Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450–1516) The Garden of Earthly Delights
The film is bathed in hazy colors similar to that of Bosch’s epic painting.
This intricate panel of images appears in the film several times as a motif. Vadim knew exactly what he was informing us or leading us to think about. It goes to one of the chambers of the heart in the narrative and bares no resolution for us the ‘voyeurs’ by the film’s end. Betty Smith (Angie Dickinson’s character has this painting in her apartment, we sit it in several sequences, even close up and studied by the camera).
It’s the pictures that got small! – “Good Evening” Leading Ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Part 1
Bosch’s painting serves as a prominent motif throughout the film.
Close-ups in the film at varying viewpoints of Bosch’s painting.
The painting depicts nude figures in the garden of temptation, which ultimately sets them forth into an eternal dance with damnation.
The left panel depicts God presenting Adam to Eve, while the central panel is a broad panorama of sexually engaged nude figures, fantastical animals, oversized fruit, and hybrid stone formations. The right panel is a hellscape and portrays the torments of damnation.
“Art historians and critics frequently interpret the painting as a didactic warning on the perils of life’s temptations. However, the intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries. 20th-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych’s central panel is a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost. American writer Peter S. Beagle describes it as an “erotic derangement that turns us all into voyeurs, a place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty.”
One could say that this suburban American High School Anywhere USA acts as a similar landscape depicted in Bosch’s painting. The school is ripe for sexual and conventional anarchy, abound with young flesh, exploring a ‘perfect liberty’ flitting about in micro skirts and no bra, amidst the intoxicating air of youth and temptation.
Leaving them vulnerable to being tempted by demons like Tiger McDrew who come and prey upon their alluring innocence. As Beagle says about the painting, this film has a sense of erotic derangement that turns us into every bit the voyeur. The film acts as a composite of several questions that intersperse into a concoction of moral ambiguities and historically systemic hierarchical and hegemonic dilemmas.
Then add Vadim’s European self-proclaimed Libertine sensibilities, his view of American culture and you get a psychopathic Don Juan, voyeuristic close-ups of supposed adolescent young girls, and a society that condemns and perpetuates both.-
An alternative title to this blog post could be “The Americanization of Debauchery, Perversion, Panties, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights transfixed on the modern high school campus. Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Socratic Infusion of Free Love & the Sexual Revolution. With traces of Bluebeard, Casanova. Sexism & Misogyny, the POV of the new wave European Aestheticism of the female body as Fetish. Pom Poms and The Cult of American Hero worship Molière & Lord Byron’s Don Juan with a smattering of Svengali, as a homicidal Pedagogue in a Nehru Jacket.”
PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW From the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.
Rock Hudson romantic leading man of the 1950s and 60s.
Pretty Maids All In A Row 1971 directed by Roger Vadim. (And God Created Woman, Blood and Roses &Barbarella)Written and Produced by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Film score by Lalo Shifrin
THE PRIMARY CAST:
Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, introducing John David Carson as Ponce and William Campbell as Deputy Grady.
Director of Photography Charles Rosher. Lalo Schifrin the original music song Chilly Winds music by Lalo and lyrics by Mike Curb The Screenplay is by Gene Roddenberry based on the novel by Francis Pollini. Produced and Scripted by Roddenberry ( Star Trek, Have Gun -Will Travel )
Director Roger Vadim’s first motion picture in the United States.
Cinematography by Charles Rosher Jr.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
MGM was trying to appeal to the “youth market”. The indie films of the late 60s and 70s were taking over, and MGM was in financial trouble, it would completely cease production by 1976 and by 1979.
Pretty Maids All In A Row was released on April 28, 1971, and did a Limited run In Theaters:
Rock Hudson is ‘Tiger’ McDrew
Telly Savalas is Captain Sam Surcher
Angie Dickinson is Miss Betty Smith
John David Carson is Ponce de Leon Harper
Roddy McDowall Is Principal Proffer
Keenan Wynn is Chief Poldaski
William Campbell is Sheriff Deputy Grady (Dementia 13 Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Best remembered by Star Trek fans as the Klingon commander in the iconic “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode.)
James Doohan as Follo is best known for his role as ‘Beam me up’ Scotty on Stark Trek the original series.
Susan Tolsky is Miss Harriet Craymire
Barbara Leigh as Janet McDrew -She was cast as the original “Vampirella” and has done two Playboy celebrity pictorials (May 1973, January 1977) Also had affairs with Steve McQueen and Elvis Presley.
THE PRETTY MAIDS
Brenda Sykes: Pamela Wilcox
On the far right Joy Bang as Rita
With Peter Duel in God Bless The Children 1970 the pilot for the tv series The Psychiatrist.
Co-stars Gretchen Burrell: Marjorie, June Fairchild: Sonny Swangle, the always-laughing student, Aimee Eccles: Hilda Lee. Margaret Markov: Polly and Diane Sherry: Sheryl.
Joanna Cameron: Yvonne Millish, actress Cameron played super goddess ISIS on the Saturday morning kid’s show that was part of the SHAZAM hour.
June Fairchild: Sonny Swangle, the always-laughing student.
Pretty Maids, was the U.S. film debut of French New Wave director Roger Vadim, known for his sensually soft-core eroticism My particular favorite of his is the beautiful “Et mourir de plaisir” or Blood and Roses 1960 Based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, starring Mel Ferrer, Elsa Martinelli, and Vadim’s first wife Annette Stroyberg. The film is a surreal masterpiece.
Pretty Maids was not received well upon its first release at the box office, however. The film reviews were fairly mixed. Part of the controversy is not only for the film’s perceived glorification of underage girls having sex with a predatory adult. It was the inherent portrayal of misogyny that was repulsive to many viewers and critics and is still widely held by some reviews I’ve read.
I happened to catch it when it first aired on television in the 70s, as it was boldly slated for mainstream viewing. Apparently, Vadim did not return to film another movie in the U.S. for quite a while after the initial reaction to this misunderstood film.
It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, of those Halcyon days of film in the 1970s perhaps filled with a little kitsch, guys with ambitious sideburns and actresses in long leather vests seemed to have far more sublime sensuality than most today posses. And yet it seems to make other people just recoil at its misogynistic tone. Since I view everything now deriving a lot of insight from living with a sociologist, I experience a lot of things now vicariously through the lens of a let’s say ’empathy’ with the feminist theory my partner espouses.
Let me say this, the film does not offend me, yet does what a lot of good films should do, while Vadim himself bares the refuge of an affectionate exploitation of the female anatomy, some might think the script is salacious, rather I think it shines a light on several themes using satire as a reflective weapon. Although there lacks Vadim’s trademark elegant decadence and art-house flavor such as his Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959) and La Ronde (1964), there is an Americanism that fluctuates between satire and plain cruelty, at times tactless and insensitive with a growing sense of disorder and I think that was the entire point which makes the film truly disturbing for it’s day. It is clear to me, regardless of his excusal of the fixation and fetishism he places on the female anatomy behind the camera and on film, that Vadim is a provocateur in every way.
At the time of Pretty Maids release, Rock Hudson’s career had sort of come to a standstill he hadn’t yet transitioned to television with his hit TV series McMillan & Wife. It was an interesting casting choice and one against type for the Hollywood heartthrob that once graced the screen with the lily-white Doris Day. Considering this departure for him, he gave a really unselfconscious performance, looking almost sleazy and drained at times. The irony of his playing this sexist lady killer is that with the exception of a few small Hollywood insiders, no one knew that Hudson was gay.
Pretty Maids is an obscure dark comedy, a deviant piece of satire I would say slightly bedroom farce, a light sleazy cult film thriller of the 70s. It fascinates me because it steeps in my brain, leaving a myriad of impressions. It’s not just a coolly directed picture with a quirky ensemble of glorious seasoned actors, it’s also filled with campy dialogue…
“I wonder why they always seem to die with a smile on their face?”- Officer Follo (James Doohan) asks the question.
…and gruesome and distasteful aspects to the narrative. And of course, there’s the element of nostalgia for me, such as the beloved actors, in particular, Angie Dickinson (probably one of my favorite roles was the lusty Sheila Farr in Don Siegel’s 1964 remake of The Killers with Lee Marvin)and her performance as Chris in the 1967 John Boorman film Point Blank again with Lee Marvin.
On the set of Siegel’s The Killers 1964.
Great image from MGM promo shot from Point Blank (1967) via Cinema is Dope blog site:
The film also has the presence of a fantastic musical score and memorable theme song ‘Chilly Winds’. There is something brewing in the breezy Chilly Winds’ composition, part honey and part kerosene, that first goes down simply but disturbs in that really good way. The film leaves thoughts that keep bubbling up to the surface for me as I watched it again after so many years.
