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Film / Pretty Maids All in a Row

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It isn't fair.

"One thing you can say about 'Pretty Maids All in a Row.' Rock Hudson sex comedies sure have changed since 'Pillow Talk.'"
Roger Ebert, from his review

Pretty Maids All in a Row is a 1971 American Black Comedy film starring Rock Hudson and Angie Dickinson.

A young man with the ridiculous name of Ponce de Leon Harper (John David Carson) is a sexually frustrated senior at Oceanfront High School. He is driven to distraction by all the nubile, scantily clad females at sexually liberated Oceanfront High, where apparently all of the girls are Ethical Sluts, but none of them have time for him. He is even more bothered by the innocent but incredibly sexy new teacher, Betty Smith (Dickinson). Ponce has a talk with the handsome, confident Michael "Tiger" McDrew (Hudson), the guidance counselor and head football coach. Tiger takes a liking to awkward young Ponce and decides to help him gain some confidence and believe in himself enough to approach girls.

Does this sound like a standard high school Sex Comedy along the lines of Class, Porky's, or American Pie? Well, in a way it is, but two things make it different:

  • Tiger is himself bedding the hot young girls at the school, by the truckload.
  • A Serial Killer is stalking the halls of Oceanfront High, leaving the bodies of dead girls in suggestive positions.

This blackest of black comedies boasts a remarkable cast that includes, aside from Hudson and Dickinson, stars like Keenan Wynn (as an utterly incompetent sheriff), Telly Savalas (as Surcher, the detective investigating the murders two years before he was cast in Kojak), and Roddy McDowall (as the bumbling, buffoonish principal). It was directed by Roger Vadim, who had gotten famous in France for directing similarly naughty films like And God Created Woman or Barbarella. It was produced and written by none other than Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame. James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek, has a part as Savalas's partner, and for once does not have to fake a Scottish accent.

This work exhibits the following tropes:

  • Alone with the Psycho: Ponce figures out that Tiger is the murderer, but this doesn't stop him from going on a ride with Tiger in which Tiger explains everything that happened. Ponce visualizes Tiger murdering him, but instead Tiger drives the car off the pier into the water, in order to fake his own death.
  • Beautiful All Along: Played for a gag. Two students, a rather dowdy girl and a boy, are taking tests in Tiger's office. The boy finishes his test and leaves. The girl then takes her clothes off and lets her hair down, revealing herself to be gorgeous, and is taking off her glasses when the scene cuts away.
  • Black Comedy:
    Random Student: Football practice today?
    Ponce: No, we never practice on the day of a murder.
  • Book Ends: The opening scene features Ponce riding to school on his moped, awkwardly gazing at girls, having no success approaching them. In the last scene he's a supremely confident smooth operator with the girls, and he gets one to hop on his moped and ride away.
  • The Casanova: Tiger is cutting a swath through the student body, and he could have screwed Betty as well, if he hadn't intended her for Ponce.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • When he isn't either having sex with students or murdering students, Tiger is dictating a book about education into a tape recorder. A student turns on the tape recorder to leave a naughty message for Tiger, and forgets to turn it off. The tape recorder then records her murder, which is how Ponce finds out the truth.
    • Tiger and his gorgeous wife are strolling down the boardwalk when they spot a boat and Mrs. Tiger jokes about stealing it and heading to South America. The ending of the movie strongly implies that Tiger has escaped to Brazil by doing just that.
  • Cool Teacher: On the one hand, Tiger gets Ponce laid. On the other hand, Tiger is a deranged psychopath.
  • Description Cut: Hilda's mom angrily declares that if the killer isn't found, she's yanking Hilda out of school. Cut to a nude Hilda having a casual chat with a fully clothed Tiger.
  • Ethical Slut: The girls of Oceanfront High, so much so that one is unable to comprehend the question when Surcher asks her if anyone has made any unusual sexual advances. A second girl bursts out laughing when asked the same question.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Everybody except for Ponce, it seems—and also Betty, surprisingly, which is why they end up together.
  • Faking the Dead: Goes well with Never Found the Body.
  • Fanservice Extra: Lots of very attractive students wind up naked in Tiger's office.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: When a very sexy but really, really dumb student is in the throes of passion with Tiger, she demands that he dump his wife for her, and then says she saw him having sex with Jill, the murder victim. He asks if she told anyone, she hasn't, and she becomes the next murder victim.
  • Hot Teacher: Between the Sexy Sweater Girl ensemble and the way her butt shakes when she erases the chalkboard, Betty is definitely this. Ponce can't take his eyes off her breasts, and he can't believe it when Betty, at Tiger's urging, invites Ponce to her house.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The tagline reads "A good football coach can get away with murder".
  • Male Gaze: Played for laughs in the first scene, when Ponce, riding to school in his moped, keeps getting distracted by all the sexy girls he passes. This continues when he's distracted by all the gorgeous girls of Oceanfront High.
  • Mood Whiplash: The trailer mines this for a little extra dark humor:
    "Oceanfront High is a model school, with an enthusiastic faculty, a responsive student body, and real team spirit! Too bad about the dead cheerleader in the 2nd-floor john..."
  • Mrs. Robinson: Betty is cajoled/manipulated by Tiger into being this for Ponce. First, Tiger tells her that Ponce's problem is impotence, when in fact it's exactly the opposite, so when Ponce sports an erection she thinks it's an accomplishment. Second, Betty clearly wants Tiger to screw her, so instead he gets her all hot and bothered and leaves her hanging. This leads a sexually frustrated Betty to let Ponce have sex with her. It works, as both Betty and Ponce have sexual awakenings.
  • Never Found the Body: Tiger's body isn't found after his plunge off the dock. The ending strongly implies that he faked his death and escaped to Brazil.
  • Porn Stache: Tiger's manly pornstache fits his creepy character well.
  • Profiling: When the imbecilic sheriff barges in to the high school after the report of a murder, he grabs a random black student for no reason at all before he's led to the body in the boys' room.
  • Raging Stiffie: Ponce suffers from these, telling Tiger that cold showers are the only thing that makes them go away. Tiger misleads Betty into thinking Ponce is impotent, so she's pleased when she provokes Ponce's Raging Stiffie.
  • Satire: Of high school sex comedies, and high school movies in general. The principal is delighted that no one wants a little thing like a serial killer to disrupt the football game, and the only thing he cares about with the first victim is that she was a good cheerleader.
  • Serial Killer: The first girl is found dead in the men's room, hunched over a toilet. Several more follow.
  • The '70s: This film shouts "70s" from every frame. There's the clothing, the slang, the sexual liberation vibe that seems to regard teacher-student sex as sometimes kind of cool, the singing of "America the Beautiful" with anti-Vietnam War lyrics, etc.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Ponce is deeply upset, in disbelief that he's a senior and hasn't so much as touched a girl's breast.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: It seems like a parody, but Miss Smith actually is pretty innocent in the beginning, despite that tight sweater and pointy bra. She manages to accidentally poke Ponce in the face with her breast not once, but twice.
  • Something Else Also Rises: After Betty's night of passion with Ponce, he leaps on top of her the next morning to have sex with her again. Cut to the automatic sprinklers at the football field, popping up and shooting water over the grass.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Not so much romances as teachers and students screwing. Thanks to the Double Standard, Betty's copulation with Ponce is portrayed positively, while Tiger's isn't, at least not at the end.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Tiger is a depraved Serial Killer, but no one knows that, and at the end there's a heartfelt funeral service for him.