretty Maids on DVD; it's available from their website .
Set in a fictitious California high school, the movie stars John David Carson as the improbably named Ponce de Leon Harper, a sexually frustrated teenager. He seeks help from the school guidance counselor, "Tiger" McDrew (Rock Hudson), who gets the kind of action with female students that Ponce only dreams of. McDrew feels for the kid, and convinces a sultry substitute teacher named Betty Smith (Angie Dickinson) to come on to Ponce. Scandalous! And years before anyone would ever know the name Mary Kay Letourneau!
That's pretty wild stuff right there, but there's more. Telly Savalas (sans lollipop) plays a police detective investigating a series of teen girl murders at the school. Whodunit? The horny but ostracized Ponce, who fondled the buttocks of one corpse? The sexually predatory McDrew? Someone else? Pretty Maids All in a Row won't tell you because, well, when you have Rock Hudson discussing erections with a teenage boy and Angie Dickinson seducing a student, who cares?
Yep, this is one weird-ass movie, and I kind of love that about it. I won't say that Pretty Maids All in a Row is a good film by any traditional measure. It is, however, a genuine curio, filled with sexual revolution-era politics. You also detect a strong sense of that "don't trust anyone over 30" mentality; all the adults are clueless and/or idiotic, while the teens are noble sufferers.
Pretty Maids is perfect for gatherings. You and your friends will have a great time watching Hudson hamming it up as a jailbait-chasing pig, Dickinson swooning after coming face-to-face with a teenage boy's boner, and Savalas bringing intensity to a flick that neither requires it nor knows what to do with it. Fans of WTF? cinema will not want to miss this one, especially since Warner Archive's remastering makes the film look great.