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Radley Metzger (1929 - )

Related: American cinema - softcore - erotic films

Titles: The Lickerish Quartet (1970) - Score (1973) - The Image (1975) - The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976) - The Cat & The Canary (1979)

Photo of Radley Metzger


Radley Metzger (born 21 January 1929) is a American independent filmmaker of mainly erotic movies. He was born in New York. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radley_Metzger [Nov 2004]

In his early career, Radley Metzger was a film-editor, providing censor cuts for European films like Bitter Rice imported in the USA.

He also worked on trailers, doing numerous trailers for the films of Ingmar Bergman

When Radley Metzger started his career as film distributor with Audubon, his editing skills allowed him to re-edit movies and make them attractive for the American market. Not only did he re-edit imported films, sometimes he also shot and added new footage.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radley Metzger

Filmmaker magazine interview

Out of the blue, director Radley Metzger got a phone call recently from a distributor inquiring about the rights to Score, an erotic feature he completed in 1972. Bruce Pavlow at N.Y.-based Leisure Time Features remembers seeing the film years before: "I thought it was amazing," he says. "I always wanted to do something with it. And Metzger is this legendary figure. He's mentioned in Incredibly Strange Films."

Metzger, and the company he founded with longtime partner Ava Leighton, Audubon Films, were pioneers in the production and distribution of erotic films in the late 60s. His films are distinguished by their lavish design, witty screenplays, and a penchant for the unusual camera angle--often shooting off of reflective surfaces. But Metzger's films also capture--as much as they contributed to--the emerging sexual revolution.

With Leisure Time set to re-release Score, Therese and Isabel (1967) and Metzger's 1970 production, The Lickerish Quartet, this summer filmmaker decided to take a look at the career of this remarkable indie pioneer. --Stephen Gallagher, Filmmaker Magazine, summer 1997, http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/summer1997/metzger.php

Interviewed by Richard Corliss (1973)

As a genre, the "sexploitation" films of the early and middle Sixties more than lived up to their name; they exploited not only sex but also their actors and their audiences. The one great exception to this standard was Radley Metzger's Audubon Films. Metzger - first as a distributor and then, concurrently, as a director - did for sex films in the Sixties what Playboy had done for sex magazines in the Fifties. His movies were classier, more literate, better-made, and blessed with women who looked as if they could communicate desire without carrying disease. Although there was less explicit sex per frame in his films than in those of his competitors, they usually had an erotic atmosphere that made a single raised eyebrow more highly charged than an entire William Mishkin gang bang. His success with these European melodramas undoubtedly helped convince Russ Meyer to abandon "nudies" for his later, more delirious excursions into big bosomed kink.

It may be said that Metzger-the-distributor is as much an auteur as Metzger-the-director, since he would often spend months re-editing (and occasionally re-shooting) a foreign film for the American market; one film, The Libertine, was tightened up with over 300 cuts, some of them subliminal. But, if the films Metzger imported are personal, his own films are virtually confessional in their exploration of themes and feelings, moods and mise-en-scčne. Surely the soft-core regulars of the late Sixties could have been only bewildered by Therese and Isabelle, which spends its first forty minutes building character and prowling elegantly around an old monastery, to the exclusion of any sex scenes. Most of his characters inhabit an erotic twilight world halfway between haute monde and demi-monde, and few "straight" directors excel Metzger at creating an almost tactile milieu of quasi-aristocratic decadence - credit for which Metzger gladly shares with his long-time cinematographer, the gifted Hans Jura, and his art director on Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet, Enrico Sabbatini.