I just want to say briefly that Dickinson’s (“Pepper Anderson” on Police Woman (1974-78) role as Betty was one of the highlights of the film for me. Her decision to play this character was very bold, to be an older woman in the same position as Tiger McDrew, with a heightened libido, deflowering a virgin teenage boy. She was taking a risk playing the instigator of sex, where there is a power differential. Today, the same role would have branded her as a perpetrator brought up on charges of statutory rape. Ponce initially calls Miss Smith ‘ma’am’ which also signals to us, that there is a power differential, as well as Ponce, is still self-identifying as a subordinate, pupil, and underage young boy. His calling her ma’am adds a perverse standpoint to their impending sexual relationship.
So if we are to suspend our moralizing gaze and consider Angie Dickinson’s performance as just a kinder, gentler Mrs. Robinson, she manages to balance her playful sex appeal, with an elegant sexuality that’s charming, funny, awkward, and yes intelligent. She does not play a dumb blonde but a highly educated teacher, who wonders about the number of stars in the heavens and reads Milton’s Paradise Lost like it’s foreplay.
At Betty’s tutoring session at her apartment. She asks Ponce to describe Milton. He asks “Milton who?” “John Milton” is silly. Ponce fumbles around a summary “He describes the way in Heaven in which Satan was expelled and his evolution into the Devil…by corrupting…his finest creation…Woman, uhm Mankind.”
Betty starts to slowly and methodically recite Milton herself. Rosher gives us a close-up of her moistened full lips, she begins the passage.
“I fled but he pursued though more it seems inflamed with lust, than rage, and swifter far, I overtook his mother, all dismayed and in embraces forcible and foul engendering with me, of that rape begot these yelling monsters that, with ceaseless cry surround me as thou sawest hourly conceived and hourly born with sorrow infinite to me for when they list into the womb, that had bred them, they return and howl and gnaw my bowels, their repast (she pauses)…Isn’t this exciting!”
As Betty’s breasts are at eye level with Ponce, he answers in a heightened level of sexual arousal slowly in a fevered groan, he moans, “Oh yeah.”
As he slumps down in the chair, Betty asks “What’s the matter Ponce?” she says this reminiscent of an adult talking to a little child they’re telling a bedtime story “You don’t think I”m going to eat you do you?” Ponce, sighs…looking up at her, his eyes begging ” Oh yes”, ah… no… Miss Smith.”
Any way you look at her, it’s Angie Dickinson’s blazing smile that gets me every time.
In part 2 of this blog post, I talk about Byron’s ‘Intelligent Woman’ in regards to his poem Don Juan as being that type of woman is feared as ‘masculine.’ You could make the correlation that Betty Smith is an educated woman who is acting as the aggressor, a perceived male function.
Angie in her role as Pepper Anderson on Police Woman
In April 1971 an issue of Playboy Magazine published an article about the movie co-scripted by Vadim himself. It included a nine-page photographic spread of actresses Angie Dickinson, and Gretchen Burrell, Aimee Eccles, and Margaret Markov, a few of the Pretty Maids.
Roddy McDowall lovable character actor as Cornelius in Planet of The Apes 1968
I also adore Roddy McDowall as well, he is one of my favorite actors. (Legend of Hell House 1973, Night Gallery 1969, Planet of The Apes 1968, Columbo (1971-2003) episode Short Fuse, too many roles in film and television to mention.) When he’s not playing a conniving prig, he’s got a urbane sexiness, that’s endearing. And you know I never realized how attractive Telly Savalas was until I started noticing how really sensual bald men are. Except for his role as the psychotic Maggot in Aldrich’s fantastic war film The Dirty Dozen 1967, Savalas was very androgynous in the role of Captain Sam Surcher, predating his iconic role as Kojak, with his orally fixated lollypop, here in Pretty Maids, it’s his cigarette and ever-present sun glasses that are the props and projected appendage of his libido.
Telly Savalas as Theo Kojak
A Little Plot Summary:
Rock Hudson romantic leading man of the 1950s and 60s, invokes the character of the sexy master manipulator, Michael Tiger McDrew, All-American Football hero, faculty adviser, groovy high school guidance counselor/guru /Pedagogue at Southern California’s upscale suburban Ocean View High School. He’s a libertine and a veneered adoring husband and father, when in fact he possesses an aesthetic breed of misogyny. I’d even compare him to a Svengali, for his mesmerizing yet not obviously enigmatic, for he’s very cool and calculating to be that standout and manifest.
He does have a discernible fluidity in his ability to control the situation. In particular, the “Exceptionally Gifted” boys and girls he sets his gaze upon. McDrew’s got a Master’s Degree in Psychology, which Surcher finds impressive as he lights his ever-present cigarette. This signals to us that Capt. Surcher’s got his eye on McDrew for the murders.
He’s a modern-day Casanova & Don Juan, a contemporary Bluebeardesque serial killer who’s mastered the art of seduction yet fiercely loves his wife, the primary woman in his world, and so will never kill her thus by nature of self-preservation and will untangle himself from any young nymphet from the collection of underage high school girls that have sex with him and then, threaten to expose his duplicity, therefore, ruin his ‘ideal marriage.
Michael ‘Tiger’ McDrew dispatches his victims, by strangling them. Leaves dismissive and cryptic notes with quips like “so long honey” & “keep cool, honey’, pinned on the pantied asses of the half-naked bodies he dumps in plain site like fodder from his spoils. Honey is a term used to depersonalize and dehumanized the girls, as they are merely objects for his pleasure only.
‘KEEP COOL, HONEY.”
“POOR, POOR HONEY”
Coming out of the 1960s with Free Love and Flower Children, McDrew uses these images of the sexual revolution to reach out to his students. There are images of hip posters hanging on the walls of his office. He makes himself very accessible to all…but in particular a select group of kids. He’s turned down several jobs at Universities because “This is where it’s at.”
Tiger McDrew takes on a protégé in Ponce de Leon Harper (John David Carson who has a John Molder Brown baby face of innocence) a neurotic, naive yet very bright nail-biting teenager who is probably the only boy in the school not having sex yet. He must hide his perpetual erections by shielding them with his clipboard and books.
Eventually, Tiger sets substitute Betty Smith on Ponce to deflower the youth. This he does by demonstrating to Miss Smith how to make love in a mock session that drives the smitten Betty Smith to the brink, only to leave her frustrated and clumsy at the hands of his manipulation. A boy who by the start of the film sputters on his scooter, and by the film’s end is riding a motorcycle, the transformation into manhood is complete with chrome and sexy blonde passenger.
Dickinson is as adorable as Betty Smith in this film, which could have been humiliating to any other actress. Captain Sam Surcher is called in to investigate the murders of these girls after Ponce discovers the first victim in the boy’s washroom. From the very beginning Surcher suspects that Tiger McDrew has something to do with the murders. The prim Principal Proffer (Roddy McDowall) is mostly preoccupied with appearances and utters the ubiquitous phrase throughout the film “SHE WAS A FINE GIRL AND A REALLY TERRIFIC CHEERLEADER.”
The rest of Pretty Maids All in a Row reveals to us Ponce’s primal awakening into manhood and the ensuing police investigation of the serial murders at the school conducted by Telly Savalas as State Police Captain Surcher. Aside from the assemblage of the various young actors and actresses, there is also the presence of Keenan Wynn who plays local Sheriff Poldaski, a bumbling hick who manhandles the evidence and winds up being put on traffic duty. The film also co-stars Barbara Leigh as Tiger McDrew’s wife Janet.
As an aside, I believe Tiger’s wife Janet, knew on some level what he was up to by the end of the film. The narrative portrays her as possibly the only female he considers an equal, we are shown that she beats him at chess, an ‘intellectual’ game of calculation, which could be code for their matched wits, and his sexual maneuvering with the young girls as a side ‘game’ to their relationship.
During the chess match, the music underscores the mood with pared-down single notes glistening from a Fender Rhodes keyboard reminiscent of the 70s ‘dreamy’ sound, Tiger says to Janet ” Guard your Queen”
It’s in her eyes…Janet McDrew.
To me, this is anticipating the future of things to come for Janet and ‘the family.”
Essentially Janet knows where her husband’s allegiance lies and the chess games show her superior mind, the equally powerful one in the marriage thus the respect he gives her, also that she has a calculating mind, at the end being able to figure out the ruse for his possible escape. The film leaves us wondering about a lot of things.
There is the possibility that she is part of his sick game, allowing it and actually aiding him to allude to the police. He respects her and is devoted because of this. There is something in her eyes. Plus it’s obvious Tiger and his wife have a fruitful sex life. While Tiger tries to prevent anyone from finding out the truth behind his ruse as a hero, by the end, things unravel at a fast pace, and so I do believe that he ultimately allows Janet in on his secret.
This also speaks to something that started happening in horror films, which I think Pretty Maids could easily be tagged as a subgenre, the psychopathic serial killer. In the 70s, films started to portray the American family as not necessarily the sanctuary of wholesome goodness and normalcy.
