Sunday, July 30, 2006

Film Review: PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971)

"Why the hell isn't this on DVD yet?" -- Number 7

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971 MGM) Starring Rock Hudson, Telly Savalas, Angie Dickinson, John David Carson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, James Doohan and Brenda Sykes. Screenplay by Gene Roddenberry from Francis Pollini's novel. Directed by Roger Vadim.

Numerous high school students having sex with their teachers and guidance counselors. A new release, ripped from today's headlines? No, it’s this uneven but wickedly funny black comedy from 1971 served up by the director of BARBARELLA and the writer/creator of.....STAR TREK?

A “terrific little cheerleader” is found scantily clad and murdered in the boys’ restroom with a note attached to her panties that reads: “so long, Honey”. Future KOJAK Telly Savalas (using cigarettes and shades as his props instead of lollipops) investigates the murder, and while he initially finds a shortage of suspects, he finds no shortage of giggling, miniskirted high school girls who find it unusual if they aren’t propositioned constantly.

Very progressive guidance counselor/football coach Rock Hudson sees nothing wrong with a counselor or teacher “sexually guiding” an exceptionally gifted student. Hudson obviously thinks that there are several exceptionally gifted female students….and more of them turn up dead on campus, also with notes attached. Uh oh….we have a serial killer on our hands! This could affect the team’s morale for Friday’s big game!

Meanwhile, Hudson counsels traumatized team trainer John David Carson, who discovered the body in the restroom, but seems more troubled by the boy's reports of constant erections and his inability to lose his virginity. Hudson decides that literature teacher Angie Dickinson (looking incredible at 40) is just the one to help the boy.

"If it feels good, do it" is taken to its wildest extreme here....or is this the inevitable outcome when idealism collides with pragmatism? The perpetually horny Hudson has a loving family at home, including gorgeous and extremely loyal wife Barbara Leigh, yet still sleeps with female students daily. But, he is married, so what’s a husband and father to do when a young, impressionable teenage girl starts wanting more than just sex? Hudson's an intellectual aspiring author who preaches rejecting accepted societal norms, but his message to the students isn’t always unconventional and pacifist. After all, he's also the wildly successful football coach, and he realizes that is the primary reason he is so beloved.

Director Vadim spends a lot of time zooming in on breasts and buttocks, and this film would make a great double bill with 1966’s also-dark and similarly leering LORD LOVE A DUCK (directed by George Axelrod) in which McDowall, then 37, played a high school student; here, just 5 years later, he’s the clueless principal.

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW falters during the final third, when the situation gets more and more implausible, but Vadim and Rodenberry commendably keep the tone jet-black all the way to the closing credits, when we hear the cheery theme song by Donny Osmond(!).

Of historical interest, the film was ahead of its time in its use of thriller and teen comedy conventions that would become ubiquitous in the 1980's: promiscuous teenage girls end up murdered (i.e. Jason/Freddy) and an awkward high school guy tries desperately to lose his virginity with the help of a beautiful older woman (i.e. MY TUTOR, PRIVATE LESSONS).

So…why isn’t this film on DVD?

Bombed during its initial release. Hudson’s box-office pull was pretty much gone by 1971, and, as they say, satire closes on Saturday night.

Uncomfortable to some when considering that a new student-teacher affair pops up almost every other week these days on CNN.

As noted above, loses steam before the end as things get harder to swallow. And there is one nagging question that will occur to you: where the hell are all the parents?

Why it should be on DVD:

A must-see if you have a warped sense of humor. If not, it will still be interesting at least, given the performers, the writer, the director and today’s aforementioned news stories. One of a kind!

A chance to see Dickinson, Hudson and Savalas shortly before all 3 would start their wildly successful network TV series (POLICE WOMAN, McMILLAN AND WIFE, KOJAK respectively) and a chance to see James “Scotty” Doohan outside the Enterprise.

The legendary Joy Bang (NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN) is among the Pretty Maids!

Aren't there plenty of STAR TREK fans out there who would be curious about Roddenberry’s lone feature film screenplay? And one that is 180 degrees away from TREK, at that?

Angie Dickinson has an extended semi-nude scene. Why wasn’t my teacher like her?

If you’d like to see this one for yourself: in a rare TV showing, TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES will have it on at 3 A.M. (Central) on Sunday, August 13th.

Friday, July 21, 2006

THE HORN SECTION SALUTES: Jack Warden (1920-2006)

I was planning on hibernating for a few weeks....don't worry, there's plenty of DVD and "why the hell isn't this on DVD yet" reviews to come, but I have to comment on the sad news today that The Great Jack Warden has passed away at age 85.

Yes, Luke Fuchs has driven over the curb for the last time.

Without question, if you needed a character actor to deliver a hilariously profane line in the 1970's or 1980's, you could have hired Jackie Gleason, Brian Keith, Burgess Meredith....all good choices. But not one of them was in Jack Warden's league. The man was simply the single greatest curser in the history of film IMO.

I reviewed the unjustly neglected SO FINE (1981) here back on May 3rd, which has one of his best, "boy, I used to fuck like that". Doesn't read that funny, but wait 'til you see it in the movie, in context. And....apparently he improvised it, because it isn't in the original script!

And who can forget USED CARS? While you remember Russell's comment on the President, Frank McCrae's line about the protesting nuns, and Gerrit Graham's comment on the price of Roy's Mercedes....Warden as Roy L. Fuchs still has about 2/3 of the memorably profane lines in this film to himself.

Incidentally, USED CARS is, hands down, the greatest movie ever made, better than CITIZEN KANE, better than CASABLANCA, better than anything else ever, and I urge you to pick up the DVD.

"Now, that's what I call fucking!"

"I know where the fuck Miami Beach is, dummy!"

"How long these streets been fucked up?"

"He's a good man?? Heh, he's the prince of fucking darkness."

"What are you, a fuckin' parrot?"

You remember those lines, don't you? All delivered by The Greatness of Jack Warden. And there's dozens more, literally.

Warden's resume is positively astounding: Oscar nominations for SHAMPOO and HEAVEN CAN WAIT, the hilariously suicidal Judge Rayford in ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, 12 ANGRY MEN, THE VERDICT, two TWILIGHT ZONEs, and two Emmy award nominations for his mid-1980's TV hit CRAZY LIKE A FOX.  Just for starters.

He kept working, and giving us laughs in the 1990's, with DIRTY WORK, BULWORTH, MIGHTY APHRODITE ("Does a Trojan Horse have a wooden dick?") and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, all the way up to his final theatrical film, THE REPLACEMENTS (2000).

Apparently, witnessing Keanu Reeves' acting in person is enough to drive any truly great one into retirement.

"Luke, we can't put your name on a granite tombstone, but we can keep it flying high above this lot. We can't even put flowers on your grave, but we can hang the finest weather resistant vinyl pennants and pinwheels money can buy. You'll be surrounded by a constantly revolving inventory of the finest automobiles money can buy. Ford, Chrysler, General Motors will be your tombstone. High volume, high visibility will be your epitaph. Rest in peace, Luke."
--Rudy Russo, USED CARS