Telly Savalas opens a door.
This lovely image is from the decidedly unlovely PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a retina-searingly tasteless serial killer campus sex comedy directed by Roger Vadim, written by Star Trek supremo Gene Roddenberry. Hollywood cinema in its post-code priapic male menopause mode. The Gene-Roddenberry-in-disguise character is a college guidance counsellor who’s slipping the salami to all the cheerleaders. He’s played by Rock Hudson, without apparent irony. Meanwhile, somebody (else?) is killing said cheerleaders, and pinning sarcastic notes to their corpse-panties. What all this says about Roddenberry, a notorious babe-hound, is hard to fathom, but I don’t find it encouraging.
Campuses, in the modern age, tend to be rather ugly structures, and this whole film is startlingly devoid of attractive locales, which is unusual for Vadim. At least there’s a panoply of female pulchritude (including Angie Dickinson and the celebrated Joy Bang), plus poor old Roddy McDowell (who seems to crop up in every misbegotten 70s atrocity I peruse). And Telly, who’s still in pre-lollipop mode. He smokes strangely, as if the cigarette were a lipstick. Later, following Mario Bava’s advice, he would successfully quit the coffin nails by finding something else to do with his hands, and hence the Kojak lollipop was acquired.
It’s not easy to account for the Savalas appeal, but it’s a very real thing. I always buck up when I see his name in the credits. When I see him in HORROR EXPRESS, playing a cossack, I dance a jig.
I seem to recall actor Dudley Sutton (Duke of Wuertemberg in Fellini’s CASANOVA, Tinker in Lovejoy) talking about meeting some nice woman who’d met Telly on holiday. He’d been charmed by her little daughter and kept talking about wanting to take the child home with him. The woman seemed delighted by this patter, whereas Dudley “– found this terrifying, because when I worked with him*, he was out of his mind on LSD the whole time.”**
*On A TOWN CALLED BASTARD, which Dud called “the crookedest film I was ever in.”
**More Dudley wisdom: “Now, the best films to be in for drugs were the Disney films…”