Films started to blow the lid off the hidden fact that sometimes the monster came from within and not the invaders that were prevalent in the 50s and 60s which were really just code for fear of the bomb and communism.
The 50s gave us, Don Siegel’s masterpiece Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1955 Hysteria, losing your identity and the Communist Scare. The Enemy from without.
Now it was a very personal expedition to flip the presumption of American family values and invert it into something nightmarish and threatening.
Not that Pretty Maids is by itself a family horror film, but there is the framing of Tiger and his wife as the American family creating the axis of the McDrews (suburban) family which revolves around a series of deceptions and misconduct and crimes, ultimately effecting the entire community. It is this reservoir of depravity and indulgence that creates the story’s core narrative. That conventional society breeds monsters that are palpable yet unremarkable people.
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates an All-American Mama’s Boy.
Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse, with Ruth Gordon. She’s going to have a baby!
From Hearths of Darkness: The Family in The American Horror Film by Tony Williams
From the introduction: Assault in the American Horror Film
“During the 1970s an unusual event affected Hollywood’s representation of the American family. Generally revered as a positive icon of ‘normal’ human society, the institution underwent severe assault. The antagonist was no external force such as the Frankenstein monster, Count Dracula or Cat Woman: instead, the threat came from within. In Night of The Living Dead 1968, a young girl cannibalizes her father and hacks her mother to death. In Rosemary’s Baby 1968 Satan decides to reverse two thousand years of Christian hegemony by sending his messiah to destroy American society from within. Polanski’s film anticipates an assault that continues in The Exorcist 1973 and The Omen 1976.” continued. ” In The Last House on The Left 1972 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 and The Hills Have Eyes 1977, typical American families encounter their monstrous counterparts, undergo ( or perpetuate) brutal violence, and eventually survive full knowledge of their kinship to their monstrous counterparts. All these depictions contradict normal idealized family images in mainstream American film and television. They disrupt the ideological norms of family sitcoms such as Father Knows Best, and Leave It To Beaver.”
Here in his Chapter Sacrificial Victims, he writes
“Family horror films of the seventies reveal intense contradictions.” he continues by saying this very relevant piece.
” Michel Foucault’s definitions of discourse and power-knowledge formations, horror film monsters are defined according to a particular set of institutional guidelines as ” abject” due to their antagonistic protest against family restraint.”
Tiger appears to respect Janet. She can be considered the only Alpha female in the film, the only woman he is somewhat subordinate most of the time. That is why she is the only one he would not kill the only one he can be devoted to. In this sense, he would always return to his domain, with her as the primary lover in his life. She has also bared his child. So no one must obstruct, threaten or invade his conventional strata with his primary mate.
Whenever one of the girls demands more than just a secret liaison in his office, or whoever threatens the silent contract Tiger has with his wife, the sort of freedom, the secret indulgence he feels entitled to have, objectifying the girls he was meant to mentor, they have to be silenced, therefor killed. They are mere ‘honeys’ accessible for his sexual gratification only.
THE DEVIL’S SMILE…
To Tiger, women only excel as objects for sexual usage. Whereas, boys could expand their imaginations and flex their strengths in sports and intellectual endeavors. We see this in Tiger’s interactions with his students. It appears very black and white in Tiger McDrew’s fundamental understanding of gender roles and identity as he is an alpha male in a society of women who are starting to self-express themselves all over the place. Coming of age in a post-Free Love society is like the metamorphosis into butterflies. ‘Painted Ladies’ is a certain variety of butterflies.
The most notable inception of the teenager having sex = death in film started with Halloween & Friday The 13th.
What’s interesting to note is that the environment, the atmosphere of the high school campus with these young nymphets fluttering around gives the impression that Vadim is trying to expose the dichotomy of the male exploitation of the female body, and the girls themselves as the exploiters. It is an intricate system of archetypes. And not an easy one to disassemble as you cannot blame the girls for their own deaths. Can you blame the victims?
With the ensuing 80s slasher cannon, if you were a promiscuous teenager you automatically had to die. Are the girls the only victims in this film? Is the virginal Ponce a product of a careful framework of suggestions set up by society that he follow Tiger’s lead, and emerge an objectifying male himself. Ponce also starts out as an innocent (fountain of youth), a ‘Chrysalis boy’ before he morphs into a womanizing male by the film’s conclusion.
The film celebrates the glorious All-American pastime of Pom Poms and The Gridiron. The sweat of heroic athleticism as patriotism, and the cosmetic appearances of the morality of the middle class, while the hedonism left over from the sexual revolution of the 60s bleeds underneath the suburban pall. The uncomfortable friction and hostility of conformity vs freedom to express oneself, and the backlash of self-indulgence in an unforgiving cultural undercurrent of conservatism.
The ’60s and early 70s were a time when there was an urge to ‘find oneself’ a period of societal change. Political and Social groups were trying to influence and shake up the ‘status quo.’
There was a ravenous appetite for autonomy. Kinsey, Masters & Johnson, the emancipating ‘pill’ and changes toward sexual attitudes created an environment for even more sexual exploration and indulgence. There was a dramatic shift in traditional values relating to sex and sexuality. Freud had already peeked into our bedrooms, even though sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There were profound shifts in people’s behaviors and institutional regulations. People were just more expressive about their sexuality.
The institutionalization of young girls
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s given the counterculture movements and availability of the birth control pill, women were offered a chance to shed their chains of moral confinement. Women had permission to seek sexual pleasure for themselves. Of course still within the parameters of the institution of ‘heterosexual marriage’ and the suburban conformist edict, in terms of what was expected from men and the male protocol.
A Metaphor: The Sexual Revolution. Sexuality& Modernity
“and the regulation of man’s sexuality in public. D.H Lawrence may have shocked an earlier generation with Lady Chatterley’s extramarital sexual independence, but it was not until the 1970s that women’s sexuality outside marriage became widely accepted.” – From Sexuality & Modernity: The Sexual Revolution of the 60s.
Goldie Hawn was taken from tv’s Laugh-In.
Also implicit in the film’s narrative is how Vadim extracts the satire by showcasing the insanity of putting sports before the safety of the girls and the slayings taking place at this upscale High School in suburban California. This is Vadim’s very obvious vilification of American customs and traditions. It’s a dark commentary on the priorities of American culture, the middle class, and the observances we honor while ruthlessly stabbing at the heart of humanity.
Vadim seamlessly weaves the eloquence of the classic suspense film, within the dark satire gearing up to its conclusion with a sangfroid and well-humored calm that grows darker ever so subtly to the open-ended question of male preeminence in society and the making of the mainstream suburban monster. Hudson’s comfortableness in the role lends to a realism that makes the film spare, at times sullen and capricious. I think of how the film also predates the revelations of a society that engenders a Ted Bundy or the BTK Killer.
The 70s was the time to subvert the American dream, and the ethics of the nuclear family, ripping the skin off the shiny surface and exposing the dark underbelly of society and the not-so-family values. It was time for rebellion from the comfortable Hollywood cinema. After the 60s exploded with its ‘self-hood’ backlash of Americana 50s values, which gave rise to the sexual revolution, and experimentation with drug use, The 70s was ripe for its exploration into and subversion of the ‘American Family’ and ‘The Family Man’, in the case Tiger McDrew.
Hudson‘s McDrew is shown as a family man only after we see him in the midst of having carnal knowledge of an underage yet highly developed young high school girl. Unlike Bluebeard who killed his wives, McDrew strives to balance his secret life of womanizing, with his being the devoted family man. It’s only when one of his concubines reaches beyond seduction in order to grasp a commitment from him, does the feeling of being trapped and threatened, trigger his murderous nature.
In this way, he is a monster of convenience. A monster of necessity, like so many sociopaths to follow.
“The word “svengali” refers to a person who, with evil intent, manipulates another person. The Svengali may use pseudo-kindness, artfully or deceitfully, to get the other person to do what the Svengali desires.”
John Barrymore and his nose, in the 1931 film Svengali
There’s also a stripe of Svengali, (Svengali, a fictional character in George du Maurier‘s 1894 novel Trilby) to Tiger, who charms and lures these eager young maidens into his den of sensuality, lust, and eventual demise. All the time controlling and manipulating their willful burgeoning womanhood. He moves about the high school like an erudite mentor, spouting intellectual ideas, and secretly sending out pheromones to the pretty young maids.
He mentors the special boys who are meant for greatness in leadership or show athletic prowess as Tiger reigns over the students as a self-proclaimed Socratic mentor teaching them about sexual freedom, the boys to tap into their as he puts it ‘animal’ selves. The girls are merely chosen for one thing. The one thing they excel at, in his mind, is in offering up their bodies for sexual nourishment.
The film opens with the breezy song, “Chilly Winds”, a deceptively whimsical piece with an underlying darkness to it. The music was written by Lalo Shifrin, lyrics by Christian songwriter Mike Curb, and sung by the Osmond Brothers.
