Pretty Maids All in a Row
Cast & Crew
John David Carson
Ponce de Leon Harper, a student at Los Angeles' Oceanfront High School who is obsessed with sex although he has never had it, asks to be excused when he cannot concentrate in a class led by a sexy substitute teacher, Miss Betty Smith. After taking refuge in the boys' restroom, Ponce finds the corpse of Jill, a cheerleader who has been murdered, in the neighboring stall. Pinned to Jill's underpants is a note reading, "So long, honey." Upset, Ponce runs past assistant principal Michael "Tiger" McDrew's office, which has a lit sign over the door indicating that "testing" is in progress. Behind the locked door, Tiger, who is also the guidance counselor and football coach, is having sex with one of the students. When Ponce informs the principal, prim Mr. Proffer about Jill's demise, Proffer contacts the police chief, John Poldaski. The racist Poldaski is inclined to suspect student Jim "Greenie" Green, because he is black, but would rather discuss the football team. Soon Capt. Sam Surcher, an investigator for the state police, takes over the case with his two colleagues. Although annoyed by Poldaski, who has detached the note from the corpse and allowed the crime scene to be trampled by curious onlookers, Surcher is honored to meet Tiger, who is a champion in several sports and is being sought by the university to teach psychology. While Surcher and his colleague Follo proceed with the investigation, Ponce, who is the football team's student manager, reveals the frustration of his relentless sexual urges to Tiger. Afterward, Tiger returns to his office to mate with another coed and later has the energy to romance his wife Jean at the beachhouse he shares with her and their young daughter. To learn more about Jill's life, Surcher talks to students Hilda Lee and Yvonne Millick, who imply that their generation is sexually unrestrained. Surcher also questions Tiger, who has been dictating on a tape recorder a book he is writing about his philosophy of unrepressed education. Tiger makes an appointment with sex-starved Betty, causing her to believe he is interested in her, but then asks her to "help" Ponce, whom he says is impotent and needs an adult woman's guidance. Continuing his investigation, Surcher asks students Sonny Swingle and Pamela if anyone on campus has made "unnatural sexual advances," to which they respond with laughter and evasion. Following Tiger's instructions, Betty invites Ponce to her home to discuss his schoolwork, where her close proximity arouses him. Aware of his erection, which indicates to her that he is overcoming impotence, Betty compliments it to encourage him not to feel ashamed. Believing she has succeeded in her task, she sends the baffled and embarrassed Ponce home. Later, Surcher finds a letter written to Jill, which he believes was written by Greenie. Tiger confirms that the letter was written by Greenie, whose alibi places him near the boys' restroom at the time of the murder, but insists that the student is not the killer. After hearing Ponce's account of the night before, Tiger urges Betty to offer another invitation to the boy, but she is reluctant, admitting that, having had no boyfriend for thirteen months, she feels attracted to Ponce. Tiger dallies with Betty, kissing and fondling her, then suddenly stops, declaring that she understands the "general idea." When he then opens the door for student Pamela to enter, Tiger suggests that they can talk more after Betty meets with Ponce. Tiger coaches football practice, during which Surcher takes note of his many female admirers. Afterward Tiger has a rendezvous with another student, who, during foreplay, informs him that she wants to be closer and knows he was intimate with Jill. The next day the student is found dead with a sign saying, "Keep cool, honey," pinned to her clothes. When the teachers meet to discuss cancelling an important football game because of the murders, Tiger vetoes the idea. Increasingly suspicious of Tiger, Surcher listens as he coaches students in a reading of Don Juan . Embarrassed about the previous evening, Ponce calls on Betty and awkwardly presents her with a chocolate duck filled with liquor. Later that evening he returns, and although dressed for bed in a revealing gown, Betty invites him in and then seduces him, pushing him onto a table to kiss him passionately. When Ponce smashes the chocolate duck laying there, soiling his pants, Betty washes his clothes and helps him bathe. Meanwhile, Tiger is making out with a student in a car parked on the football field, when Poldaski, who is patrolling, spots him. In the morning, as Ponce and Betty embark on another round of sex, Poldaski and the girl are discovered dead on the playing field, the latter bearing a note that reads, "Poor, poor honey." Reporters