Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Angie Dickinson ! - PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW 1971

     One of the more odd major studio movies to be released during the 70's, as it makes one wonder what MGM's thought process was during its production gestation as far as what they were making and how it was to be marketed and probably most importantly what those thoughts were when they saw what they ended up with. PRETTY MAIDS is a combination black comedy/exploitation/social drama & murder mystery that in addition looks ahead a bit to both the slasher and horny teen comedies of the next decade (even working in the "will they win the big game !?" scenario).
    What as first on paper would seem to be an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen somehow/someway manages to work in its own bizarre way with a eclectic cast of both veterans and newcomers along with a witty multi layered script written by Gene Roddenberry (complete with a plot point that could never pass muster today outside of a porn movie).
    Directed by Roger Vadim, which combined with a script from STAR TREK scribe Roddenberry makes you wonder if perhaps this was figured by MGM to be a hip "counter - culture" comedy that would appeal to the post 60's crowd. Vadim was a pretty hot commodity at the time most famous for directing movies such as AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1956), BLOOD AND ROSES (1960) and of course BARBARELLA in 1968.
    The PRETTY MAIDS poster in itself is a marvel of pre-PC marketing with the tagline "Roger Vadim, the director who uncovered Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda, now brings you the American high school girl". Despite heavy promotion (including 5 pages in Playboy) it was a massive flop upon release, but not surprisingly would gather a cult following in the coming decades with sporadic showings on late night cable and a 1999 VHS release. After it turned up in one of their polls as a "most requested title" Warner issued a DVD through their MOD program a few years ago.

     Admittedly I find most of Vadim's work a yawn inducing endurance test (BLOOD AND ROSES has some great imagery going for it - but I've never been able to make it through BARBARELLA), however whether it being the Roddenberry script or the cast this is an amusing and interesting little film. It's still somewhat of a schizophrenic jumbled mess, but to it's credit it's a fascinating schizophrenic jumbled mess. In addition Vadim seemingly freed of the visual excesses of BARBARELLA uses the camera to focus on the multitude of attractive actresses at every available opportunity, sometimes almost using it as a "peeping tom" type character within the movie as it peers up skirts and down the front of blouses, focuses in on girls calestatics classes or zooms in on legs & bottoms in shorts.
    Taking place at a fictional Southern California high school, it was filmed at University High in West Los Angeles (you wonder what school administrates thought of the finished movie) and was the French born Vadim's first American film. The film nominally centers around student Ponce De Leon (!) Harper played by John David Carson (almost Keith Partridge on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY), who feeling shy and uncomfortable around the opposite sex is taken under his wing by football coach and "guidance counselor" Michael "Tiger" McDrew (Rock Hudson). Seeking to help out Ponce, Coach McDrew enlists the help of new substitute teacher Mrs. Smith (Angie Dickinson) to teach Ponce the ways of the world.

     In a parallel plot point the coach is also giving special closed door "guidance" tests to various female students (the "Pretty Maids"- with some startling amounts of nudity for a major studio release in 1971) and in addition someone begins killing off the said "Maids" leaving their bodies laying around various places about the school. The principle (Roddy McDowall) seems only to care about the schools image, as the killings bring in a state police investigation in the form of Capt. Sam Surcher (Telly Salavas - seeming to be here in practice for KOJAK) along with his underlings William Peterson (DEMENTIA 13) and James Doohan from STAR TREK.
     As if all this weren't quite enough you also have Keenan Wynn as the dim witted local chief of police and Susan Tolsky as a ditsy and frazzled school secretary who are both on hand for some broad comedy relief. Lalo Schifrin contributes an alternately bouncy & moody score (complete with The Osmonds over the opening and closing credits). 

    As in my previous post the cast includes an intriguing bunch of soon to be cult actresses including Joy Bang (MESSIAH OF EVIL), June Fairchild (THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT) and Margaret Markov (BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA). In addition a breathtakingly beautiful Barbara Leigh (who was to be Vampirella in Hammer's aborted film) plays Hudson's very understanding wife. Still a few years ahead of her big breakout roles in BIG BAD MAMA for Roger Corman and TV's POLICE WOMAN, Angie appears to be having a great deal of fun with her role (a role for which she was perfectly cast) and the entire cast plays it as if their all in on one huge joke (Next to SECONDS this is one of Hudson's best performances). Having just turned 40 years old here Angie more then holds her own against the bevy of younger starlets.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sneak Preview of Coming Attractions - The "Pretty Maids" of PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW 1971

    Next week on Tue. the 30th there's a post going up here on Roger Vadim's PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW from 1971 in honor of Angie Dickinson's birthday on that day. PRETTY MAIDS (in which Angie co-stars as one heck of a substitute teacher) was one more weirdly quirky movies to come out of a major studio during the 70's (which is really saying something) - but more on that tomorrow. For me, one of the more fascinating things about it is it's supporting cast of young actresses that reads almost like a whose who of female cult actresses in regards to the coming decade. Here ya go !