Yes, I admit it. I had a crush on Donny Osmond and owned every 45 records and album of theirs. Saw them in concert at Madison Square Garden too. I played Chilly Winds over and over again on my little record player. Go ahead, have a good laugh. You probably still have some old Back Street Boys laying around in the back of the closet in a dusty plastic crate from Target.
As I’ve noticed about the film, one theme that pervades Pretty Maids, is not only a condemnation and backlash of the sexual exploration of freedom and promiscuity that lingered over from the 60s and evolved into a self-absorbed, self-submerged culture whose new exploration of sex and drug indulgence bled into the 70s. It also pokes fun at the educational system.
The film opens with our young protagonist Ponce riding his scooter to high school. He is bombarded with images of nubile girls, emerging into their ripening womanhood, wearing tight-clad skirts, showing off their blossoming figures, full breasts and asses peaking out of panties that hemlines hardly obscure.
We and Ponce are inundated with images of emerging sexuality, yet he is still quite a youngish milk-fed boy, who cannot control what is happening to his body. The turbulent hardening of his penis at the mere sight of the opposite sex. He seems insignificant amongst these girls who are obviously in reality, older than high school age. He seems less apt to grab a young girl’s attention as he is clumsy, ambiguous, and lacking the necessary confidence so much so that he might just fade away in the throngs of students buzzing around him.
Vadim and Rocher’s fetishized camera close-ups and perspectives are obsessed with breasts, legs, and asses. We are being shown that these girls are ripe for the picking. Ponce, is an outsider still, on the precipice of manhood, with no sense of his own masculinity.
Interesting that the choice of name for our protagonist is Ponce based on Ponce de Leon the Spanish explorer who was associated with the legendary Fountain of Youth. Ponce Harper does exhibit a certain perpetual innocence, or youth, amidst the rest of his classmates who are far more sexually energetic.
Ponce de Leon.
Vadim’s tongue-in-cheek with the use of his character’s names is playful as it is obvious. Tiger is just that, a predator, and Sam Surcher is a seeker of the answers to the mystery of the killings. The only character asking the right questions. Even Angie Dickinson’s character Betty Smith, is the most mundane, and generic all-American woman’s name, as she is representative of the growing number of women in the 70s who began the pursuit of their own sexual gratification.
Set the scene we are now in class. The substitute teacher, generically and innocuously named Betty Smith (Angie Dickinson) sticks her ass in Ponce’s face, then turns and asks what his report is on. He tells her about John Milton. She is impressed “Ah Paradise Lost” (further allusions to innocence dying ) just to further torture him, as she walks over to the next desk she bumps her breast into his face.
Ponce has trouble with constant erections, so we can see by his face that he is struggling. He excuses himself to go the bathroom, holding his notebook over his crotch to hide his bulging erection. While sitting in the stall we see his boots resting next to his feet, the chalky white lifeless feet of a female.
He asks who’s there, and goes to investigate. The camera gives us a very depersonalized angle. This is not the intimate moment in a thriller one would expect, the shot is sterile almost austere, viewed from the ceiling showing us a girl with her dress hiked up, revealing white panties, face down, slumped over the toilet. In this way, it is almost more horrific, as it lacks a dramatic spirit. it is brutally real.
A single piece of paper is pinned to her panties..a sparse classical piano piece is setting the pace of the scene. Ponce opens the door to the adjoining stall, asks if she’s alright, and removes the note, as the dead body of the girl slides to the floor. There’s a look of panic on Ponce’s face as he starts to stammer. He begins to call out for the school principal Mr Proffer, Ponce runs through the halls. It is only Ponce’s panic that flags the heightened tenor of the film’s veracity and ugliness.
Ponce keeps running thru the halls screaming for Principal Proffer. We see the Guidance Counselor’s office door, the orange/pink neon TESTING light is on. ( It might as well say FUCKING) Now we’re in the room, and there is a silken naked girl on top of Tiger McDrew. They are having sex.
Ponce barges into the principal’s room, where he is sitting at his desk. Ponce starts screaming.
“In our lavatory, she’s in our lavatory” pointing in ‘that’ direction. Proffer looks only slightly moved by this outburst. In McDowall’s inimitable snobbish manner, he asks “Who?” “Jill Fairbutt, she’s up there in the boy’s lavatory” Proffer answers “That is very much against the rules!” “It’s not that sir, she… it’s nothing immoral…she’s dead.”
Now the mousy and fussy Harriet Craymire (Susan Tolsky) Proffer’s bespectacled secretary says to Ponce, “Mr. Proffer That’s exactly how it started in other schools…a moral breakdown, values completely disintegrated”
Ponce keeps calling out to her until he gets her attention, “Miss Craymire it’s alright she’s dead…”
The darkly funny yet ironic nuance of truth makes farcical the idea that it’s alright if she was immoral because she’s paid the price…she’s dead.
Keenan Wynn who plays the bumbling simple-minded local sheriff Chief Poldaski is on his way. The halls are buzzing with students. An entire crowd of people are now onlookers at the crime scene, as Principal Proffer looks inside the stall, down at the dead girl. Ponce is looking over the man’s shoulder. He says to Proffer, “This is my first murder, but should everyone be crowding in here?”
Proffer emits a response. At first, you would think is one of concern but he follows up his confusion with one of the ironic gists of the film “I don’t understand this, we’ve always kept our academic averages so high.”
There’s a quick cutaway to the heavy breathing of Tiger still making it with a young girl. Back to the crowded hallway. and the appearance of Chief Poldaski on the scene. In a very telling scene, Poldaski grabs the first black male student he sees, and says, ” Just a minute you, not so fast!” The film has injected the idea of racial profiling and the law assuming that the disturbance must be related to a black man. Another student has to redirect him to the bathroom.
Again we see Principal Proffer, who looks upset yet void of compassion, more disturbed by the nuisance of it all. He utters the words that reverberate thru the film.
“Uh…she was such a terrific little cheerleader.”
Proffer moves as if to get sick in the sink. Ponce tells him please if there’s any evidence it’s being trampled by all the people in the room. The Chief comes in growling like a grizzly bear, ordering everyone to get back, as he approaches the stall. He pushes the door to the stall in such a clumsy bull in a china shop fashion that he lets it hit him in the face.
Proffer with the aide of Ponce tells Chief Poldaski “Don’t you think there’s enough evidence trampling going on here” He picks up the cue and makes it his own idea. “Alright everybody stop tramplin’ on the evidence and that means everybody… so shut up!” The man is an idiot. Proffer closes his eyes as if pained.
Ponce begins to give the Chief an account of how he discovered the body. Poldaski walks over ignoring what he is trying to tell him and says “Aren’t you the football water boy? He tells him he’s the student manager. Proffer corrects Poldaski and tells him the assistant carries the water. Poldaski writes this down. The entire scene is a farce of mistakes, and carelessness amidst the seriousness of the situation. There’s a dead girl in the stall with a note pinned to her ass.
The idea of American Sports, in this case, Football, is invoked and all the concern goes out the window. We see that Vadim is telling us what the priorities are here. A school that only cares about its appearance as upholding moral values, reverence for athleticism, and the outward look of propriety.
Ponce continues to try and give information and is interrupted once again by the idiot Poldaski who asks how he thinks the team will do against Valley High. The Chief and Proffer talk about football while Ponce keeps pushing his voice thru the madness to tell his version of the events that led him to find the dead girl.
The naked Tiger McDrew is framed from the knees down, while we see the languid nude girl lounging on the couch. The state police arrive. Tiger looks out the window through the blinds and remarks that he wonders what’s happened.
Telly Savalas as Detective Sam Surcher is cool, and as well-oiled as his pre-Kojak enters the bathroom. We get a ceiling view of the room as if looking down at a cubicle filled with mice. Again a very antiseptic point of view of the situation. Surcher asks to get a test for the presence of molestation and sperm sent to the lab. He is very serious, in the midst of the rest of the people who are trampling the scene with their passive ineptitude.
Surcher tells Ponce to go to Proffer’s office to be more comfortable when giving his account, but Chief Poldaski tells him he doesn’t need Ponce’s story he’s got it right there, and the note that was “pinned to her butt.” Surcher looks quietly amazed (with that sexy squint Savalas has) at the utter stupidity of this bungling law officer, who now pulls the note out from his back pocket. Unfolding it a little, rubbing his fingers all over it to clean it off from his pocket lint.
A SET OF MAZE-LIKE SHAPES FOR LAB RATS.
Handing it over to Surcher. who rubs his eyes and asks ” Let me understand this” He grabs a latex glove to handle the mangled note. ” You found this on the girl’s body” now laughing at that classic sardonic cackle of his, “and you removed it” More jeering now ” and then you folded it?” grinning widely “Carefully.”His voice trailing off into a caustic vapor.