Film Comment, January 1973 via http://www.vidmarc.demon.co.uk/mondo-erotico/metzger/interviews/aristo1.html [Nov 2004]

Radley Metzger’s ‘Elegant Arousal’: Cultural Value, Eroticism and Sexploitation

Having entered the film industry editing foreign productions and making trailers for American audiences at Janus Films, Radley Metzger’s progression in the 1960s to the status of producer, exhibitor, and director is inextricably bound to the logic of the cut which inaugurated his career. Operating at a moment in film history when censorship debates and obscenity laws were in a state of turmoil and transformation, and during a period in which sexuality on the screen was no longer an unmentionable, unshowable subject, Metzger’s “aristocratic erotica” aimed to distinguish itself from the lower-budgeted sexploitation industry in both sensibility and execution. Liberally trimming the excesses off the films he aquired overseas, Metzger would insert sexual content, repackage, and finally “present” the resulting material to an American arthouse audience. His own films characteristically employed an indulgent, decadent aesthetic focusing on atmospherics and the textures of character rather than on dialogue or narrative weight, and his phantasmatic mise-en-scenes foregrounded the utopian elements of sexual liberation politics while eliding any sense of danger beyond the stylization and melodrama-often read in terms of camp or irony-of its seductions, betrayals, and power plays.

By staging sexuality within the domain of the fantasy upper classes (e.g., Camille 2000) or in the space of literary adaptation (e.g., Therese and Isabelle), Metzger’s project of cultural distinction seemed to segment the target audience for more mundane sexploitation features according to their preferences with respect to entertainment, art, and arousal. His films blurred the boundaries between exploitation and art at a time when generic misrecognition and confusion over the categories of “adult film” and “mature content” was pervasive in American culture. Vying for cultural legitimacy through his aesthetic strategies, yet maintaining a deep connection to sexploitation through his sexual themes-lesbianism, bisexuality, sadomasochism, prostitution, nymphomania, and fetishism-Metzger’s status as independent auteur emerged from the hybridized niche he himself had managed to invent.

Defending the intelligence and sophistication of the viewers he appealed to, maintaining faith in their sensibilities and capacity to recognize the relationship between artistic craft and sensuality, Metzger nevertheless argued for their spectatorial regularity and normality as members of the middlebrow. His films can be seen as an instance of public pedagogy, in which the erotic tastes of the audience are trained, expanded, and diversified through a discourse of aesthetic appreciation and spectatorial civility, rather than the “crass vulgarity” attributed to to the lesser budgeted sexploitation features. Therefore, Metzger’s films get defined, distinctly classed, and attributed “social value” in relation to “higher” and “lower” cultural forms. Metzger’s particular brand of “high class soft-core” would later be assimilated into a more mainstream current of film production, extending industrially this rhetorical tendency towards the erotic tutelage of the film audience.

This essay will explore Metzger’s pivotal role in such a cultural climate, in his relationship to the sexploitation industry, to arthouse exhibition, and to film reception and obscenity. --Elena Gorfinkel via http://members.bellatlantic.net/~sschneid/USA.htm#Gorfinkel [Mar 2005]

Radley Metzger profile by Gary Morris

Like many other auteurs toiling outside the realm of the respectable, Metzger was also a film distributor, so he was less at the mercy of others in terms of choosing and realizing projects than his more mainstream counterparts. This makes it easier to say the films are indeed his, though acknowledgment must be made of his superb collaborators such as Enrico Sabbatini, art director for sumptuous works like Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet, and Hans Jura, the fine cinematographer of Therese and Isabelle and The Lickerish Quartet.


Metzger was both a key player in, and a catalyst for, the sexual revolution of the '60s, and his career contains several milestones in this area. Among these is Therese and Isabelle, the first and still one of the best realistic treatment of an adolescent lesbian amour; The Lickerish Quartet, which merged the unlikely elements of Pirandello and pornography; and Score, a sex farce that was far ahead of its time in refashioning the erotic date movie with humor and extensive — and in some prints, hardcore — gay, lesbian, and bi sex.

