Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)

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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder, Rock goes way out of his comfort zone portraying a sexual predator and gives one of his best screen performances. Tiger’s a family man, Masters level psychologist, and first class scoundrel not above killing the girls he seduces when they get too close, and Rock gets to show off his acting chops to good advantage.

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A subplot involves John David Carson making his debut as Ponce de Leon Harper, a student with sexual hangups who’s taken under the wing (and covers!) of substitute teacher Miss Smith, played by Angie Dickinson . Angie is always good, but Carson’s kind of stiff as the kid with a perpetual hard-on (pun intended!), which is a shame, because the character’s central to the film. His career never really took off, and he was relegated to mainly low-budget schlock like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE after this.

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The cast is peppered with Familiar Faces, such as Telly Savalas as a police detective out to solve the high school murder spree, Roddy McDowell as the school’s principal, Keenan Wynn as a bumbling local cop, and STAR TREK’s James Doohan as Telly’s assistant. Barbara Leigh, best known for almost starring in a Hammer movie adaptation of the horror comic VAMPIRELLA (which sadly never got off the ground), plays Tiger’s loving but unsuspecting wife. Another STAR TREK vet William Campbell appears, as does funny Susan Tolsky (of TV’s HERE COME THE BRIDES). The “Pretty Maids” are all pretty hot, including cult actress Joy Bang, Gretchen Burrell, Aimee Eccles, JoAnna Cameron (later Saturday morning superhero Isis!), Brenda Sykes, Topo Swope (daughter of Dorothy McGuire, now a top talent agent), and Gene’s daughter Dawn Roddenberry.

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There are underlying themes of oppression, non-conformity, and even racism in the film, but let’s be honest, it’s basically about sex! There’s lots of nudity, befitting a 70’s flick, and some may find it creepy seeing Rock Hudson getting down with all these nubile young chicks. As I said earlier, the film couldn’t be made in today’s repressive climate, but back then it was anything goes. I don’t know how you feel about it, all I can tell you if I was a horny 17-year-old back then, I’d have screwed Angie Dickinson’s brains out, too!

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW didn’t do well at the box office, and Roddenberry returned to TV and sci-fi, supplementing his income with talking about STAR TREK on the college lecture circuit. The show had developed a cult following by then due to its popularity in syndication, and by the end of the decade STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE hit the big screen. The voyages of the Starship Enterprise will always be Roddenberry’s lasting legacy, but if you’ve got a taste for black comedy, check out his twisted PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW.

 

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”: Fifty Years of STAR TREK

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Gene Roddenberry’s space odyssey first sailed onto the small screen on September 8, 1966. I can remember being allowed to stay up late (I was only 8 at the time!) to watch it with my dad, who was a big science-fiction buff. As a career Navy man, I think he related to the idea of a ship’s travels (he was also a fan of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). Being a young’un at the time, I was more into the weird creatures the Starship Enterprise crew encountered on their “five-year mission”.

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Unless you’ve been living in another galaxy the past half century, you know all the characters. There’s William Shatner as the headstrong Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, emoting as only Shatner can. Leonard Nimoy became something of a teen idol as the logical Vulcan Mr. Spock (something about those pointed ears, maybe?). DeForrest Kelly played the ornery Dr. “Bones” McCoy, forever at odds with Spock’s emotionless thinking. His tagline “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a…(fill in your own word)” became a pop culture punchline, though he only repeated it in eleven episodes. James Doohan (Engineer Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Communications Lt. Uhura, who shared a then-controversial interracial kiss with Kirk in a 1968 episode), George Takei (Helmsman Sulu), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov, who joined in Season Two) round out the Enterprise’s crew.

What set STAR TREK apart from other sci-fi shows was the writing. Television viewers were used to juvenile space operas like CAPTAIN VIDEO AND HIS VIDEO RANGERS and TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET, but Roddenberry was determined to mix social commentary in with the futuristic proceedings, and hired some of the best science fiction/fantasy writers around. Top names like Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, George Clayton Johnson, Jerry Sohl, and Theodore Sturgeon crafted intelligent, thought-provoking scripts light years apart from the old comic strip stylings of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

Everyone has their own personal favorite episodes, and I’m no different, so here are my Top Ten STAR TREK episodes:

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  1. “City on the Edge of Forever” (Season 1, Episode 28; D: Joseph Pevney W: Harlan Ellison)- McCoy travels through a time portal and changes the course of history, so Kirk and Spock must correct it by following him to Depression Era New York. Joan Collins guest stars as Edith Keeler, who must die to prevent the Nazis from winning World War II. I think this is the best of the entire series, and many Trekkies agree with me. Powerful in every department.