Poldaski answers, “Otherwise you might have lost a very valuable piece of evidence…you know I’ve some very good ideas about this killing.” Surcher is mesmerized by this man’s ineptitude. He responds, “And I’m gonna need all the help I can get from you Chief” He chuckles to himself. “Starting right now.”
Quick cut to the little silver whistle being blown by the Chief as he is now assigned traffic detail.
Tiger McGrew is wrapping up his sexual encounter with the young girl when he gets the phone call from the principal’s office to come down. He acts surprised. Walking thru the halls the kids are asking him if he’s heard what’s happened. They are flocking to him like he is a patron saint. He heads into Proffer’s office and again we hear him on the phone saying, “She was a fine girl and a really terrific little cheerleader” Ponce is frustrated by all the inane, insensitive chatter about sports and the significance of cheerleading.
Now in Principal Proffer’s office.
Tiger: “Yes we’ve had quite a run of exceptional young men thru here…and women (with a slight hesitation) Jill was one of the finest.”
Proffer: “She was such a terrific” Ponce interrupts, ” little cheerleader…dammit Mr. Proffer don’t you think she’d want to be remembered for something besides leading a bunch of stupid yells” Proffer looks surprised.
Ponce is twisted into a pretzel of frustration.
Surcher sees that Ponce is agitated and switches to asking about getting the time sequences straight.
“When you looked into the booth you recognized her…you turned and then you ran for help?”
Ponce: “Well actually I didn’t recognize her at first….( he shifts in his chair uncomfortably) we’ll I was facing her from sort of an unusual angle….and I didn’t recognize her, until after she toppled over.”
Surcher: ” Well how’d she topple over son?”
Ponce hesitates, scratching his chin, his body language gives away his skittishness. “I think I leaned on her.”
The camera pans to Proffer’s bewildered-struck expression.
Surcher, his sunglasses poised atop his tan bald head, “You leaned on her…how?” he says with a curious and sarcastic air to the question.
Ponce rubs his legs with both hands. “When I bent over to read the note.”
Surcher leaning on Proffer’s desk turns his body back in order to look at Tiger McDrew’s reaction, and then faces Ponce again. The camera pulls back to give us a wide-angle view of this awkward interrogation. Surcher gets up from the desk and comes to lean in closer to Ponce, cupping his hands. “What are you, what are you so nervous about?” laughing, his question breaking away from his satyr-like grin.
Now the camera frames a serious expression on Tiger’s face. His mind is waging an artful thought.
Ponce continues to answer, “Because I….keep wondering if…maybe I did it on purpose” He finally looks up into Surchers’ face, a childlike innocence washes over Ponce’s face. Like a little boy asking for his father’s approval.
Surcher calmly follows up, ” Did what”, but William Campbell as Grady, Surcher’s right-hand man says, “Come on kid tell us what you did to the body” he says in a low, growling unsavory way.
Ponce gets more composed, ” I leaned my hand on her bottom as I said….you think I’d do anything else to a dead girl?” he adds some forcefulness to his voice. ” I haven’t even had a live one yet” he laughs pathetically.
The scene ends and now we’re outside with Tiger and Ponce by the soda machines. Tiger asks “Love life problems huh?”Ponce tells him, “What love life,” he says acting angry and wounded by the pronouncement. “I’m 17 years old and I haven’t as much touched a girl’s breast yet.”
“Well, maybe you haven’t found the right girl,” Tiger asks if anything is bugging him. If he’s worried about acne or bad breath. Ponce begins to tell him about his trouble having constant erections. “Perhaps there is one physical thing I should have mentioned…I have kind of a problem with a…you know…erections…”
Just as he says this 2 leggy girls walk by, and Ponce moans in pain. “Is the problem constant Ponce or does it vary?”
“No, ah, it’s pretty constant” he crosses his legs. “Does anything seem to help?” “Yes, they don’t seem to happen as often if I take cold showers.”
Tiger looks amazed, as Ponce continues, “When I’m with a girl the only thing that helps is if I do multiplication problems in my head…but that kinda interferes with conversation” As Ponce is relating this to Tiger, we see Betty Smith walking slowing, a vision of pure beauty as she drifts into view.
Tanned and golden cleavage emerges out of a tight white blouse. She walks over to tell Ponce that it must have been terrible finding that poor dead girl, as she goes to shake hands with Tiger introducing herself, once again her breast pushes into Ponce’s face.
We see the wheels turning in Tiger’s head. As she walks away, we watch her long legs in her short brown suede skirt carry her out of view.
The scene breaks and now we see the pink neon TESTING sign lit up again on Tiger’s office door.
Listening to classical music on the radio, representative of an intellectual mindset, the students are sitting at various desks. One young man gets up and tells Tiger he is done, handing him his paper.
Tiger tells him very well and begins to talk to the skinny young man in glasses.
“Incidentally… I’m putting your name down for track, next semester.” “Ah come on now Tiger, that sports scene is a drag,” he says with indignation. “I don’t know how you got hooked on it.”
Tiger answers him, “You can’t spend the rest of your life reading a book, Harald.” The boy answers, “Ah geez.”
Tiger pats him on the shoulder “ The animal body needs animal exercise.” Harald says disdainfully, “Right.” Tiger leads him out of his office with both his hands planted firmly on the boy’s shoulders now.
“I’m gonna teach you to feel man…to live” Harald leaves, as Tiger slaps his back heartily. Here is the indication that he is preaching to the male species to stake his claim as the sentient being, apt to conquer all. The physicality he preaches is a lesson in taking what’s rightfully his as a male animal.
McDrew is not only a misogynist but an Elitist who can afford to groom these young dissenters as they are from an entitled class.
Stripping away the intelligent shell of herself, paring it down to just a sexual object. Hair comes down and the glasses come off…she has deconstructed the intelligent girl symbolically.
He closes the door turns around and finds the other young girl left in his office is now starting to undress herself. Still wearing glasses herself, she is starting to shed her studious shell and offers herself to this man who is old enough to be her father. The scene ends with her taking the last ounce of evidence of her intellect and studiousness away. She metaphorically is taking away her power and reducing herself to an ‘object’.
We are at a beach house, It is here that the polarity of Tiger’s nature is revealed to be that he is a “family man”. The dichotomous role as husband/lover -mentor/murder – inspirer/ destroyer.
Pulling up in his Mercedes Benz, a dog comes running up to him, barking happily. As he says hello to it, we are clued into this Southern California, American iconoclast’s separate life as a traditional white picket fencer.
As he is about to walk into the wooden door that leads to his backyard. Lalo Shifrin’s score is as easy breezy as a shampoo commercial for that Breck girl’s fresh beauty. A gay tune with a male voice sputtering la la’s all over the screen. Reminiscent of the typical 60s & 70s far out, pop culture mood. It an almost Burt Bacharach thematic style that used the ‘la la’ as a musical phrase, and lots of flutes, shakers, and strummed guitars. In a word….groovy.
Perhaps Lalo Shifrin was giving a nod to his fellow composer because of the presence of Angie Dickinson who had been married to the songwriter at the time. Remember those Martini & Rossi commercials?
Just a note: Shifrin and Bacharach were huge influences on me as a songwriter.
The film now introduces Tiger’s wife, as stated in a Breck shampoo commercial, she comes swaying up the sidewalk. A buxom beauty, A brunette with shoulder-length hair breeze blown and lips pursed. She looks at him as if she is a seductive stranger, and he at her as if he has never seen anyone as beautiful, emerging out of the blue. There is a moment, a flash of romantic mystery. Who is she? La la la…
They walk up to each other. As the music continues, the camera pans around. She looked at us, looking at Tiger sideways, sizing him up. we are circling the screen as she is circling. A camera technique is often seen in films of the 60s and 70s.
“Hello, live around here…can I offer you a drink?” the scene cuts quickly to a little girl who comes running over to them. We are now fully shown the other side of Tiger. The family man and the father.
The musical mood is broken as the little girl shouts Daddy Daddy. As he picks her up into his arms, they all smile, the American dream is realized. The duality is exposed. He hugs her. His wife asks about the murder. “What is school turning into?”, “You heard?” ” On the news it’s awful,” he says dryly “shocking” Then he tells her that he’s talked to the police, they never want to tell you anything, Just questions. He mumbles about it, as they walk off-screen.
Now on the lawn of the high school, the theme music Chilly Winds is playing. Students are lounging on the grass. It is the Garden of Earthly Delights in Southern California.
The camera once again focuses on bare legs, and panties, as Ponce is lying on his stomach, most likely holding back an erection, as he watches the girls walking by. One girl bends over, revealing her ass in skimpy panties, as she fixes her shoes, she says to Ponce, “Shopping?” She’s very aware that she is selling herself, using her tightly clothed barely covered body as a visual offering.
The girls are armed with provocative clothes and suggestive demeanors, all to titillate and tease, only to damn Ponce when he is drawn in by it. This also might suggest that the narrative is blaming the girls for the men objectifying them. While the extreme misogyny on Tiger’s part is reprehensible, the idea that the female body is seen as an ‘object’ is not unfounded.