flock to the school, where everyone is concerned about the murders and the upcoming game. While parents demand an end to the murders, Hilda has a counseling session in the nude with Tiger. Surcher confides his suspicions about Tiger to Follo, who suggests that the captain is simply jealous. Hoping to catch Tiger in flagrante delicto , Surcher breaks into his office while the "testing" light is on, but finds Tiger and Ponce deep in discussion. After Surcher apologizes and leaves, Tiger tells Ponce that he hopes to be principal at Oceanfront someday and that Ponce will be his assistant principal. When Tiger returns home after school, he, Jean and their daughter fantasize about owning a boat and going to an exotic locale. On the day of the big game, a mass funeral is held for the victims. Between the funeral and the game, Sonny slips into Tiger's office and takes a Polaroid photo of herself in the nude and then records a message on his tape recorder directing him to look in the drawer in which she has hidden the snapshot. When Tiger walks in on her, the machine is still recording while they have sex. Spying on them, Surcher sees them leave the office separately to go to the game. By half-time, Oceanfront is far behind their rival team. Proffer unsuccessfully attempts to lead a moment of silence in memory of the deceased, while, in the locker room, Tiger rails at the team to do better. During the final half, Oceanfront repeatedly scores and wins the game. While Tiger is detained by fans and reporters, Ponce waits in his office and inadvertently discovers, and then listens to, the tape documenting the sounds of Tiger and Sonny's coupling. When Tiger arrives, he snatches the tape and announces he will drive Ponce home. Meanwhile, Surcher orders his men to pick up Tiger and several of the female students for a lie detector test. That night, while parked on an ocean pier, Tiger explains his philosophy to Ponce that sex is the best way to "reach" girls, while he uses sports to relate to the boys. When Ponce, who is frightened that Tiger will kill him, reminds him that he murdered the girls, Tiger admits that was a mistake and tries to justify his action. Acknowledging that Ponce cannot remain silent about what he knows, Tiger drives the car into the ocean. Later, when a memorial service is held for Tiger, he is lauded for his many contributions, including saving Ponce's life by thrusting him out of the sinking car. As Tiger's body was never found, Surcher remains skeptical and carefully watches Ponce and Jean, both of whom exhibit a secretive excitement. When Jean opens her purse, Surcher briefly glimpses Brazilian Airline tickets. After the service, a sexually confident Ponce consoles female students, one by one, suggesting that Tiger would want them to comfort one another. Surcher tells Follo that he was obviously wrong about Tiger and that he needs a vacation in Brazil.
John David Carson
Chris ("allen") Woodley
Katherine Lee Bates
Robert R. Benton
George W. Davis
Charles R. Pierce
Charles Rosher [jr.]
William Ware Theiss
Samuel A. Ward
Pretty Maids All in a Row
In a sly bit of casting, Rock Hudson plays "Tiger" McDrew, the high school football coach and guidance counselor who enjoys countless private liaisons in his office with selected female students. When the affairs get too serious or threaten to involve his wife, he terminates them abruptly - usually by strangulation. Yet, despite his busy schedule, he still finds time to mentor a few promising students and his current protégé is Ponce (John David Carson), whom he is grooming to be his future vice principal. But first "Tiger" wants to address Ponce's "sexual problem" (priapism, a constant state of erection), a situation soon remedied by the substitute teacher Mrs. Smith (Angie Dickinson). The remainder of Pretty Maids All in a Row follows Ponce's sexual awakening and the ensuing police investigation of the school murders, led by Telly Savalas in his pre-Kojak period.
While neither completely successful as a murder mystery or satire of high school life (George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck  was much sharper), Pretty Maids All in a Row does work on the level of soft core erotica which is no surprise considering Vadim's expertise in that area. But the chic, high-class decadence and art-house respectability of previous Vadim features such as Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959) and La Ronde (1964) is completely missing here. Instead, Pretty Maids All in a Row is crass, overstated, infantile and enormously entertaining at times for all the wrong reasons. It's as if Vadim is reflecting his own impressions of American society back at us in this sex-obsessed fantasyland where the California sun overwhelms everything, muting all the colors and subtleties of life.
