Pretty Maids All in a Row

How can anyone with a taste for swingin’ 60s residue resist the first U.S. made film by French kitsch-meister Roger Vadim (“Barbarella,” “And God Created Woman”), written by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, and starring Rock Hudson as a self-styled high school guidance counselor who seduces his most beautiful female students and deflowers a priapic male protegee (Jon David Carson) via English teacher Angie Dickinson? What if I throw in a murder mystery plot and supporting performances by Telly Savalas as a pre-“Kojak” homicide cop, Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowell, James “Scotty” Doohan, and several under-clothed starlets as the misnamed maidens? Try seeing it.

For the first 15 minutes, 1970’s “Pretty Maids All in Row” is almost as interesting as it sounds. Hudson is actually giving one of his better performances and Vadim did have a Playboy photographer’s gift for presenting beautiful women. That, however, leaves another 75 minutes that is about as sloppy and offensive as a mainstream black comedy can be. Even making some allowances for the time, and the fact that Hudson’s character, “Tiger” McDrew, seems to limit his advances to seniors, there is a serious ethical problem here. Based on a novel by Frances Pollini, the film takes a step beyond unfunny 60s sexism into misogyny and, eventually, into seeming to excuse murder or just about anything else. If Roman Polanski had made this movie instead of Vadim, it would have been Exhibit A — it would also have been a lot funnier and more coherent. This one earned its obscurity.

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