The bell rings, we hear nondistinct laughter, the students still buzzing about, and then we are in a lab room, where one of the girls is being questioned. Hilda asks Detective Surcher in a very inquisitive tone, ” Was she raped Captain?” he tells the young woman that he’ll ask the questions, as he coolly lights up a cigarette. He’s got a very smooth air about him. Always collected and purposeful.
The criticism or I should say cynicism of the whole ‘feel good’ vibe of the 60s and 70s sexual revolution is apparent in this case where the girl spouts “I love you” to the Surcher.”
“I’m surprised that embarrasses you, well isn’t sex involved in some of the crimes you investigate?”
” Yes now and then….now about those boys, Jill used to date….were any of those boys in the habit of calling her Honey?” He turns around to show her the note, he is holding in his hand. She laughs “Yes, well, probably all of them.”
“See our generation is not afraid of feeling…affection….or expressing it. For example…I love you”
She looks up at him, with innocence, smiling. She is an open flower, she is also numbing in her vapidness. Captain Surcher comes around her, takes his sunglasses off, and says “And I love you.”
He takes her by the hand and leads her up out of her chair. He continues genuflecting up to the sky
“And the world must learn to love one another” He grunts a laugh, and she chuckles a vacuous laugh to meet his grunt. Clueless that he is mocking her. He points her out the door as if he is a gay choreographer, lilting his hand to show her the way out. ” I’m afraid that will be all” He calls her by her last name, but she corrects him ” Hilda” he responds to her ” Hilda” She still laughing, while acting adult, progressive in her thinking she reveals herself as a silly vacuous child in terms of Surcher’s opinion. He responds in a mocking tone as she leaves, he puts the cigarette to his lips, still grunting and mimicking her simple-minded intoxication with life.
Off-screen we hear “next” as if it is a cattle call for wanna-be starlets. As one beauty, or Pretty Maid walks out, another enters.
The camera watches her walk with precision. As if we are auditioning them. Again the camera assigns us the role of Voyeur. Every hip tilt, each swagger, her bare legs bringing her closer to us.
“Good afternoon Miss Melish” She corrects him as well. “Yvonne” both young girls are so hyper-sexual toward this man who is much older than them. Foisting their first names on him, trying to personalize their encounter. They are being conditioned early to be the object. And Tiger is not the only one objectifying these girls. These girls are offering themselves up as well. As told through Vadim’s lens. End of scene.
Now in a classroom setting with Tiger leading a discussion. A student asks “Doesn’t every survey show that the police are oriented very conservatively?” Tiger answers ” So are many Americans.”
A devious mind…
Ponce, “But if the police represent just one point of view…that could be very dangerous”
“Ponce hey come on, my dad’s dangerous, ’cause he’s conservative?” ” Your dad does have the power of repression,” He says emphatically.
Tiger asks, “Do the Police repress us? ” The class sat around in a circle, some playing chess. Tiger is clearly giving these kids the freedom to express themselves with an unconventional style of teaching.
Tiger enjoys the turmoil and conflict that he has stirred up in the class discussion, partly because he truly enjoys the critical thinking that he has engendered and also because of his egoism, it is the vast manipulation that he reinforces by planting ideas in their grasping minds.
There is also the aspect of his being a true believer in the freedom of will to do what one wants. His own philosophy that he is trying to impart to the males in particular, but the grooming of the girls to embrace their sexual freedom as well, so that they will be objects to be offered up.
The class empties out, flooding into the halls like worker ants out of the hill. In another satirical moment, Ponce has to squeeze between two girls, causing their breasts to squeegie him in the process.
It’s at this point in the film, while spying on Betty Smith in the hallway, that Tiger conspires to set Ponce on her, as to deflower him, and his awkward virginity. Using his own charms to lure her into his plan, knowing that she is obviously attracted to him, he uses this to manipulate her into sleeping with this gawky young man. When he asks her to get together in his office, she obviously gets flustered. Tiger once again, is the master manipulator.
McDrew’s reel-to-reel tape recorder is on screen close up, and we hear his sage voice spouting his philosophy on childhood development. This is where I believe we get a glimpse of the genuine pathology behind some of his behavior. His tenets are legitimate to him.
“In a typical high school, it would be difficult to invent a system more destructive of a child’s natural creativity. Only in the most backward penal institutions does one discover equally oppressive rules of silence, restriction of movement, constant examination of behavior.”
We see that it’s Surcher who is listening to Tiger’s voice on the reel-to-reel machine. Studying the message, developing ideas about this man in his instinctive bald head.
“A world in which one must learn to work, eat, exercise and sometimes even defecate by the clock.”
As Surcher listens Tiger walks into his office and sees that his tapes are being listened to. His private world invaded.
Tiger mentions that Jill had a very good figure.
At one point when the school staff headed by Principal Proffer is sitting around a table discussing whether or not to close the school, Surcher tells them all, that “the killer is part of the school, there isn’t any more doubt about that” while McDrew starts to look pensive, almost silently hostile. Proffer starts to question whether or not they shouldn’t just close the school. One of the staff members says that they won’t win against Carverton anyway. Before adamantly adding his voice, he looks suddenly over at Surcher. It’s when McDrew chimes in “We play on Friday” that Surcher looks interested in McDrew. McDrew comments as if a warrior who will not let his men be beaten,
” Once you start retreating…life will drag you down.” Surcher looks over at him slightly stunned.
Again, the football game is the primary consideration, over the tragic killings of the girls, and the safety of future victims. And McDrew almost exposes his more brutal antagonism toward convention, referring to being dragged down could be an allusion to drag down to hell, as the painting would suggest.
MOLIERE’S DON JUAN and the correlation and emphasis the film puts on McDrew’s fixation with the Don Juan Mythos enacted in the scene where he has the students read a telling excerpt from the story…
Set the scene:
Under a tree, with pretty maids lying around on the grass, Tiger reads from an author.
“Why would you have me tie myself down, for the first woman who comes along…give up the world for her and, never… look at anyone else, you see….what a fine thing that would be, to be tricked into fidelity …to bury yourself in one passion forever….and to blind from youth on to all the other….beauties” He looks at brenda sykes “That might catch your eye”
Surcher asks a young redhead what is he reading, she tells him it’s from ” Moliere’s Don Juan,
“Beauty delights me where ever I find it…
We hear Tiger still reciting n the background, from Moiliere’s Don Juan.
“And I easily give over to the sweet violence which directs me. Whatever happens, I can’t refuse loving. What is lovable, and as soon and as soon as a beautiful girl asks for love, If I had 10,000 hearts I’d give them all to her. The act of falling in love has an undefinable charm about it. But all the pleasure in love lies in the fact that it doesn’t…….(There’s a pause, as he sees Surcher watching him recite from Don Juan, worried and sweaty, he says the last word, the pertinent word)…Last”
We are A Fetishistic Society & a society filled with Voyeurs and Voyeurism.
And of course, one of the other blaring themes is the fact that American society is callous and uncaring about victimization. Everyone appears to be elated, and euphoric, while all these girls are being killed. In the midst of this horrific reality, all the players, with the exception of Ponce at times, and Savalas’ Surcher are very dour and earnest about the situation. Whilst the entire school body etc, are celebratory and disrespectful. No reverence for the dead. Murder as a spectator sport. Just like a football game with its cheerleaders.
Surcher: A moral man against the world
The scenes of football games, the locker room of athletic cupped Roman soldiers, the media swarming to the high school, the crowds watching the athletes, watching Surcher watching Tiger, all spectators…Us watching them watching. As I created stills from the film, I saw how Vadim, carefully shot the characters specifically and very intentionally watched each other.
The film acts as a microcosm of a ‘critical discourse event’ in which the event is the catalyst to synthesize a sensational story that becomes part of the mainstream conversation for the community, specifically focused, on the high school itself.
For instance, consider the OJ Simpson trial which created a mainstream sensation by this single act of violence. IT effected the entire cultural landscape by way of the media, creating a collective trend, focus, conversation, and collective consciousness about domestic violence and the cult of celebrity…
…forming a spectatorship. The murder of the girls has created a ‘critical discourse event. Or the ironic satire that the film is drenched in showcases that it’s less about the victims and more about the self-participation in the event that’s the stimulus. It galvanizes the school around the wrong person and focuses as a group more on their connection to football and it’s related heroes that is the contradiction and leaves the question open for debate. Are we really like that as an American society?
Ultimately Tiger McDrew remains the hero in the story. The players with the exception of Surcher, the protracted wheel of ethical conscience, and perhaps simply raw justice as a working machine all perpetuate the institution’s flaws. Nothing has changed in the deaths of these girls.