More than anything, Pretty Maids All in a Row espouses the Hugh Hefner Playboy approach to life and is unapologetically sexist in every male-female encounter in the film. When the camera isn't ogling female breasts and buttocks, it's reveling in visual metaphors for sex; Ponce's orgasmic night with Miss Smith cuts to an early dawn shot of dozens of lawn sprinklers erupting in fountains of spray. Angie Dickinson, prior to her TV fame as "Pepper Anderson" on Police Woman (1974-78), has rarely looked sexier than she does here, and she brings a tongue-in-cheek humor to her clichéd and admittedly thankless role as the older woman responsible for Ponce's initiation into manhood. As for the "pretty maids" of the title, none of them are developed as characters but they were never meant to be more than eye candy in their short skirts and braless tops.
In his autobiography, Memoirs of the Devil, Vadim recalled the casting of the students in Pretty Maids All in a Row: "...I had auditioned over two hundred boys and about the same number of girls. Most of the girls who applied were aspiring actresses, though some were students who merely found the whole thing amusing. For a man recovering from lovesickness [Jane Fonda had just divorced Vadim], this succession of young beauties should have been an excellent tonic. It was not unpleasant, of course, but I have never believed in strength in numbers." Not one of the "pretty maids" emerged as a major star but several went on to enjoy minor film careers with several exploitation and cult films on their resumes: Brenda Sykes (Black Gunn , Mandingo ), Margaret Markov (Black Mama, White Mama , The Hot Box ), Joy Bang (Play It Again, Sam ,Cisco Pike ), June Fairchild (The Student Body , Up in Smoke ), Aimee Eccles (The Concrete Jungle , Group Marriage ) and Gretchen Burrell, whose main claim to fame was as the one-time girlfriend of country rocker Gram Parsons.
At the time Rock Hudson made Pretty Maids All in a Row, his film career had completely stalled. The multimillion dollar box office bomb Darling Lili with Julie Andrews hadn't helped matters and neither had the Italian-produced war adventure, Hornet's Nest (both 1970). He was just a year away from his successful transition to television with the hit series McMillan & Wife but he was no longer a guaranteed box office draw - Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman and Ryan O'Neal were the rising new stars. Regardless of his circumstances, Hudson gives a surprisingly relaxed, vanity-free performance as "Tiger." The actor was not exactly in prime physical condition anymore - he looks paunchy, slightly haggard and a little on the seedy side - but his appearance fits the moonlighting ladies' man he's playing. Occasionally in close-ups, he displays flashes of something more disturbing and devious just behind the smiling facade. Of course, the in-joke was that Hudson, at the time, was still seen as a romantic leading man and was not yet known for his gay lifestyle except within certain Hollywood circles.
But Rock Hudson wasn't the only one going through a career crisis in 1970. It was a year of major transitions in the film industry and every major studio was desperately struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing audience demographics. After the surprise success of Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970) and other indie hits, everyone was trying to cater to the "youth market" and MGM was no exception though their shaky financial situation was worse than most (the studio would completely cease production by 1976 and by 1979 MGM was primarily a hotel company). Vadim recalled, "When I started shooting Pretty Maids All in a Row for MGM, there was not a single other film being made in any of the six main Los Angeles studios. It was a strange paradox that the only director working at that time in the legendary stronghold of the cinema was a Frenchman. The vast MGM studio complex was like some western ghost town. Three thousand people were still employed in the offices and in the workshops, but the famous faces that had set the world dreaming were no more than shadows, the machinery continued to turn, but to no purpose, like a train running along the track when the driver is dead...Apart from one or two television series, my film was the only production at the time and had three thousand MGM people working on it...Only in Russia have I seen such a cancerous bureaucracy."
Part of the problem was the outdated assembly line approach to filmmaking that worked so well during the height of the studio system days. Vadim described a perfect example of this during the filming of Pretty Maids All in a Row: "I had to shoot three takes of a boy on his Vespa. In the morning a motorized column consisting of four trucks, the generator set, makeup vans, actors, extras, the producer, the director, costumes and mobile kitchens, plus six or seven production cars, set out from the studio. The drivers' union refused to allow me to drive my own car. I managed to slip away unseen, accompanied by my director of photography, who had become a friend and accomplice. The actor followed on his Vespa. In an hour, with a hand-held camera, we had all the takes I needed. By the time the column arrived the shot was all finished. The studio had been figuring on two whole days of shooting."
