Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rock Hudson and his Pretty Maids

Here's a saucy little number for you. Pretty Maids All In A Row, directed by Roger Vadim (Barbarella) and written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (!) and released in 1971, is a bizarre mixture of sex comedy, police procedural, thriller and a fairly skewed after school special. It opens with a handsome young lad named Ponce (John David Carson) who rides his moped to school while scoping various good looking girls who are strolling on the sidewalk. Ponce looks nervous and throughout the film often is at the sight of the opposite sex, especially the arousing new substitute teacher Miss Smith (Angie Dickinson). He's the poster boy for hidden public erections.

Ponce has a close relationship with Mr. McDrew (Rock Hudson) who is affectionately referred to by the student body and faculty as "Tiger". Tiger has his hands full at the school. He's the assistant principal, guidance counsellor with a PhD in psychology, and he's also the football coach. He frequently takes it upon himself to have sexual trysts with just about every female student and since this is a Roger Vadim film, all the girls look like Playboy playmates. There's not an ugly or plain looking girl in this movie.

Ponce discovers the corpse of one of these student beauties in the washroom, leading to a police investigation led by a cool headed police chief (Telly Savalas) who speaks with quiet authority and keeps his sunglasses resting atop of his bald head. There is definitely a moral vacuum at the school. When the principal (Roddy McDowell) discovers the dead student, he keeps emphasizing that she was "a good little cheerleader".

More female students are found dead and Savalas sticks around campus, questioning the students and teachers and eyeing his favorite suspect, Tiger, who's office has a neon sign above the door that says "Testing" and is lit red whenever he's having a quickie with a student.

Meanwhile, the shy and timid Ponce is getting friendly with Miss Smith, who under the advisement of Tiger, plans to help Ponce with his sexual insecurity. She invites him over to her house for "homework". A second visit leads to her giving the innocent boy some good bath. And of course, if Angie Dickinson is sweet enough to offer that to you, you're a fool for saying no.

Pretty Maids is a freewheeling and almost senseless romp. Is it a satire? If so, what is it satirizing? The sexual revolution which was hot stuff at the time this film was made? In one scene a fetching Asian American student proclaims to Savalas who's questioning her as a witness, "Our generation is not afraid of feeling affection, or expressing it." By affection, she must be insinuating sex and preferably sex with a teacher who looks like Rock Hudson, nevermind the fact that he's married and has a daughter.

My god, the 70s seemed like a strange time. There's no way this film would be made today by a major studio. The latest "teen sex comedy" I've seen is Easy A, which I liked, but is on a different planet culturally and morally compared to Pretty Maids. In Easy A, there is no sex, only discussion and implication of it, leading to a strong moral conclusion against promiscuity. In Pretty Maids, sex is constantly an extra curricular activity amongst students and teachers and there is no statement made. If made and released today, the moral majority would be red hot with protest.

I don't really know what to make of this me-decade cinematic oddity. It's certainly original and bold but to what point? Maybe there is none. Most sex comedies don't really need a point I guess. Maybe it's just the silly wet dream of it's creators. Perhaps it's nihilistic in the interest of comic shock value. But then isn't the sight of a nude Angie Dickinson enough? If you're in the right frame of mind and you have a love for kitschy 70s cinema, maybe it is.

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