It creates, influences, and informs an entire cultural mythos. It allows Tiger’s philosophy to thrive… his killing the girls, as a magnet for the high school institution to merely continue its hegemonic roots of classism, racism, and sexism prevails, and expands outward to the local media, and the surrounding community. They all become involved in the process. Perpetuating narcissism, voyeurism, objectification, fetishism, and ego-driven mania.
A FATHER FIGURE, A HERO, A DEVIL BOUND FOR HELL AND DAMNATION
Tiger McDrew is just part of the story, it’s really about the US the spectator. Society feeds off of sensationalism. The myth of American cultural egoism and Ego centric rituals we partake in as individuals, spans out to reach the wider phenomenon of collective narcissism and voyeurism.
Vadim and cameraman Rosher use interesting frames, not unlike Neo-Noir, reveal angles with doors to the right corner of the screen, as a frame within a frame. Example: Surcher waiting in the corner of the screen behind a door frame, as a long view of McDrew comes out of his office, walking into view all framed within yet another frame of the school hallway.
There is a sense of spareness, voyeurism, and spectatorial that Vadim involves us in, perhaps this is what the tape recorder represents. Yet another way of presenting the voyeurism, as McDrew likes to revisit the wisdom that he has documented. We see the tape rolling. The young girl uses the tape to show herself off to McDrew and us. Ponce discovers the tape recording and snapshot. We hear the sexual ecstasy of the young girl through the tape recording, as it happens off-screen.
The camera, strategically placed in Tiger McDrew’s office.
our little friend the reel-to-reel tape recorder, shows up enough it should have been on salary.
As I’ve said, this is yet another aspect of the American cultural phenomenon, the collective Voyeurism. feeding on the sensational news, and also being a witness to the events as well. Feeding off the frenzy of the gory and graphic details making us participate.
There are a lot of shots of the tape recorder. What is this emphasis and does it symbolize the narcissism prevalent in the film? Does it also represent the entrapment…voyeurism, eavesdropping, and revisiting of the dictums of McDrew as he collects his ideas for his future book.
And is it a mechanism to tantalize and beckon the demise of the young girl whose unfortunate mistake it is to ‘capture’ the eventual sex act with McCrew on tape, to be played over and over? Another behavior revealed is the idea of addiction.
Tiger is such a narcissist he records himself on tape, and listens back. Furthering the release, his psycho-sexual release as he revisits his control, his god complex he wields over the young influential teenagers he mentors, tutors, and guides. He’s writing a book. He thinks of himself as a master, like De Sade who collects youth as his chattel.
By now, Ponce has given Betty a much-needed roll in the hay, after an unscrupulous Tiger has aroused her and left her ripe, in order to prime her and ignite her arousal so she will have sex with Ponce. He has also informed Miss Smith that Ponce can not get an erection. Tiger’s manipulation of Betty Smith is every bit a sexual act of power and control as if he slept with her all the way, and not just fondling and dry-humping her on the desk.
It’s the power that Tiger thrives on. By the film’s end Betty’s drive has been unleashed and she now moves on to more young men to feed her sexual appetite.
While Ponce holds up the mantle of Tiger’s womanizing he also starts to exhibit a tinge of excitement during the flurry of tv crews, he rebounds to show repulsion at the revelation that his hero and mentor is in fact a serial murderer when he discovers the snapshot and taped evidence, but by the film’s end it is too late for Ponce as he is impressed upon and transformed.
Only until Tiger’s ambiguous death, does Ponce truly emerge as a complete and total Don Juan himself as the ending scene/coda of the film illustrates or hints at.
FROM BOY NAIL BITER TO HANDS FIRMLY IN POCKETS, THE MALE STANCE.
Will he also become a killer himself? He will in fact utilize the newly found masculinity that Tiger has given him, by way of the gift of Betty Smith. While Betty has been offered up as an object, in this environment of sexual freedom, she too exploits, the youthful boyhood, that she now has been given permission and access to satisfy herself with.
Tiger has transformed this institution vicariously through his deeds. American culture and traditions go on after Tiger is ‘gone’ as Tiger is a symptom of society and not the complete and lone monster in this play.
The monster here is the American culture and exploitation of beauty, youth, and appetite for self-satisfaction, heroism, and culturally engendered role models that girls and boys, women and men uphold throughout their adult lives.
High School is the leaping off point, for the future, sexualized post-pubescent girls, women boys, and men and the expectation of masculinity. It is not only tolerated it is reinforced in American culture and the collective institutions that prevail.
Waiting for Tiger to come back to the car to have sex, a pretty maid sucks her thumb
Tiger is an extreme teacher in this structure of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity whereas the girls in this story actually self-perpetuate these paradigms by their willingness to inhabit the role they have been given. Young girls striving to become women. A hypersexualized woman as well.
Ponce is finally transformed into a male animal. In Tiger’s symbolic death…Ponce thus takes up the mantle of womanizer and objectifier. Ponce’s body language goes back and forth from the timid boy who bites his nails, to an erect, standing straight up and hands in pockets, confident male.
Tiger also struggles with his own duality as he straddles his psycho-sexual philosophical beliefs and lives as the father and family man to wife and daughter. At certain times in the film, close-ups of Hudson’s pensive eyes and expression are downright chilling as we see a dark side to this American hero and quote ‘family man.’
We see throughout as Vadim frames his facial expressions in close-up, that he lives in this conflict. Sometimes cocky arrogant and entitled, too little eye pangs of guilt and self-awareness that he is committing acts of immoral behavior. As I’ve said his wife Janet too is compliant in this because on some level she knows what he is doing.
Notice how Vadim & Rosher have framed Janet McDrew in between the two men good vs evil. She gives a knowing glance to the camera and us.
Here again, the American Dream is not what it appears to be, for under the surface, the ugly truths and dark deeds that occur in the American family are manifest here with the McDrews.
And in the American town or city, where the illusion of the family, the heroism of the male, and the objectification of the female are twisted into a grotesque parody of conformist thinking. What society creates, is sexualized females through cheerleading, hyper-masculinity through our athletes being warriors, sports being conflated as patriotic, and girls divesting of themselves, and their bodies because that’s what they’re here for.
Lecturing his warriors, Tiger McDrew at half time.
McDrew’s Warriors. The Football Team.
Men who are great thinkers are here to train other men to live this model and perpetuate other great warriors to follow. To thrive off the energy, to tap into the ‘animal’ instinct. On the larger scale is the community pack mentality, the Romans cheering at the Christians being thrown to the lions in the arena, the blood lust, that these characters display at the expense of the girls who become sacrificed, as merely ‘honeys’ they are not even given names. They are depersonalized and de-emphasized as having little or no worth.
The crowds at the football games are fevered with this blood lust. The American appetite for blood, and sensationalist fodder to feast themselves on. The microphones are always being thrust into someone’s face, to turn them into a celebrity for that moment. The need for America to romanticize ‘Celebrity’
The film is a black comedy satirizing how ridiculously overzealous we become about our heroes and our rituals. Even while supposed little girls, if you consider that they are high school age, are being killed. There is no seriousness. Vadim emphasizes this, by showing the mania of the high school staff, the principal, and even Surcher’s assistant cops are cocky and morbidly unmoved by the actuality of these crimes.
The strain of humor and irony set against Savalas’ cool demeanor has a certain sophistication to it.
Ponce oscillates with this stimulation, too, but ultimately he succumbs and becomes a more unrefined version of Tiger. This garden of earthly delights has corrupted him. The serpent has infected him. Betty has tempted him. The chocolate duck filled with liquor was the apple, he sat on it, instead of eating it is the only difference between the parallel stories.
The staff of the high school, Proffer and his spinster secretary Craymire, Betty, and Ponce, all show their enthusiasm for the 2nd American past time grisly sensational crimes in the news, American sports are the primary pleasure in American society, but murders are an exciting event. American culture thrives on sensational news stories.
Instead of concern for the victims, the high school institution joins in the exploitation of the young girls. There’s no privacy, with the bodies exposed in panties baring the notes that bespeak the no-name “honey”.
It’s an expose and commentary on the American culture, of sensationalism and exploitation.
The film lenses the contradiction, and the condemnation of free society, and delves into sexual experimentation and idolization of the youthful body as God. The female body is an object of desire and seduction and degradation, a beautiful art form, a thing of grace, and retribution and transgression. A Madonna and a whore. The female body has a dual essence, which embodies a force that we revel in, and at the same time condemn it.
I also noticed Ponce’s demeanor once he’s not a virgin anymore, he becomes part of the pack mentality his innocence corrupted by the taste of sin, he has become a sexual being who is now more enthusiastic in the rituals of the American high school experience. He blends in with the reporters, and the crowds at the football games. His facial expressions have changed from dour concern to excitement as he has now been corrupted in the garden of earthly delights.
It’s been called deflowering, I like to call it, ‘the rime is off the wheat’ all thanks to Betty Smith, introducing him to as he quotes with the afterglow of great sex ” Oh Brave new world, with such people…Shakespeare The Tempest.”