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2.”The Trouble With Tribbles” (Season 2, Episode 15; D: Joseph Pevney W: David Gerrold)- Without a doubt the funniest episode, and a very close second for me.An important grain shipment on Deep Space Station K7 is threatened by Tribbles, furry little creatures that multiply prolifically when fed. One of the series’ strongest supporting casts, with the late William Schallert,   William Campbell, Stanley Adams, Whit Bissell, and Michael Pataki.

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3.”Space Seed” (Season 1, Episode 23; D: Marc Daniels W: Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilbur)- The episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonein Singh, a genetically altered megalomaniac from Earth’s past who shanghais the Enterprise and its crew. Montalban returned to do battle with his nemesis Capt. Kirk in the best of the STAR TREK films, 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.

4.”Assigment: Earth” (Season 2, Episode 26; D: Marc Daniels W: Art Wallace)- The Enterprise travels back in time to 1968, where they encounter Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), an alien sent to avert the nuclear destruction of Earth. This was the pilot for a new sci-fi series to star Lansing and Teri Garr, but it wasn’t given the green light. Too bad, because this is one of STAR TREK’S top entries, and the idea held much promise.

5.”A Piece of the Action” (Season 2, Episode 17; D: James Komack W: David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon)- Another humorous episode with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet molded after Roaring Twenties gangster days. Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback play the bosses of rival gangs out to control Sigma Iotia II. Kirk and Spock dressing and acting like old Warner Brothers hoods is a riot!

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6.”The Naked Time” (Season 1, Episode 4; D:Marc Daniels W: John DF Black)- A space virus infects the Enterprise crew, causing them to lose all inhibitions. George Takei has called this his favorite episode, and who can blame him- he gets to jump around like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn!

7.”Patterns of Force” (Season 2, Episode 21; D: Vincent McEveety W: John Meredyth Lucas)- Kirk and Spock visit planet Ekos to search for missing Federation observer John Gill, and discover he’s become the leader of a culture patterned after Nazi Germany. Another fine “message” episode featuring David Brian (FLAMINGO ROAD) in the role of Gill.

8.”The Devil in the Dark” (Season 1, Episode 25; D: Joseph Pevney W: Gene L. Coon)- Mining planet Janos VI is being threatened by a mysterious space creature called the Horta. A plea for tolerance of “the other” disguised as science-fiction, William Shatner has said this is his favorite episode.

9.”Amok Time” (Season 2, Episode 1; D: Joseph Pevney W: Theodore Sturgeon)- Spock is suffering from the Vulcan condition known as “pon farr”, and must return to his planet to mate or he will die. Kirk joins him, and the two friends must battle to the death when T’Pring requests a challenge. (Celia Lovsky , who plays Vulcan leader T’Pau, was once married to actor Peter Lorre.)

10.”Mirror, Mirror” (Season 2, Episode 4; D: Marc Daniels W: Jerome Bixby)- The Enterprise meets and battles its evil doppelgänger from a parallel universe. Though this plot has been used over and over in the sci-fi genre, this episode does a great job, with dual roles for everybody.

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STAR TREK has spawned four TV sequels, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, with a fifth scheduled to premiere in 2017 on the streaming channel CBS All Access, titled STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. There was even a Saturday morning cartoon series in 1973 featuring the original cast lending their voices to the characters. Thirteen feature films based on the Star Trek Universe have been made, including the most recent, STAR TREK BEYOND. Now one of the most popular science-fiction franchises of all time, it’s hard to believe STAR TREK almost got cancelled in its second season, saved only by a letter-writing campaign by its fervent fans. After the third and final season, the 79 episodes went into syndication, where it found its audience. Trekkie conventions sprung up, and the series became a pop culture phenomenon. These days, its referred to by fans as STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, but to me it’ll always be just STAR TREK. Happy Golden Anniversary, Enterprise crew… here’s to fifty more years of going “where no man has gone before”!

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(Do you have a favorite episode or any STAR TREK memories to share? Feel free to comment below!)

 

 

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