The X-Rated World Of Radley Metzger

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To most people the name Radley Metzger will immediately conjure up images of the swinging Sixties, a time when the boundaries of cinematic permissiveness were cautiously explored and systematically torn down by a long line-up of sexploitation filmmakers, of whom both Metzger and Russ Meyer (same initials, but that’s where virtually all similarity ends) are probably the only names to create an instant spark of recognition amongst fans of the genre. This can hardly be considered a coincidence as, between the pair of them (to whom I would personally add the much under-rated Joe Sarno, perhaps porn’s best-kept secret), Meyer and Metzger conceived just about every then still non-explicit sex pic classic of that particular decade. Apart from introducing American audiences to that legendary piece of Scandinavian skin cinema I, A Woman (1965) by internationally renowned cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (whose later assignments include such wildly varied projects as the Linda Blair WIP flick Chained Heat and TV’s heart-warming The Wonder Years with so-cute-you-wanna-strangle-him Fred Savage), courtesy of his distribution company Audubon Films, Metzger was responsible for many of the more artistically inclined though undeniably still arousing softcore films of yore. Following the self-explanatorily titled The Dirty Girls (1965), which was his second feature (the first being the ill-received though non-exploitative Dark Odyssey from 1958), he made such fondly remembered flesh feasts as Carmen, Baby (1967), Therese and Isabelle (1968), Camille 2000 (1969) and the truly extraordinary The Lickerish Quartet (1970), managing to even draw the attention of high-minded critics who would normally never bother with nudie fare. My favourite quote comes from Film Comment editor Richard Corliss who stated that Metzger’s movies “were classier, more literate, better made, and blessed with women who looked as if they could communicate desire without carrying disease”!

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As the Seventies dawned, simulated sex features became virtually obsolete overnight (at least as far as the pre-cable U.S. market was concerned), what with the gargantuan box office success of Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), so Metzger tested the murky waters with The Image, on which he began shooting in 1973, though it would take several years to actually finish it due to various legal troubles, including some unwelcome meddling by the author of the source novel (the pseudonymous Jean de Berg, actually Catherine Robbe-Grillet, the wife of avant-garde film-maker Alain Robbe-Grillet). The result was that unlikeliest of beats, an S&M romance, predating both Just Jaekin’s Histoire D’O and Damiano’s similarly inspired Story of Joanna (both 1975) and containing three instances of non-simulated oral gratification and a pair of sometimes deleted urination sequences, all of which were performed wholeheartedly by heart-stoppingly beautiful blonde actress Mary Mendum (presumably more familiar to audiences as Rebecca Brooke from all those early Seventies Joe Sarno flicks such as 1974’s Confessions of a Young American Housewife). The aforementioned problems causing delay in production of this often unjustly overlooked diamond in the rough (and I do mean rough!) led to Metzger’s first full-blown hardcore epic, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974), being released to theatrical audiences first. The legal situation being rather precarious at the time, with Deep Throat going through one obscenity trial after another, Metzger chose to hide behind the pseudonym of Henry Paris and the rest is porn history, conveniently bringing us to that part of Metzger’s career which I personally consider his most interesting and fruitful.

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He brought his typically elegant sense of humour to the tantalising tale of bored socialite Pamela Mann (exceedingly well played by the radiant Barbara Bourbon who would go on to star in David Fleetwood’s somewhat unsavoury A Dirty Western the following year) being followed around on her husband’s orders by private eye Eric Edwards as she works her way through a succession of male and female lovers (including Georgina Spelvin of Devil in Miss Jones fame). Beautifully crafted and infinitely more erotic than many of its contemporaries, Pamela Mann caused critics to rave and audiences to flock to the nearest Pussycat theatre. French film-maker Francis Leroi borrowed the theme and divested it of most of its humour for his Perversions Secretes (1978), while the late Chuck Vincent apparently liked it so much he used it twice, for the hardcore Voyeur (1985) and its softcore spin-off If Looks Could Kill (1987), both starring one-time anal queen Sheri St. Claire (aka Kim Lambert).

Metzger’s next venture proved an altogether more ambitious affair as he bravely undertook a film version of a then popular (not to mention frustratingly episodic) saucy best-seller entitled Naked Came the Stranger (1975). Credited to one Penelope Ashe, the book was actually written by the entire editorial staff of Newsday magazine, consisting of twenty-five men and one woman, and detailed (often in highly satirical fashion, which explains Metzger’s attraction to the material in the first place) the various erotic exploits of radio talk show hosts Billy and Gilly Blake, hilariously portrayed in the movie by Levi Richards and Darby Lloyd Rains respectively.

