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)
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, at 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 be 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, Hiernoymous 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 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 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
Joy Bang as Rita
Joy Bang to the far right
With Peter Duel in God Bless The Children 1970 the pilot for tv series The Psychiatrist
Gretchen Burrell: Marjorie
Joanna Cameron: Yvonne Millish, actress Cameron played super goddess ISIS on the Saturday morning kid’s show that was part of the SHAZAM hour.
Aimee Eccles: Hilda Lee
in Little Big Man 1971
June Fairchild: Sonny Swangle, the always-laughing student
Margaret Markov: Polly
Diane Sherry: Sheryl
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 it’s first release at the box office, however. The film reviews were fairly mixed. Part of the controversy 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.
Laurence Harvey’s Sideburns Yay! Striped pants and turtlenecks.
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 it’s 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 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 that 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 heart throb 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 him 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, deviant piece of satire I would say slightly bedroom farce, 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 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 under age 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 a 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 describes Milton. He asks “Milton who?” “John Milton” 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 most finest creation…Woman, uhm Mankind.”
Betty starts to slowly and methodically recite Milton herself. Rosher gives us a close up on 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, Me over took 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 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 to “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 being 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 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 stand out and manifest.
He’s 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 Masters 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 will untangle himself from any young nymphet from the collection of under age high school girls that have sex with him and then , threaten to expose his duplicity therefore ruin his ‘ideal’marriage.
Michael ‘Tiger’ McDrew dispatches of his victims, by strangling them. Leaving 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 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 so 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 through out 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 man handles 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 anticipates the future of things to come for Janet and ‘the family.”
Essentially Janet knows where her husband’s allegiance lies and the chess games shows 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 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 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 sub genre, 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, 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 encountered 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 to 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.
When ever one of the girls demands more than just a secret liaison in his office, or who ever 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 merely ‘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, like the metamorphosis into butterflies. ‘Painted Ladies’ a certain variety of butterfly.
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 films conclusion.
The film celebrates the glorious All-American past time of Pom Poms and The Gridiron. The sweat of heroic athleticism as patriotism, and the cosmetic appearances of morality of the middle class, while the hedonism left over from the sexual revolution of the 60s bleeds under neath 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 60’s and early 70s was a time where 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 counter culture 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 the 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 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 it’s 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 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’ back lash of Americana 50s values, which gave rise to the sexual revolution, and experimentation with drug use, The 70s was ripe for it’s 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. Its only when one of his concubine 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, 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, that 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, sung by the Osmond Brothers.
Yes I admit it. I had a crush on Donny Osmond and owned every 45 record 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 hem lines hardly obscure.
Ponce and we, 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 girls 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 bases 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 class mates 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. 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 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 troubles 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 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, removes the note, as the dead body of the girl slides to the floor. There’s the look of panic on Ponces 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 principals 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 break down, 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, making 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 hall way. 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 re direct him to the bathroom.
Again we see Principal Proffer, who looks upset yet void of compassionate , 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 it’s appearances 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 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 girls body” now laughing 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.