   Brenda Sykes - Born in 1949 she was married to musician Gil Scott Heron and appeared in BLACK GUNN (1972), CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) and the major studio exploitation classic MANDINGO (1975), along with it's followup DRUM from 1976 (which is due on blu-ray from Kino later this year).

   Margret Markov - Best known for the Filipino New World exploitation/women in prison favorites THE HOT BOX (1972) and BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973), she also appeared in the biker flick RUN ANGEL RUN (1969) and the New World woman-in-prison thing transplanted to ancient Rome THE ARENA from 1974.  Born in 1948 she's been married to producer Mark Damon (HOUSE OF USHER and THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT ) since 1976.

   Joy Bang - Born Joy Wener in 1945 (Bang was her married name), this cute as heck actress is one of the quintessential late 60's & 70's actresses (both in looks and personality). She appeared in the cult hippiesploitation EVENTS (1970), one of my favorite 70's horror movies MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973), was one of Woody Allen's girlfriends in PLAY IT AGAIN SAM (1972), showed up in the Filipino horror NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMEN (1972 - which was released earlier this year on DVD from Scorpion) and CISCO PIKE (1972).

   June Fairchild - A very pretty & talented actress who kept fairly busy in the 70's, she also had led a very interesting life prior to her acting career as being a fringe member of the 1960's L.A. music scene. Her personal life took a rather tragic turn in recent years when she ended up homeless on the streets of L.A., but happily she's seemed to have turned herself around. She had a small but memorable role in HEAD (1968) as "the jumper", plus was in DRIVE HE SAID (1971), DETROIT 9000 (1973) and DIRTY O'NEIL (1974). Along with Catherine Bach she was picked up by Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in a both short and amusing scene from THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974). In addition she was the "Ajax lady" in UP IN SMOKE (1978) and appeared in Mae West's SEXTETTE (1978). As her birthday is coming up in Nov., I'll be doing a little more in depth post on on her (besides her being one of my favorite 70's actresses).

   JoAnne Cameron - She was the Paramount's original choice for the lead in LOVE STORY before it went to Paramount production head Robert Evan's girlfriend Ali MacGraw and later was in HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (1969) along with playing the title role in the TV series ISIS (1975-76)

   Although not one of the "Pretty Maids", you've also got Barbara Leigh who was cast as Vampierlla in the never made Hammer Film of the same name, plus was in STUDENT NURSES (1970) and TERMINAL ISLAND (1973). She also appeared with then boyfriend Steve McQueen in the wonderful JUNIOR BONNER from 1972 and was a longtime employee of Playboy Enterprises before retiring.

And not to leave anyone out here are the remaining "Pretty Maids"

   Gretchen Burrell - Although PRETTY MAIDS is her only acting credit she was married to musician Gram Parsons from 1971 until his death in 1973.

   Amy Eccles - Born in Hong Kong in 1949, she's now a real estate agent in So. Calif. and is probably best known as Dustin Hoffman's young bride in LITTLE BIG MAN (1970). She also appeared in Stephanie Rothman's GROUP MARRIAGE with blog favorite Claudia Jennings.

  Diane Sherry- She appeared in SUPERMAN (1978) as Lana Lang and is now a short story author.

Luck guy Director Roger Vadim surrounded with clockwise Joy Bang, Gretchen Burrell, Margaret Markov, June Fairchild and Brenda Sykes. 

Monday, September 22, 2014




     During the early 1980's there was a resurgence of the 3D film ballyhoo which was initiated by 1981's spaghetti western COMIN' AT YA' and was followed by a glut of releases including FRIDAY THE 13th 3D (PART III), JAWS 3D along with AMITYVILLE 3D (all of which handily tied into part "III" of the respective series). In addition there was the horror film THE PARASITE (1981) along with the sci-fi/fantasy by way of Star Wars knock-offs SPACEHUNTER : ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983) and METALSTORM : THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983).