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Metzger’s signature film, and perhaps the single best adult feature anyone has ever come up with right to this very day, came next – The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), perfectly located at the centre of Metzger’s carnal quintet (consisting of his five hardcore efforts). Misty takes as its source no less than George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, already turned into a musical by Lerner and Loewe as My Fair Lady (immortalised, of course, through George Cukor’s 1964 film version) and this time out cleverly rethought in pornographic terminology.

Crafted with every bit as much attention to detail as just about any Hollywood A production of the same period (and let’s not forget the Seventies constituted a golden age for porn and mainstream movies alike) and blessed with production values to match, Misty (which got an uncredited remake in Paul G. Vatelli’s hugely enjoyable Stiff Competition,  1983, and was then remade as a porno musical by Veronica Hart in 2004), couldn’t lay claim to the distinction of being the finest porn film of all time if it weren’t for its sizeable parade of fan favourites and their commendable eagerness to interlock body parts that made them such, and which would put most current suck ‘n’ fuck sirens to shame. Standing head and shoulders above them all, , we have the exquisite Constance Money essaying the title role, proving beyond all doubt she’s one of the finest light comediennes the genre ever spawned, mixing heat and heart in equal measures. No wonder skin mag Adam Film World, one of four major sources awarding such honours at the time, bestowed its Best Actress prize upon this delightful damsel (while the others somewhat botched their opportunity by selecting Jennifer Welles in both Honeypie and Little Orphan Sammy).  Prior to this, her finest hour, she had already appeared in bonking bit parts in the supremely silly yet oddly likeable Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak (1974) and couples avant-la-letttre The Joy of Letting Go (1976), produced by Summer Brown (aka Sandra Winters, wife of director Edwin Brown (who would later change his surname to Durell for some unfathomable reason), who did the original Irresistible  (1982) and Every Woman Has a Fantasy (1984). Following Misty, Connie turned up in two more Metzger movies, Barbara Broadcast (1977) and Maraschino Cherry (1978), though her scenes were later revealed to be leftovers from the Misty shoot. She did have terrific leading roles in two of porn’s most idiosyncratic offerings however, playing (as was her habit by now) titular characters in Bernard Morris’ Faust-style fantasy Mary! Mary! (1977) and the haunting psycho-thriller Anna Obsessed (1978), signed by the mucho mysterious Martin and Martin (a directorial duo – ? – whose identities I for one would love to see revealed as their one and only adult effort stands as one of the most amazing experiences the genre has to offer). She ended a five year hiatus from hardcore, during which she appeared in the pages of Playboy magazine (using her real name, Susan Jensen) and in the orgy stuff – as did former colleagues Annette Haven, Serena, Cris Cassidy and Dorothy LeMay – in Blake Edwards’ 10 (1979), with a final comeback flick tellingly titled A Taste of Money (1983), a fair enough Richard Mailer film which paled by comparison however to most of her earlier features.

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Misty will forever stand as Metzger’s high watermark, a film at once funny, clever and arousing, yielding its many pleasures gradually (which becomes particularly gratifying upon multiple viewings), never letting up from its hilarious opening sequence to its satisfyingly romantic reunion at the end. Metzger’s self-penned story moves at a much faster clip than the average porn fan might be accustomed to, with its plentiful carnal couplings an integral part of the narrative, spiced up with dialogue as sophisticated as anything Tracy and Hepburn ever uttered (though these two would never have gotten away with some of the double entendres here). Marcel Hall’s glossy cinematography brings a rich, glowing patina to the pleasurable proceedings, thereby successfully side-stepping the clinical aspect such a degree of explicitness too often entails. This led critic Danny Peary (in his generally enjoyable 1986 tome Guide for the Film Fanatic) to complain about the sex looking too antiseptically clean and how it should’ve been raunched up, which just goes to show there’s no way of pleasing everyone. In addition there’s also a terrific soundtrack by real world rock band Elephant’s Memory (according to noted porn critic Jim Holliday, they used to jam with the likes of John Lennon) including a hummable little ditty called You Want To Love Me And I Want To Love You. They would also supply the music for Armand Weston’s superb Dorian Gray epic Take Off (1978), another carnal classic well worth checking out should it ever come your way.

