Time often turns a movie into an unintentional comedy. A fresh audience will ponder why someone in the ‘70s thought the film deserved to be seen as serious. Other times it’s the exposed biographical baggage of the actors that brings out a comical element to their characters. Pretty Maids All In a Row has aged from some sort of cutting edge film about sexual revolution and serial killer homicides in a high school into an all out spoof of itself.
The two filmmakers behind Pretty Maids had just come off Sci-Fi projects that have remained cult hits over the decades. Producer-Screenwriter Gene Roddenberry was the father of Star Trek. Director Roger Vadim had previously made Barberella with his then-wife Jane Fonda. The duo didn’t want to take audience into a fantastical other universe. Instead they went into an alternate reality found at Oceanfront High School.
Loser student Ponce de Leon Harper (John David Carson) gets sexually excited by teacher (Angie Dickinson). During his trip to the bathroom, he discovers the body of a murdered girl in the next stall. Quickly the police arrive to investigate. The local cop (Keenan Wynn) proves inept at the crime scene. Luckily the real cop arrives (Telly Savalas) to salvage the remaining crew. Both cops seem more interested in how Oceanfront will do against their rival high school in football. They don’t seem to interested in solving the case even when more girls turn up dead. Who is the real suspect? It’s the football coach (Rock Hudson). Turns out he likes to help the young ladies to a little extra credit project in his spacious office. He also has no problem killing them if the affairs get out of hand. Will he finally trip up and get busted? Or does coaching football give him immunity?
Pretty Maids is just way strange. Perhaps part of the issue is Vadim bringing his European sensibilities to a Hollywood production. Or maybe Roddenberry just went goofy wanting to make a film about a stud who enjoys disposable mistresses. Was it trying to make a serious point about the times or was the film supposed to be a comedy? It doesn’t play for hard laughs. The film lacks the dark humor of Heathers. Thankfully in the 21st century this is a comedy. Why? Because Rock Hudson is no longer the cinematic stud who would care about hooking up with young ladies. There’s humor in the luxurious life Hudson lives on a school paycheck. The characters appear even more goofy after all these years. By aging so strangely, Pretty Maids All In a Row becomes more entertaining than its original release.
The film didn’t do great business back in 1971. This might have been a factor in the three leads of the movie making the transition to TV stars shortly after this film. Rock quickly took on the NBC Mystery Movie series McMillian and Wife. Angie Dickinson would score in Police Woman. Telly Savalas would use his cop attitude to become the iconic star of Kojack. This cinematic failure contributed to their ‘70s successes. Pretty Maids All In a Row is a film deserving of a cult.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks good even on the DVD-R format. You’ll be able to see way too much detail during the various teacher-student seduction scenes. The specks and slight scratches are kept to a minimum. The audio is Dolby Digital mono.
Pretty Maids All in a Row is a strange brew from Gene Roddenberry and Roger Vadim about a football coach who kills his high school conquests. There’s an odd tone to the film that doesn’t quite let it become a black comedy. In the nearly 40 years since its release, the movie is now an awkward comedy. Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson and Telly Savalas don’t seem intent on giving comic performances. Their serious nature has allowed to laughs to grow from the material. This is a must see for people who enjoy creepy high school films and ‘70s cop icons.
Warner Archive presents Pretty Maids All in a Row. Directed by: Roger Vadim. Screenplay by: Gene Roddenberry. Starring: Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn, James Doohan and Roddy McDowall. Running Time: 91 Minutes. Rated: R. Released on DVD: October 12, 2010.
Joe Corey is the author of “The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters.” This is the last how to get a job book you’ll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary “Moving Midway.” He’s worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American’s Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN’s Gaters. He’s been featured on The Today Show and CBS’s 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, “Joe, you look like an axe murderer.” He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.