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The Strangest Movie I've Ever Seen

There are certain movies that defy description. Movies that are so strange, so bizarre, people would swear you were making them up, until you actually produced a copy of the film and showed it to them. There are movies in this world that were designed to be weird from the get go, but nothing is quite as weird as movie that wasn't designed that way. A movie that was made just as any other movie on the yearly slate for the studio. A movie that was made not as a strange B picture, but as a major A production, with a big name cast, a budget, and everything. Such a movie is MGM's 1971 picture Pretty Maids All in a Row. It is, without question, the weirdest movie I've ever seen.

Pretty Maids All in a Row is such an odd movie, that I have a hard time trying to wrap my brain around it. It's very much a product of its time, and very much the kind of movie that NO ONE would dare try to make today. It's a film that I had never heard of, until a recent DVD release by Warner Archive. It was issued once on VHS in the mid 1990s, but by in large has been something of a forgotten footnote. Considering the film was written and produced by a post canceled Star Trek Gene Roddenberry, you'd think it would have a higher profile.

The obscurity can't be blamed on the film's lack of star talent. This film is loaded with A list stars of the era. Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, and even character actor Keenan Wynn. The Star Trek connection doesn't end at Roddenberry's involvement. James Doohan, Scotty from the original Star Trek series, appears as a detective's assistant. To add to the cult status of the film, it was directed by Roger Vadim, who made that 1960s mondo classic Barbarella. Cast and crew aside, what is it about Pretty Maids all in a Row that makes it such a strange, motion picture oddity?

It's the plot. Yep. The plot. Why? Rock Hudson, with a mustache that would make Burt Reynolds cry, plays a married high school football coach/guidance councilor/psychologist, who is also having multiple affairs with female students (and his nickname is “Tiger” by the way). That's right, affairs with students, and when they get too attached to him, he kills them and leaves cryptic messages on their underwear. No, I'm not making this up. All of this centered around a young student named Ponce De Leon Harper, who finds himself all hot and bothered over the females in his class. Taking his woes of “inexperience” to good ole Rock, Rock then proceeds to set him up with the sexy substitute teacher, Angie Dickinson. Again, I'm not making any of this up.

Where does Telly Savalas fit into all of this? I'm glad you asked! As the bodies start to pile up, and the pants start to come off, Telly shows up as a proto Kojak to solve everything. That's the film. A weird sex comedy meets murder mystery meets slasher film, with a theme tune by The Osmonds, as if things weren't weird enough.. Last year, for a period of time, I was doing a monthly weird movie night with a group of friends. It was a fun excuse to share some of the crazy B movies I love with friends. Of all the films I shared, Pretty Maids all in a Row is the one that left the biggest impression.

What kind of an impression did the movie make? The word “shock” isn't quite right, but it might be appropriate to say that we were driving around that ball park's parking lot. The film was met with a feeling of “I can't believe we're actually watching this”. No matter how many times you tell people to prepare themselves, nothing can quite live up to the actuality of seeing Pretty Maids all in a Row. One friend jokingly refers to it as “That softcore film you showed us last year”.

Have I wetted your appitte to see this amazingly strange and weird artifact of a by gone era? The DVD I mentioned earlier, put out by Warner Archive, comes recommended. However, you can access the film in full 1080p HD on their new Warner Archive Instant streaming service. Frankly, that sounds like it might be the way to go for newbies to Pretty Maids all in a Row, it's the only way to know the true majesty of Rock Hudson's mustache.


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