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It should come as no surprise that Misty… was quite literally showered with awards, including the only consensus ever on the Best Film vote from the Adult Film Association of America, Screw, Hustler and the aforementioned Adam’s Film World. Its sheer professionalism on every conceivable level has enshrined it over the years in the hearts and minds of fans and critics alike. Almost exactly ten years after it first saw the light of day (or at least the darkened confines of a comfortable cinema) it was inducted into the X-Rated Critics Organisation’s Hall of Fame, an institution which wasn’t even around when the movie originated!

Metzger moved on to Barbara Broadcast (1977) with Annette Haven as a Xaviera Hollander type prostitute being interviewed in a crowded restaurant about her soon-to-be-published tell-all autobiography. Holliday assures us that many long-time genre fans tend to prefer this one to all other Metzger films, due no doubt to the fact that this is one of the few adult features to constantly mix sex and food in that time-honoured Tom Jones fashion. Good old Albert Finney and Joyce Redman never had it so good!

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Maraschino Cherry (1978) was his final (credited) contribution to hardcore history and a (for him) slightly inferior account of the daily routine at Madame Gloria Leonard’s fancy cathouse with the earlier mentioned Jenny Baxter portraying yet another (phoney) innocent as Gloria’s horny kid sister visiting her scandalous sibling in the big bad city. An unsettling BDSM number involving Gloria, Annette Haven, C.J. Laing, a couple of half-filled shot-glasses and the threat of a hot plate sticks in the mind though.

That same year Metzger chucked the Henry Paris pseudonym in a return to respectability with the umpteenth version of The Cat and the Canary, presiding over the likes of Honor Blackman, Edward Fox, and Wilfred Hyde-White. Ironically, the result – though certainly entertaining enough – was nowhere near as good as any of his porn epics. Ah, poetic justice for this much maligned subgenre of ours indeed!

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The Paris pseudonym was aired once more for French director Gerard Kikoine’s maiden voyage into U.S. porn, The Tale of Tiffany Lust (1981), an immaculately produced variation on that old routine about the bored upper-middle class housewife embarking upon a journey of sexual self-discovery. It certainly helped matters that the little lady in question was played by eye-catching French actress and fashion model lookalike Dominique Saint-Clair (aka Dom Pat aka Claire Forrester aka Micheline Morgan…) switching identities yet again by signing on as, get this, Arlene Manhattan! Nor did it hurt that her liberation was achieved with the ready, willing and very able assistance of such superstars as Veronica Hart, Desiree Cousteau and Vanessa Del Rio (outrageous as radio sex therapist Florence Nightingale). Responsible for producing and at least in part writing this minor gem, which got somewhat lost in the slipstream of the banner year for porn that was 1981, Metzger also ended up assisting Kikoine in his directorial chores according to some sources, even though he never achieved any credit for doing so. By the way, Kikoine is one of those reprehensible bozos who disown their porn careers when achieving some sort of semi-respectability, in his case with such drivel as Buried Alive (1988, supposedly based on Poe and ironically starring former porn princess Ginger Lynn) and Edge of Sanity (1989, his awful take on Jekyll and Hyde with Tony Perkins), whilst never attaining the level of his carnal demi-classic L Clinique des Fantasies (1978, released in the US as RX FOR SEX) with the incomparable Brigitte Lahaie.

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The final credit on Metzger’s filmography is a bit confusing. In 1984, he wrote and directed a little movie for the Playboy Channel entitled The Princess and the Callgirl, a naughty update of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper starring the very pretty blonde Carole Levy as the titular lookalikes trading their respective places in society (check the title for more info) for a few days with the risk of being found out forever lurking just around the corner. Now I can confirm he wrote it, but to the best of my knowledge, when the film saw its theatrical release in France and Belgium (sometimes saddled with the alternative moniker Les Fantasmes de Miss Jones) directorial credit was attributed to French film-maker Gerard Loubeau, best remembered for his hardcore outing Secrets D’Adolescentes (1979) starring yet again the lovely Lahaie (who seemed to pop up in every halfway decent European flick of that era). The mind boggles…

Some of Metzger’s most memorable couplings (both of the simulated and explicit variety) were put together on a 1986 compilation tape called The World of Henry Paris, which once again served as a welcome reminder of just how great a genius the man was in combining blazing sex with social satire in films so sophisticated as to give pornography a good name (while it lasted). Hats off to Henry!

DRIES VERMUELEN

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