Oh, Brave New World with such people…
Ponces is finally into the publicity and the notoriety that the school is getting from the murders. While Ponce once had an ethical streak, it’s only now Telly Savalas’ character as the constant moral instrument that calculates the hypocrisy, absurdity, and tragedy of the situation.
Rosher shot the film with lots of interesting angles. The bathroom scene, in the beginning, looks like a lab maze for rats, all closed in. There’s a scene where Surcher is sneaking into Tiger’s office, as the camera frames his sunglasses and bald head, at an upward angle. A lot of Odd angles for a very odd film.
Everyone in this ordinary American town is shot from odd angles.
Then when Betty sleeps with Ponce we see them looking at us, looking at them in the mirror. The gaze is turned on us. They are the objects simultaneously becoming the voyeurs now, while we are the voyeurs looking at them, we are exposed.
We’re looking at them, looking at themselves looking at us. The gaze is turned on us.
Vadim’s cameraman Chuck Rosher, also used the camera to focus a lot on body parts, ogling in particular panties and breasts. Like close-ups on Betty’s lips, the positioning of the dead girl in the boy’s bathroom was strategically posed for the viewer’s benefit as much as it was for the police. there is an emphasis on the physical form in this film. At times the close-ups are quite incisive in particular when Tiger is having one of his liaisons with a pretty maid.
At other times the camera is signaling to us with visual metaphors for sex and ejaculation as in the scene that follows the night that Miss Smith initiates Ponce into a world of orgasmic bliss, the following morning the scene cuts to sprinklers spurting water like streams of cum on the lawn, just before we see 2 victims lying outside on the football field. Again, yet another theme, the violent, often integration of sex and death.
The style of the film, I would say is Neo Ribald…like a modern-day story like D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, a post-modern romantic/erotic romp of reckless abandon and the bedroom farce.
He’s cured!!! Betty had been told by Tiger that Ponce could not get an erection. She’s genuinely happy for the young man.
A film framed in a deviant world. The colors are sensual and vivid. The emphasis is on sensuality and doesn’t bother moralizing, in the face of older adult guardians breaking the rules of what is acceptable and actually sleeping with their students. These are represented as high school kids.
So does the film celebrate sex with underage children?
The physicality and sexual appetite between Betty, an older woman, who exudes erotic urges, and the virgin adolescent Ponce, crosses over so many boundaries. Yet the film treats this relationship even more casually than it does Tiger and his inappropriate behavior with the young girls.
It’s not the age of the girls that is emphasized so much as it is, McDrew’s duplicity with his married life, and the fact that he murders the girls, when they ask for a commitment.
The inappropriate sexual nature and the aspect that they are underage is not clearly drawn out from the narrative. But again, Vadim comes from a mindset that celebrates youth as beauty and exaltation.
Directed by David Hamilton. With Patti D’Arbanville Bilitis 1977 Erotic Euro softcore porn. Again one of my personal guilty pleasures. D’Arbanville before she hooked up with Don Johnson. Bilitis and the awaking of a very young girl…
It was in the opinion that Pretty Maids was nothing but female -kiddie -porn and that the close-up shots of the pubescent girls not wearing a bra were shocking. I’m of the opinion that these girls did NOT look like adolescent teens. Though I understand full well that they are being represented as such.
While it’s true that Vadim does fetishize the female anatomy, don’t many Western cultures do the same? The question is are the girls truly underage?, Do they appear underage? yes, they represent adolescent girls, but again, they are far too obviously mature for it to be considered believable. Not that I am condoning films that celebrate this reprehensible behavior, I want to be clear about that. But I think that it was the intention of Vadim and Roddenberry to suspend the reality in this case.
But understand, that while American films and filmmakers have often objectified women and yes girls, the mentality of some European films and their sensibility approaches the feminine image as art.
That it is an aesthetic object rather than merely a sex object. That the female form possesses a primal and erotic life force. There’s a difference between eroticism and pornography. Vadim is very focused on the female anatomy. Females walking away coming towards us, showing us the male gaze and the male stance, and the female gaze as well. Still, coming from an aesthetic of art objects, not just sex objects.
Vadim seems to adhere to this belief and thus he isn’t afraid to reveal the female body as naked as a statue to admire. Every female was sexualized in the film, the point was that the attitudes, the social behavior of that time period was systemic.
Are teenagers not having sex in high school now? the statistic shows that the reported incidence of sex amongst pre-pubescent children has been on the rise for years. Ads are sexual enticements. the images are everywhere. Condemning this film for being racy and inappropriate is highly hypocritical and applied against most things that kids view today, on tv in films and via video games, toys that assign gender roles, the clothes that are manufactured, the images that are disseminated to young girls broadly sexualize them over and over in a mechanism of mainstream adaptation.
It comes closer to being a little more provocative and pathological when Betty bathes Ponce in the tub like a mother would her little boy after he messes up his clothes accidentally sitting on the chocolate duck filled with liquor that he brings Betty. Looking for the soap, she grabs his penis, under the water and says “Oh I’ve got it” Then Ponce pulls the actual soap bar in his hand to show her he’s got the soap. It’s definitely an unorthodox slapstick moment.
Tiger has created an environment of ‘earthly delights’ as in Bosch’s painting, out of the high school campus. The campus is analogous to Bosch’s painting. The environs with nubile maidens. The painting is used subtly throughout the film, strategically placed, as a motif. The garden here is the school, its campus, and the lazing youths.
Tiger McDrew’s own personal stable of beauties from the garden of earthly pleasures.
Again, Vadim uses colors that are very Renaissance and Bosch-like. There is a juxtaposition of the youth lying, languidly around on the grass, freely, uninhibited which is similar to the feel of the naked figures in the painting.
The connotation is that this is where Michael ‘Tiger’ McDrew can pick from his own personal garden of earthly delights. The long-view camera shots appear to mimic the Bosch landscapes a little. clutters of people, on the green. bodies in a languid pose or collectively gesticulating in the daylight
I know Vadim is accused of being a womanizer, objectified, and soft porn peddler, but the film winds up being thoughtful anyway. Roddenberry shot a lot of short-skirted women as well, but Star Trek was a beloved iconic contribution to the philosophical sci-fi community that dealt with issues of race, class, and war.
McDrew is not insane in the conventional sense he is sociopathic and amoral. He knows right from wrong as he has a strong sense of self-preservation. he just has a code he lives by, by which enforces his sense of sexism and self-preservation.
Just the fact that he dumps the first 2 girls’ bodies by plumbing, speaks to the idea that they are to be discarded when done with, and that it’s their parts, their plumbing that they are only good for.
This is also Vadim telling a modern day story, about power and control, using Tiger as the hedonist emperor ruling his domain, a type of Roman leader like its most infamous Caesar, Caligula who ruled and led his men unabashedly and violently with a philosophy of self-fulfillment. Tinto Brass’ adaptation in 1979 collaborating with Bob Guccione of Penthouse filmed a rather bleak and brutal version of the Roman leader’s life.
Tiger loves to play mind games, etc, he loves manipulating Ponce, taking this raw innocent lad and creating or grooming him for manhood as he sees it. He has a collection of warriors on the football team and athletes and his concubine. The football team is lensed like Roman warriors while the women are in modern dress but clearly, the camera objectifies them as maidens up for the offering. Plenty of bare legs and breast shots. Asses laid bare in pretty panties, The boys are groomed as gladiators or philosophers, thinkers, and lovers.
For Tiger, this laid-back Caligula who balances on a skateboard for exercise, it’s about feasting on the young women’s youthful bodies, and the boy’s physical and mental aptitude and prowess.
He has a beautiful wife, he isn’t interested in Betty Smith because she is too old for his tastes. She is also an educated woman, an intellectual woman. An intelligent woman is a threat. Janet his wife, while she possesses guile, she isn’t portrayed as an educated female.
The young girls can be manipulated and won’t necessarily want to marry him. One was “ready for marriage” as McDrew relates, which strikes an odd chord in Surcher, who as I said, was very onto Tiger McDrew from the beginning.
Why doesn’t Ponce tell the police that Tiger is the murderer? McDrew tries to kill Ponce or does he?
Why then is Ponce loyal to the monster?
By the film’s end, we see him as confident in his predatory posturing, embracing every girl in school each one, Tiger once slept with. Is this a signal that Ponce will uphold the mantle of not only a womanizer, and objectifier but has Tiger unleashed an entitled manhood that will eventually also consume Ponce’s sexual desires? Will Ponce feel the need to kill them once and if they put demands on him. It’s a curious hole that Vadim leaves gapingly open at the end.
3 thoughts on “Libertine Roger Vadim’s Dark Satire: Pretty Maids All In A Row (1971): Part 1: Rock Hudson’s Killer Casanova & The Garden of Earthly Delights “And she was a terrific little cheerleader too””
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