    At the same local TV stations began digging through the vaults seeing what they could put on for special Saturday night 3D programming which was heavily promoted through area rock stations, TV spots & various local businesses. If you were lucky perhaps you might get to catch Vincent Price in HOUSE OF WAX (which even had a limited theatrical re-release) but more often then not it was something akin to 1954's GORILLA AT LARGE. You went to a local Burger King or 7-11 where you got your special 3D glasses and settled in for a fun nights entertainment with a headache inducing presentation on your 19" television, plus as an added bonus it may have even been presented by a local horror host (In Detroit we had local DJ Tom Ryan as Count Scary - "Oooh, that's scaary").

    One of the films that occasionally popped up was this 1961 Canadian oddity. The first horror film produced in Canada, it came out sometime after the initial 1950's 3D craze and was directed by Julian Roffman (who later would produce 1973's THE PYX with Karen Black) and in addition had directed the beatnik-sploitation THE BLOODY BROOD from 1959 (which featured an early appearance by Peter Falk). Not a true 3D feature THE MASK features several 3D sequences that are perpetrated by the characters putting on a creepy ancient Aztec mask. At the same time the movie character puts on the mask, a baritone voice intones "Put on the mask !...put on the mask !" at which time audience members would put on their specially designed 3D glasses/mask and view the same weird hallucinatory visions that the films protagonist were seeing through the mask.
    Starring Paul Stevens (best known as George C. Scott's ass kissing adjutant in PATTON) as Dr. Allan Barnes, a psychiatrist who has under his care a distributed young man named Michael Radin (Martin Lavut) who works for a local history museum. In a beautifully shot and atmospheric opening sequence we had seen Radin stalk and murder a young woman and later in Barnes office he relates how he is under the control of an ancient ritualistic mask which he has been studying. Dr. Barnes dismisses his claims and Radin stalking out of the office returns to his rented room where he commits suicide, but not before boxing up the mask and mailing in to Dr. Barnes. Radin's suicide sets in motion the to be expected (and plot filling) police investigation which is led by Lt. Miller (Bill Walker).

     Upon receiving the mask Barnes is drawn to put it on and immediately is thrust into a weird nightmare like world with flying skulls, shooting flames, huge candelabras made out of hands and sacrifices upon altars. There is also a masked female present in the visions that appears to be Barnes's receptionist Miss Goodwin (Anne Collings) who who was hinted at earlier to being attracted to Barnes. Also getting caught up in the infatuation with the mask is his girlfriend Pam Albright (busy TV actress Claudette Nevins), who in a strangely paced scene attempts to return the mask to the museum by stealing it and then engaging in car chase with Barnes in pursuit (the effective and creepy museum interiors were filmed in The royal Ontario Museum). Barnes seemingly uncontrolled compulsion to keep wearing it soon leads him to being compelled by the mask to commit murder.
   Weather intentional or not, the plot does seem to have vague drug references in relation to Barnes "addiction" to wearing the mask and in addition each time he wears it he emerges more disheveled with dark circles under his eyes and unshaven face almost being a Jekyll and Hyde like transformation, as the mask seemingly takes over the wearers mind & body (with Barnes beginning to look much like Radin, as they both end up with scratches on the same area of their face). In addition, another sequence has him trying to force the mask on Pam, trying to push in onto her face with almost orgasmic like glee.

    There are three separate 3D sequences (lasting a total of about 20 min.) in the movie and they're strategically placed in the beginning, middle and end to help keep the plot moving along. Although credited to special effects/montage director Slavko Vorkapich the vast majority of the 3D sequences were designed and directed by director Roffman after Vorkapich's proposals were deemed to expensive. Although obviously filmed on a low budget (with ever present mist helping hide the limited sets) the 3D nightmare sequences have an alternately startling & creepy atmosphere to them with some limited stop motion animation and make-up effects. The standard sequences feature some terrific moody B&W cinematography and although the story drags a bit at times (especially in regards to the above mentioned police investigation) the evenly spaced out running-wise 3D stuff helps keep the plot interesting and engaging. The mask itself is a terrific prop with its staring eyes and teeth baring grin.

     Back in the laser disc days THE MASK had brief release by Image that quickly turned into a collectors item, along with a VHS release by Rhino and a currently available DVD from Chezzy Flicks (which seems to be a copy from the Rhino tape). The 3D Film Institute has been promising a restored release from 35mm materials in both polarized and anaglyph 3D  at some point, but in the meantime there's a nice German DVD release (whose legality might be suspect) that presents the film in its proper aspect ratio from a decent looking print (with some minor damage & German credits) with and the 3D working surprisingly well with the supplied glasses. The German DVD also restores several sequences that were cut after the initial release including some great William Castle like pre-credit hyperbole by "mask expert" Jim Moran (actually Hollywood publicist Jim Moran) expounding on the history of ritualistic masks. Cool stuff !!