--Gary Morris via http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/25/metzger.html [Aug 1999 | Nov 2004]

Psychotronic Interview by Jay Kent Lorenz (1994)

Radley Metzger was born in the Bronx and raised in Washington Hts, but many people still think he's European, simply because most of his features were made overseas. With the possible exception of (the very different) Russ Meyer, no other director of adult films had the same directing (and editing) skills. Metzger's films are in the collection of the Museum Of Modern Art and on the shelves of 42nd St. porno video stores. He started in the film business in the early '50s.

Radley Metzger interviewed by Jay Kent Lorenz, Psychotronic Video No. 17, Winter 1994 via http://www.vidmarc.demon.co.uk/mondo-erotico/metzger/interviews/EroticWorldOfRadley.html [Nov 2004]

Therese und Isabell (1968) - Radley Metzger

Therese (Essy Persson) and Isabelle (Anna Gael) in
Therese und Isabell (1968) - Radley Metzger [Amazon.com]
(© 1998 First Run Features. All rights reserved.)
image sourced here.

  • Therese und Isabell (1968) - Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
    Radley Metzger's most acclaimed film is a melancholy tale of a woman wandering through the landscape of her memory to relive the joys and sorrows of the first love of her adolescence. We flash back on the young Therese (Essy Persson), who has grown up as the only person in her single mother's life, but due to her mother's abrupt marriage she has now been banished from the family home to a finishing school. Feeling abandoned, Therese becomes friends with the vivacious and lively Isabelle (Anna Gaël), but their relationship grows past friendship to love, and together they taste the forbidden fruit of sex. Based on the autobiographical novel Le Batarde by Violette Leduc, Metzger's handsome black-and-white film (elegantly shot by Hans Jura) is constructed as a prismatic set of flashbacks, constructed not in chronological order but rather along thematic lines, intercut with the adult Therese revisiting the ghosts of her past in the now-deserted school. The tasteful restraint of the first half gives way to discreet sexual explorations and finally nudity, which may be troubling to some viewers in light of the age of the characters (who are played by adults), but Metzger never exploits the situation. The poignant scenes have a tenderness and raw emotion that captures the mix of excitement, fear, and confusion of adolescence, and ultimately the film becomes about the tragedy of loss that continues to haunt the adult Therese. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

    In 1968 Radley Metzger made a film of Leduc's novel Therese and Isabelle. The film was a commercial feature about adolescent lesbian love, starring Essy Persson and Anna Gaël. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violette_Leduc [Mar 2005]

    More films

    See at the top of the page for reviews of individual titles.

    1. Dark Odyssey (1961) - William Kyriakis, Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
      If you didn't see his name onscreen you'd never peg this early American Independent feature for a Radley Metzger film. This tale of a brooding Greek sailor (Athan Karras) who jumps a shipmate then jumps ship to New York to satisfy a personal vendetta looks more like the loose, street-shot cinema of Morris Engel (The Little Fugitive, Lovers and Lollipops) than the erotic romps Metzger became famous for. The sailor's plans seems to become temporarily derailed when he meets a nice Greek-American girl (Jeanne Jerrems), whose mix of politeness and forwardness disarms the tradition-bound Karras and he becomes torn between his mission and the possibilities of a relationship in the New World. Metzger and his collaborator William Kyriakis play with the contrasts between dour, humorless Karras, whose Old World values are spinning in the "permissive" social landscape of modern America, and the modern Jerrems. Some of the performances are inexpressive or clumsy and the story at times seems slight, but the location shooting and easy pace create a vivid world of the Greek-American community in New York City that gives life to the drama. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

