The story is set in "Oceanfront High School," a fictitious American high school in the height of the sexual revolution. Young female students are being targeted by an unknown serial killer. Meanwhile, a male student called Ponce is experiencing sexual frustration, surrounded by a seemingly unending stream of beautiful and sexually provocative classmates.
Michael "Tiger" McDrew (Hudson) is the high school's football coach and guidance counselor, but there is another aspect of Tiger's character; he has participated in a number of sexual encounters with female students. Tiger tries to befriend Ponce and help him deal with his sexual needs by encouraging him to seek the affections of a sexy substitute teacher, Miss Betty Smith (Dickinson).
Meanwhile, one young girl after another turns up dead. A police detective captain, Sam Surcher (Telly Savalas), investigates the case but never obtains enough courtroom-admissible evidence to make an arrest. Tiger is suspected, but never caught red-handed. Ponce, however, discovers that Tiger is guilty when he discovers evidence hidden in his office. Tiger drives Ponce to a pier where he confesses, and apparently commits suicide by driving his car into the ocean with Ponce as his witness. However, Surcher suspects that Tiger has faked his own death when he notices that his supposed widow is hiding a ticket to Brazil.Rock Hudson as Michael "Tiger" McDrew
Angie Dickinson as Betty Smith
Telly Savalas as Police Captain Sam Surcher
John David Carson as Ponce de Leon Harper
Keenan Wynn as Police Chief John Poldaski
Barbara Leigh as Jean McDrew, Tiger's wife
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Proffer, the principal
James Doohan as Follo
William Campbell as Grady
Susan Tolsky as Miss Harriet Craymire
The "Pretty Maids:"Brenda Sykes: Pamela Wilcox, an African American student
Joy Bang: Rita
Gretchen Burrell: Marjorie
Joanna Cameron: Yvonne Millick, a dark-haired student
Aimee Eccles: Hilda Lee, an Asian American student
June Fairchild: Sonny Swangle, an always-laughing student
Margaret Markov: Polly
Diane Sherry: Sheryl
The novel was published in 1968. Producer Jay Weston and director James B. Harris originally optioned the novel and assigned William Hanley to write the script. Joe Namath was meant to star as the football coach.
Eventually Gene Roddenberry rewrote the script and came on board as producer; the job of directing was given to Roger Vadim - his first movie in two years. "There is no role in the film for Jane Fonda," said the director who was estranged from his wife at the time.
It was Vadim's first American film, though he said he had received offers before - a contract with Paramount for five films ten years previously, and one with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer three years earlier. However he said he bought himself out of both contracts because he could not get the necessary control. Vadim said he had to be persuaded to return to MGM:
It seemed this time they (MGM) were more interested to give more credit to the director. 'We have changed' they said. But from the moment I get here I fight like hell. They want names but they don't want to pay for them. For the first time I will be at a studio for a major company in Hollywood. In a way I like a challenge. I really think it's necessary to get involved with something new. It's so good to break all your habits. In France I can do anything, here I have to fight.That's a good thing. They respect you if you fight and it keeps you alert.
"I am not trying to make a statement on America," added Vadim. "I tell a story and the story happens to be located in America."
Rock Hudson was signed to star and filming began in August 1970. Brigitte Bardot was offered the female lead but could not get out of a prior commitment and Angie Dickinson played the role instead.
The cast included eight young female newcomers, the "pretty maids": Brenda Sykes, Joy Bang, Gretchen Burrell, Joanna Cameron, Aimée Eccles, June Fairchild, Margaret Markov, and Diane Sherry.
The April 1971 issue of Playboy magazine published an article about the movie written by Vadim. This includes a nine-page pictorial of actresses Angie Dickinson, Gretchen Burrell, Aimee Eccles, Margaret Markov, Playboy bunny Joyce Williams, and others.
The production was largely filmed at University High School in West Los Angeles. Some years later, a University High administrator told the Los Angeles Times that the high sexual and violent content of the film should have precluded it from being approved for filming at the school.
Quentin Tarantino selected this film as one of his choices for Sight & Sound magazine's 2012 edition of Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time.