Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Good Football Coach Can Get Away With Murder

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, the first Hollywood film by French director Roger Vadim (BARBARELLA), is better known as the only feature written by STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry. No phasers or starships in this uneven black comic thriller with an outstanding cast of familiar actors and gorgeous women. It's now available as a DVD-R burned on demand from the Warner Archive, and as you can see in the scan to the left, mine is autographed by Angie Dickinson.

Rock Hudson is pretty much the most hetero mofo in the world playing Tiger McDrew, a high school football coach and guidance counselor who spends his free periods teaching the rumpy-pumpy to his stacked female students. He’s also something of a mentor to the team’s student manager, a 17-year-old virgin named Ponce Harper (John David Carson in his film debut) constantly plagued by uncontrollable erections.

In fact, it’s one of these stimulations—caused by his voomy new English teacher, Miss Smith (super-MILF Angie Dickinson at age forty)—that sends Ponce running out of class and into the boy’s bathroom, where he discovers a murdered coed (and “terrific little cheerleader”) in the next stall. This is the event that drives Roddenberry’s dual plots of McDrew pushing Miss Smith into a sexual relationship with Ponce (the poor kid never stands a chance against Dickinson and her Bill Theiss wardrobe), while State Police detective Sam Surcher (Telly Savalas) investigates what has become a series of murders with the victims all beautiful high-school girls.

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW is neither a great comedy nor a great thriller, but it certainly feels like a unique film. Its main problem is Hudson’s character, who is front and center, but not as developed as he should be. We know he has a gorgeous wife (TERMINAL ISLAND’s Barbara Leigh) and a daughter whom he seems to love, but more background would have been essential to understanding him better. Lalo Schfrin’s wry score and Vadim’s penchant for pushing his camera into every boob and buttock on the school campus set a dark tone that the film doesn’t fully capitalize on.

That isn’t to say the film isn’t entertaining, however, in its arch performances and early-‘70s eye candy. Roddenberry and Vadim were among Hollywood’s biggest horndogs, and that’s reflected in PRETTY MAID’s casting of some really stunning actresses, among them Brenda Sykes (MANDINGO), JoAnna Cameron (soon to send little boys’ hearts fluttering as TV’s Isis), Joy Bang (NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN), and, seen in the poster below, Margaret Markov (the blond WHITE MAMA, BLACK MAMA star who married Mark Damon).

Also with Roddy McDowall (great as the befuddled principal), Keenan Wynn as a bumbling sheriff, James Doohan (STAR TREK's Scotty) and William Campbell as Savalas’ detectives, June Fairchild, Amy Eccles, Gretchen Parsons, and Diane Sherry. Schifrin and Mike Curb wrote the gummy theme song, “Chilly Wind,” performed by the Osmonds. Roddenberry, then under contract to MGM, turned back to television and produced several unsold pilots, including GENESIS II, STRANGE NEW WORLD, and SPECTRE.


Max Allan Collins said...

I saw this movie in the theater on its release, and thought it was entertaining but not really good...but funny thing is, when I watched it on DVD all these years later, I remembered it vividly. It was like I'd seen it last month. I can't say the same for tons of better movies.

The poster you re-pro speaks to one of the oddities of the film -- it's never clear whether we're supposed to know Hudson is the killer from the gitgo, or if he's just an enormous red herring. A mystery that doesn't know if it's a mystery isn't a mystery.

I got one of the autographed copies, too. I'll bet Angie is a hot GGIF.

Marty McKee said...

Yeah, I tried not to give away the killer when I wrote about the movie. Then I saw the poster and figured if the movie doesn't care abbot the mystery, why should I? I don't think it matters anyway. As you imply, Max, the movie isn't really about the mystery.