    2. The Dirty Girls (1964) - Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
      Radley Metzger had carved out a nice little career for himself importing and dubbing European erotic dramas (such as Mac Ahlberg's I, a Woman) when he decided to direct his own. All that Euro-chic elegance comes through in his first film, The Dirty Girls, a handsome little picture short on story and tame by modern standards (there's more tease than striptease) but full of that happily hedonistic continental attitude. Shot on location in Europe, it's an elegant, low-budget picture about two call girls in the most beautiful cities of the world. In Paris, "the City of Love," a lovely streetwalker on the Champs Élysées spends an evening entertaining a series of clients, one of whom enjoys a woman in uniform. In Munich, "the City of Pleasure," a high-class courtesan brings pleasure to a pair of wealthy patrons while awaiting the return of her lover. Metzger and his cinematographer Hans Jura serve up the flirting and foreplay in a cool, chic black-and-white sheen. It's a modest effort but sets the tone for Metzger's future films: despite the title, Metzger treats sex as anything but dirty and maintains an unusual (for 1964) respect for his heroines. Bonus scenes at the end of the film feature slightly more explicit versions of a few scenes shot for the European market. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com
    3. The Alley Cats (1965) - Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
      The success of Radley Metzger's smooth, stylish erotic bonbon The Dirty Girls inspired him to try something a little more ambitious. The Alley Cats is the simple story of Leslie (petite, big-eyed brunette Anna Arthur), a frustrated young woman in the European jet set ignored by her fiancé, Logan. When she discovers he's in the middle of an affair with her best friend, Leslie decides to have a few dalliances of her own. To her surprise, she falls for a beautiful, seductive socialite and is suddenly confronted with a choice she never expected to face. Daring in its time, it feels rather dated today, as the decadent display of sexual freedom collapses in a conclusion grounded in conventional attitudes. But until then it's a lusty yet sleek look at swinging '60s Europe shot on gorgeous locations and in chic, elegantly furnished apartments in cool, crisp black-and-white widescreen, enlivened by a funky rock and jazz-influenced score. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

    4. Carmen, Baby (1967) - Radley Metzger [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      Radley Metzger transports the Prosper Mérimée classic (which was also the source of Bizet's legendary opera) to the Mediterranean coast of the swinging '60s. In the decadent world of high-life high jinks, wild parties, and easy virtue, Carmen (voluptuous sex kitten Uta Lekz) lures a hot-blooded, hunky young cop from his straight-arrow lifestyle and initiates him into a band of petty thieves and con artists led by her husband. When she dumps the kid for a sexy pop star named Baby (who sucks his alcohol from tiny baby bottles), the fatally jealous ex-cop... well, you know the story. Metzger has Lekz play Carmen as an unapologetic hedonist, less a manipulator than a pleasure-seeker who follows her impulses, a perfect player in Metzger's world of sexual freedom and gleeful exhibitionism. Yet for all the sex and fleshy eroticism, there is little explicit nudity--mostly tease and temptation. Metzger's lingering pace, perfect for such meandering jaunts as The Dirty Girls and Score, bogs the story down when the tensions should be rising, but he picks it up by the edgy climax. Metzger makes the transition to color with great style, filling the widescreen with bold, lush hues, as vivid as the passion, and scores the film with a groovy '60s soundtrack of lounge music-a-go-go. --Sean Axmaker for amazon.com

    5. Camille 2000 (1969) - Radley Metzger [Amazon.com]
      Radley Metzger's erotic take on Alexandre Dumas fils' tragedy The Lady of the Camellias is a hedonistic journey into decadence among the chic world of upper-crust Rome. Marguerite (Daničle Gaubert) lives off the gifts and good graces of an elderly sugar-daddy count, treating love as a game and sex as a pastime (she is "discriminating but not particular," in the words of one rival). Sweet-faced innocent Armand (Nino Castelnuovo), a young bachelor newly arrived in Rome, courts the comely beauty and wins her heart, and together they live a fairy-tale romance--until his father intervenes and Marguerite (already conveniently dying of one of those afflictions that strikes gorgeous young women who flirt out of their class) selflessly leaves Armand to his greater fate and sinks into a haze of drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous abandonment. Metzger's romantic tragedy is a fleshy delight--the camera lovingly caresses every voluptuous curve of Gaubert's face and body--with a surprisingly restrained display of nudity. Lushly photographing in seductive color in the elegant mansions of Rome, Metzger cranks up the kink in one scene, a party set in a prison turned pleasure house where dates are chained together and couples retire to a cell for privacy, but balances the erotic decadence with tasteful restraint. The art direction and cinematography are so rich that, apart from the magnetic Miss Gaubert, the characters are constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by their surroundings. But little matter--if the tragedy is less than devastating, the realization is delightfully tactile and alive. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