Needless to say, Pretty Maids All in a Row didn't save MGM from its downward slide. The film reviews were decidedly mixed; West coast critics tended to be more positive while East coast critics were extremely negative on the whole. Roger Ebert wrote, "One thing you can say about Pretty Maids All in a Row. Rock Hudson sex comedies sure have changed since Pillow Talk...The movie itself is, finally, embarrassing. It's embarrassing because Vadim's personal hang-ups don't fit the nature of his material, and so he tries to bend things." David Thomson in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film provides a more accurate analysis in hindsight calling Pretty Maids All in a Row "a film of disturbing insights in that its central character - an amused Rock Hudson (once all that Universal allowed to the lovelorn) - does not separate his f#cking of campus nymphets from his murder of them. Too unreal to know in bed, these chicks are plastic enough to be disposed of. The sexual idea in Pretty Maids All in a Row has become psychotic, acting out the dismissal of human reality that has always been implied in the method. And yet the film is tritely playful and the succession of postpubic children are gilded by the loving photography of that veteran, Charles Rosher, who once caught the rapture of Janet Gaynor in Sunrise."
If nothing else, Pretty Maids All in a Row is of interest as an evocative snapshot of another time and place, a signpost signaling the end of old Hollywood and announcing the new one. For Vadim, however, it was something more: "I found it a thrilling experience...It was the most enjoyable piece of filmmaking I have ever done in my career."
Producer: Gene Roddenberry
Director: Roger Vadim
Screenplay: Gene Roddenberry, Francis Pollini (novel)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Jr.
Film Editing: Bill Brame
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, George W. Davis
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Rock Hudson (Michael "Tiger" McDrew), Angie Dickinson (Miss Betty Smith), Telly Savalas (Captain Sam Surcher), John David Carson (Ponce de Leon Harper), Roddy McDowall (Mr. Proffer), Keenan Wynn (Chief John Poldaski).
by Jeff Stafford
Pretty Maids All in a Row
In the opening credits, eight of the actresses portraying high school students in the film are introduced as "The Pretty Maids." The actresses' names, with character names, appear in a different order in the end credits. During the pier sequence near the end of the film, brief clips of alternate possibilities, such as "Tiger" choking "Ponce" and Ponce running for his life, are interspersed into the scene in which Tiger tries to justify the murders. During the film, portions of Molière's Don Juan and John Milton's Paradise Lost are quoted. According to a November 1968 Daily Variety news item, producer Jay Weston and director James B. Harris were planning to shoot a film version of Francis Pollini's novel for M-G-M and William Hanley was set to write the screenplay, which they planned to film in a midwestern town in early 1969. However, Weston, Harris and Hanley were not listed onscreen and it is unlikely that they contributed to the final film.
Although most trade reviews list the running time of the film as 95 or 96 minutes, Filmfacts and Los Angeles Times newspaper reviews listed the duration as 91 or 92 minutes. The Hollywood Reporter review erroneously reported that the film was shot in Technicolor. As noted in Filmfacts, the film was shot "in and around Los Angeles." According to studio production notes, portions of the film were shot at Santa Monica Pier and Venice Marina. The notes also reported that the football sequence was filmed at Rancho La Cienega Park, using a local football team and school band. A modern source adds sound editor Van Allen James to the crew.
Pretty Maids All in a Row marked producer-writer Gene Roddenberry's first theatrical film and the only theatrical film he made that was not based on Star Trek, the television series he created. Actor James Doohan and costume designer William Ware Theiss also worked on Star Trek. Dawn Roddenberry, who portrayed "Girl #1" in the film, was Roddenberry's daughter. The film marked director Roger Vadim's first American film and actor John David Carson's feature film debut. Also marking her film debut in Pretty Maids All in a Row was Topo Swope, future talent agent and daughter of actress Dorothy McGuire.
Released in United States April 1971
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
US debut for director Roger Vadim.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States April 1971