The Harrad Experiment  (1973) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white: The Harrad Experiment (1973) is based on a Robert Rimmer book of the same name that was a best seller on the USS Ranger in 1967 among the liberal triple digit IQ sailors, for two good reasons.

  1. it is full of graphic sex, and describes group marriage
  2. it dares to suggest that monogamy is not only not the only possible relationship, but is not really even a good one.

Remember the era. This was the sexual freedom, everyone is on the pill, nobody wears bras pre-herpes and pre-AIDS days of unlimited sexual freedom. The book suggested that this "free love" might even be a great social idea.

Harrad was a college enrichment program begun by husband/wife psychologists. Students from a nearby college were to live at Harrad with a roommate of the opposite sex, carefully chosen by the doctors, and take extra classes in sexuality and relationships. The book focuses on the inter-relationships of a dozen or so students, and progresses from initial meetings and uncertainty, through "fuck weekend," when most of the students became intimate with their roommates, through some jealousy and swapping, and ends with five couples going through a rather carefully worded group marriage ceremony, after learning that they were better as a group than as singles or couples.

I was eager to see the film, and couldn't imagine that it could portray all of the sex and intimacy in the book. It didn't. They made Harrad a college unto itself, simplifying the settings, and focused on 3 couples. It is true to the spirit of the book, except that each of the six main characters overcomes some personal hang-up and becomes a more complete person, but there is only the slightest hint of polygamous relationships. All in all, it is a pretty good film, albeit one that may not make sense to someone who didn't live through the sexual revolution of the middle 60s.


Every member of the student cast does full frontal nudity. That includes:

male: Don Johnson, Bruno Kirby, Gregory Harrison,  Eliot Street and many extras.

female: Victoria Thompson, Laurie Walters, Susan Taggart, and many extras.

The censored versions have no frontal nudity, and only some fleeting looks at Walters' breasts. The nudity from the other cast members has been cut completely.

We see Tippi Hedren in a bra and panties,  teaching a student a lesson with a swift kick to the ego.

  • James Whitmore and Tippi Hedren played Drs. Margaret and Phillip Tenhausen, founders.
  • Couple number one is Laurie Walters and Don Johnson. He is a young swinger with lots of notches on his bedpost, who runs from commitment and intimacy. She is a shy and introspective virgin looking for true love and fulfillment. Not hard to see why they were paired.
  • Couple 2 consist of the outgoing and sexually experienced Victoria Thompson, and inexperienced Bruno Kirby, who has self-image problems.
  • Couple 3, Sharon Taggart and Elliott Street are mostly there as plot devices for the other couples, but Street has a small weight problem which makes it hard for him to adjust to the nudity requirement during exercise, and Taggart is what is commonly called easy.

DVD info from Laser's Edge

four feature-length films for $7.44 - how can you go wrong for a buck eighty six?

The dialogue and attitudes are very 60's, as is the costuming. It is essentially a character driven drama, and I ended up liking all of the characters. This film is a very high C+, but only in the uncut version. Watch for a brief appearance by Melanie Griffith as an uncredited extra at the ripe old age of 16.

Scoop's Thoughts

This movie is bad beyond redemption.

The book was no piece of intellectual brilliance to begin with. It was the kind of book that impressed average kids because it said something that they wanted to hear and was easy to read. But it had some good questions about societal conventions, even if it was lacking the depth to postulate either a good reason why people pair off in the traditional way, or a compelling reason to do otherwise. The book had one solid point - that it is very possible that our psychological needs would be better met with several life-partners than with one. Indeed that is certainly true. Nobody can fulfill any other person's complete psychological needs. That is why when we pair off we don't go off to live in caves as isolated twosomes, but retain our friends of both sexes. That is why after a few years of marriage, couples go out with other couples rather than just with each other. We have psychological appetites beyond the capacity of a single partner.

Most sociological arrangements like marriage and the age of majority are formed by the needs of the society. We now believe that paired two-person serial monogamy and a majority of about 18 are the most satisfactory ways to make our society function. In the future, that may change, if society's needs change. (In parts of Europe after WW2, there weren't many able-bodied men left alive in many villages, so the rules changed rapidly, but only temporarily, until the balance was restored.)

The group marriage solution postulated by the book probably has as many problems as paired marriages. Various elements of jealousy appear. Too many of the women prefer one of the men, or vice-versa. But at least they are different problems, so there is some intellectual freshness to the concept, and it bases its ideas on an attempt to reason what is right for the individuals and society, rather than conventional truths, religious dogma, or simply revered tradition.

The movie kind of lost that whole thread. You'll get the impression from the movie that the idea is to live temporarily in a sexually open environment, so that you can make a more informed decision about your sexual future.  If the movie seriously advocated group marriage, it sure went over my head.

Basically the entire movie consists of scientifically trained professional sexologist James Whitmore slipping a pipe into his mouth to appear intellectual, then spouting some mumbo-jumbo about greater openness with ones mind and body, thus allowing the youngsters to do some really groovy multi-partner fuckin' with the complete backing of the scientific community.

