“Aren’t people friendly when they don’t know each other?”
Despite having directed classics of both hard and soft erotica, the name ‘Radley Metzger’ remains rather obscure. Part of the explanation is doubtless that his quintet of hardcore features was directed pseudonymously, and the reclusive nature of the man himself is also a factor. Nevertheless, he’s responsible for a number of acknowledged masterpieces and could justifiably be described as a pioneer.
Metzger’s first meaningful contribution to the world of cinema actually came in the capacity of distributor, as it was his ‘Audubon films’ that brought European classics such as ‘I, A Woman’ (1965) to American audiences. During this period he also directed and, as the sixties gave way to the seventies, delivered two landmark erotic features. ‘Camille 2000’ (1969) and ‘The Lickerish Quartet’ (1970) were both adapted from literary sources and notable for their sensibility as much as their content. The former is a melancholy tale of decadence and it’s downside in modern Rome, the latter an audacious kaleidoscope of a movie, but what really distinguished these films from their contemporaries was the mature treatment of erotic themes. Some thirty-odd years on, they remain fascinating and seductive but seem coy in terms of their sexual content. ‘Score’ (1973), on the other hand, is as provocative now as at the time of its initial release. Not only did Metzger choose to incorporate unsimulated sexual activity for the first time, this being a tale of bi-sexual swingers, the activity depicted was between members of the same sex. ‘The Punishment of Anne’/ ‘The Image’ (1974) upped the sexual ante still further, this time with explicit depictions of fellatio and cunnilingus in the context of a sado-masochistic ménage-a-trois. The end result is as accomplished as any explicit movie, beautifully realised and deeply unsettling. It remains a genuine curiosity but is really more of an art film than anything else. Significantly, unlike the quintet of films to follow, it was also released under Metzger’s real name.
‘The Private Afternoons Of Pamela Mann’ (1974) was Metzger’s first ‘proper’ hardcore film and the first time he utilized the ‘Henry Paris’ moniker. Alan Marlow plays Mr. Mann, an apparently suspicious husband who hires a private detective (and self-confessed voyeur) to track the movements of his wife. It seems that, while her husband spends his days (figuratively) tied to a desk, Pamela (Barbara Bourbon) fills her afternoons with a variety of sexual interludes. Unfortunately for Mr. Mann, Frank (Eric Edwards), the detective, is inexorably drawn to his quarry and eventually succumbs to the desire for direct contact.
Entirely different in tone to the masterpieces that had preceded it, ‘Pamela Mann’ is a warm-hearted and playful affair, boasting droll one-liners and recurring visual gags. Although it lacks the elegance for which Metzger is renowned, it’s nonetheless remarkably sophisticated in comparison to other adult films of the time. It also bears many of the directors’ hallmarks for those inclined to look: The fondness for utilising mirrors during sex scenes, reminiscent of both ‘Camille 2000’ and ‘Score’ is in evidence again here, as is the tendency to incorporate the mechanical aspects of film-making into the narrative structure of the film itself. Not only does Frank follow Pamela, he also captures her exploits on film and reviews them in the company of her husband. Indeed, by the time the curtain has (literally) fallen, and the narrative has resolved itself in characteristically impish fashion, we see Pamela herself reviewing the footage with obvious delight.
In a sense, all of the ‘Henry Paris’ movies conform to the template laid down here. ‘Pamela Mann’ isn’t a profound movie by any means. It’s jaunty, engaging and obviously made with considerable skill – characteristics which differentiate it from most adult features past or present. It’s also a very human movie. Eric Edwards and Georgina Spelvin, here in a supporting role as one of Pamela’s friends, acquit themselves reasonably well but, aside from that, the acting is pretty ordinary. Nevertheless, the key scenes – especially those between Edwards and Bourbon – are very well presented and actually seem quite heartfelt. The film’s dénouement – which inter-cuts an evening at home with the happy couple and scenes of the earlier infidelities – is also very effective. It’s amazing what you can achieve with some well-chosen library tracks, ceiling-mounted mirrors and a sense of composition.
Of course, no-one is likely to mistake this for Radley Metzger’s best movie. Whereas his most ambitious features were shot on location in Europe, ‘Pamela Mann’ was shot on 16mm in undistinguished areas on New York. Some of the interior shots also indicate a tight shooting schedule and low budget. Truth by told, this is not even the best ‘Henry Paris’ movie. However, it is an important adult movie. In fact, it’s among the most memorable of the porno-chic period.