      In 1969, a drug-laced Italian language version called Camille 2000 was produced. It was adapted by Michael DeForrest and directed by Radley Metzger. It stars Daničle Gaubert and Nino Castelnuovo. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_%28film%29 [Mar 2005]

    6. Little Mother (1973) - Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
      Christiane Krüger is Marina Pinares, a thinly veiled Eva Peron known to her adoring public as "Little Mother" who sleeps, self-promotes, and blackmails her way to political power in an unnamed South American country. The mosaic Citizen Kane-like structure begins in the present, as the hypocritical hero of the people campaigns to become canonized while flashbacks reveal her wicked past: her early life as a call girl, wild orgies, and her cagey manipulations of a succession of powerful lovers. As in most of Radley Metzger's work, the sex is more teasing than explicit and Hans Jura's cinematography is lush and lovely, but the tone is more swinging '70s than cynical satire, neither as luridly sensationalistic as it should be or as dramatically compelling as it could be. Kruger never captures the necessary dynamism to convince us that she's the most loved figure of her time, but she delivers the ruthlessly ambitious dimension in spades and the supporting cast, including Ivan Desny (The Marriage of Maria Braun) and Anton Diffring (Fahrenheit 451), brings a touch of class to the sleazy but stylish decadence. Metzger's art-film ambitions are better realized in the lush romantic tragedy of Therese and Isabelle and the heady mind games of The Lickerish Quartet. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

    7. The Image aka The Punishment of Anne (1975) - Radley Metzger[Amazon US]
      The Image is a disturbing, erotic, scary, elegant movie that probably only Radley Metzger could have made. Most directors of 'erotica' concentrate on gynecological close-ups to the exclusion of all else; Metzger's hallmark has always been to tell a story and explain the characters and their situation without ever resorting to the patronizing smirk, relying as much on the actors' eyes as on the dialogue. The S&M scene is as alien to me as peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches (which I am also told some enjoy), but in The Image I can see the gamesmanship, the role-playing and the unspoken psychological leveraging that makes it all so compellingly complex. Would I show this film to Grandma? Uh-uh. But then, that's just MY grandma, yours may well have a side you never suspected. This film is hot, fascinating, and, in this gorgeous and UNCUT (thank you, thank you!) video transfer, stunningly beautiful as well. --ssmithee for amazon.com

    8. The Princess and the Call Girl (1984) - Radley Metzger [Amazon US]
      Radley Metzger's final feature is a sweet but slight erotic twist on the "Prince and the Pauper" story. Conservative socialite Audrey Swallow (saucer-eyed Carol Levy) meets up with her look-alike college pal Lucy Darling (also Levy), who is now a jet-setting call girl. Days before her wedding, Audrey is enlisted for a small favor: she fills in for Lucy on an erotic weekend jaunt to the Mediterranean and discards her virginal restraint for wild sexual abandon. Levy plays Audrey with good humor and elegant grace, flirting and teasing with the beautiful people of Europe's vacation playgrounds with a mix of giddy anticipation and unleashed inhibition, but does little to differentiate the more casually carnal Lucy, who fills in for Audrey at her own wedding when a canceled flight disrupts well-laid plans. With little to the story or the characters, the film survives largely on Levy's charms (she's no Meryl Streep but exhibits a flair for comic understatement) and the gorgeous Monaco and French coast locations. Though he approached similar themes more effectively in Score, Metzger's coyly romantic view of sexuality can be rather refreshing, if not altogether convincing. --Sean Axmaker for amazon.com

    Radley Metzger Collection Volume 2 (Little Mother / The Dirty Girls / Score) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

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