High school student Ponce de Leon Harper (John David Carson) is suffering mightily this morning. He has never so much as kissed a girl, never mind touched one, not really, but the sight of all the female students walking by in their short skirts and tight tops is sending him into an agony of sexual frustration. When he gets to English class he is confronted with his new teacher, Miss Betty Smith (Angie Dickinson) and as she is attractive she proves just as much of a distraction so Ponce has to excuse himself to visit the toilet. But what he finds there dampens his ardour...
Captain Kirk never had this trouble, did he? Why mention him? Because the producer and indeed screenwriter of Pretty Maids All in a Row was Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, although aside from the preponderance of young actresses in miniskirts there were none too numerous similarities between the sci-fi favourite and the darkly comedic affair going on in this, Roddenberry's attempt to break into the movies. He was between failed TV pilots when he adapted Francis Pollini's novel, and in spite of the big names he secured it was not a hit - he had to wait until the Star Trek movie franchise took off for more success, some would say in spite of himself.
Another interesting name here was the director, Roger Vadim, making his first American movie, and his next after the international hit of Barbarella. His love of the female form might have been well-regarded in Europe, but translated to Hollywood and applied to a bunch of largely teenage performers the overall effect was rather creepy - there was certainly little doubt that if this material were made today the attitude would have been different, and the film would have looked more like a thriller and less like a sex romp. As if that were not strange enough, the chief womaniser here was not Ponce, he's hopeless, but one of his tutors, psychology professor and football coach Tiger McDrew.
Played by Rock Hudson, of whom it's safe to say that perhaps his heart wasn't entirely in this, though as ever he was the consummate professional, yet seeing him guide Miss Smith through his techniques which involve sticking his hands up her jumper as he academically describes what he's doing wasn't half bizarre. Not only that, but the trauma of what he saw in the lavatory has led Ponce to open up to Tiger, not realising there were far better people he could go to; one thing leads to another and Ponce, who must be suffering as much thanks to that name as he is his other stresses, starts spending a lot of time with Miss Smith. To put it bluntly, Tiger wants her to perform the same service as he does for the female students.
This was one of those movies where the more you described it the more difficult it became to comprehend as time moved on, and it must have seemed fairly strange back then, too. Take what Ponce found in the gents: a dead body of a schoolgirl with a note pinned to her underwear, that's right, in among all that betrayal of the teacher-student relationship we're in the middle of a murder mystery too. Which means one thing: call in Kojak! Well, Telly Savalas playing a police investigator anyway, stealing scenes in his air of cool bemusement and getting to partner up with Scotty himself, James Doohan (there was a pilot right there, Gene!). Roddy McDowall showed up too as the Principal, leading to supposedly humorous point-missing scenes, but really hardly anyone here acted like a normal person, and the amount of quirks may have been ironed out over the course of the plot to leave you with a slog through suffocating sexism and reactionary kneejerks to the newly permissive society (which it secretly loves), but there was still nothing quite like it, Osmonds theme song and all. Lalo Schifrin provided the music.