Jimbo sees no need to reconcile this thinking with the fact that he has a conventional monogamous relationship with a traditional wife, in which they live in a cloistered community and have no contact with any other adults. Consistency is only important to those without pipes.

From that point on, it is a basically a conventional type of love story, but in an unconventional almosphere of nude group yoga, nude group swimming, etc.

Those groovy 60's (actually 1967-1974) are now seen as the Golden Age of laughably dated flicks. The movies sucked up to the youth of the time by championing their politics, defined as unrestricted fuckin' (we called it "free love"), plentiful drug takin' (we called it "expanded consciousness"), dodgin' the draft (we called it "the peace movement"), and disrespectin' authority (we called it "the movement"). In Hollywood terms, that meant these things would all be done by very good looking young people in a non-confrontational way. All power to the handsome people, brother!

After Easy Rider made beaucoup bucks, the Hollywood moguls figured out that they could make some serious moola by pandering to a generation which felt that a lack of discipline made them morally superior to their parents. You remember their parents. They were the evil, morally bereft people who fought the Great Depression, defeated Hitler, rebuilt Europe and Asia, and built the postwar economy that made my generation's life comfortable enough that they could go to college and study Hedonism 101.

Hollywood took the oversimplified book and chose to - simplify it. Because that's the way Hollywood works. In the movies, our hero is about to get in line for some food at an all-you-can eat buffet, he's really hungry, and they're running out of food. Should he get in line behind Shaq and Barkley, or should he get in the other line behind Calista Flockhart and Jane Addams? If only real life were that simple.

The movie begins with winsome virgin Laurie Walters arriving at Harrad College, where she starts walking around and hugging trees. (That really happened). Then and throughout the movie, we hear some mellow 60's faux-Donovan music sung by various people including - Miami Vice's Don Johnson. It doesn't get any better than that, but it tries. You see, Harrad is an experimental sex college, but some of the students don't want to have sex. Let me repeat that - they are college students, enrolled in a sex college, but they are reluctant to have sex. Apparently their guidance counselors never told them about any other colleges. And how many college students do you know, even in non-sex college, that don't want to have sex? I don't think these are the Animal House kind of college students. In fact, they probably are also reluctant to embrace free thought and to drink beer.

This is really the perfect college for guys to attend, because all the guys are losers, fat guys, and geeks except Don Johnson, and all the girls are pretty hot. Despite this apparent inconsistency, most of the women want sex from the nerds all the time, and the faculty encourages them to do so. Groovy, brother! Hell, I want to go to Harrad! The tuition must have been pretty pricey, because they have a campus that compares to Harvard, all supported by the tuitions of about 20 students!

Big spoiler coming - the movie ends with a group hug! And it's not trees, but people. Are you surprised?

You'll love the background music throughout the film. All the punch lines are accompanied by wah-wah mutes and rim-shots, just like an episode of Gilligan. Dramatic moments are punctuated with drum rolls (I'm not kidding). The kids go into town to attend a performance of those groovy hepcats, The Ace Trucking Company, who were ubiquitous in all media for about five years. For you younger guys, this is a lesson not only in the way we were, but in the way we had barely enough sense to avoid.  If you are into firing up and watching movies that are unintentionally funny, you'll find this hilarious. Damn, I wish that MST3000 would do this as their next movie project. Now THAT would be a great movie.

I think that back in the early 70's many of us thought that this film had merit because we agreed with its iconoclastic view of society's arbitrary rules for male-female relationships. Today the expression of that iconoclasm seems naive and simplistic, the film moves at a snail's pace, and the casual coupling encouraged by the university seems downright dangerous in today's more hazardous sexual climate.

Plus it was made for a couple hundred thousand dollars, the production values are nil, and it's just plain boring unless you're stoned out of your tree.

By the way, this is the movie where Don Johnson (then in his twenties) met and courted Melanie Griffith (then 15), with the full permission of her mother, Tippi Hedren, who is also in the movie.

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 4.3/10. The average score is proportionate to age, but even people 45+ rate it only 4.5. People 18-29 rate it 3.1, and people 30-44 rate it 3.9.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ (Tuna) Scoop says: depends on the version, and your criteria. Both are solid F's as entertainments or as thoughtful movies, although the film does fall into the "so bad its good" category and would make a perfect MST3000 project if they did movies filled with frontal nudity. The censored version is also an F as a nudie film, having almost none, and no frontals at all. On the other hand, I agree with Tuna that the uncut version is a C+ as a celebrity nudie film. Everyone in the student cast gets naked in two scenes (group swim, group yoga), and there are several other nude/topless scenes as well. One of them is one of the most charming in film history, namely when Bruno Kirby sees Victoria Thompson naked in the bathroom, while she remains unaware of his presence. He walks away, debates with himself about going back for another look, then decides not to.

Return to the Movie House home page