Director - Radley Metzger
Cast - Lynn Lowry, Claire Wilbur, Calvin Culver
Country of Origin - U.S., Yugoslavia
Discs - 2
Distributor - Arrow Films
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
In the fictional village of Leisure on the French Riviera lives two radically different married couples: there’s Jack (Gerald Grant), a sports photographer, and his wife Elvira (Claire Wilbur), a pair of salacious swingers who have found that the secret to a long and satisfying marriage is to take on as many sexual partners as possible; and Eddie (Calvin Culver) and Betsy (Lynn Lowry), a pair of newlyweds whose mutual interest in one another has quickly degenerated into boredom and dissatisfaction. Sex has become a long-running game to Jack and Elvira and as far as scoring goes the housewife is one conquest behind her husband. They had given themselves six months to successfully befriend and seduce the younger couple, which gives them just one more evening to complete the task and even the score. Betsy and Eddie are invited over for dinner and a night’s worth of decadent entertainment and events are set in motion that will have the couples pairing off in unexpected combinations before the clock strikes midnight. As an added bonus Jack wagers Elvira that if she succeeds in getting Betsy into bed with her she can also have Eddie as a prize, but the husband is hoping his wife’s seduction of the chaste young woman will keep her plenty busy because he has his own plans for Betsy’s naive significant other.
The final film in director Radley Metzger’s Erotica Psychedelica trilogy that began in 1969 with Camille 2000 and reached its zenith with 1970’s The Lickerish Quarter, Score finds the venerated director of world class erotic cinema at his most challenging and intimate in demolishing the notions of sexual identity he had explored in his previous features. Whereas Camille and Lickerish were both lavish productions with artful production design and beautifully-photographed love scenes, Score seems more like a ragged and improvised movie in the cinema verite style of John Cassavetes and early Brian De Palma. The movie was based on a stage play written by Jerry Douglas, who also penned the film adaptation and later became a writer and director of gay porn films, but Metzger keeps the proceedings from becoming too confined by allowing the characters to break free from their various houses and homes and explore the picaresque locations in Croatia where the physical production of Score took place. After a first act that focuses almost exclusively on Elvira's attempts to indoctrinate Betsy into her philosophy of sexual liberation by seducing the lovelorn young wife by proxy through her steamy morning tryst with lusty phone repairman Mike (Carl Parker), the remainder of the film takes place during the extended evening encounter where Elvira and Jack carefully execute their plan to make swinging hipsters out of the youthful couple who haven't even been married a year and already find more gratification in bowling than in sex.
Score isn't a wall-to-wall fiesta of unbridled lust, but when it does get to the racy loveplay Metzger removes all inhibitions and refuses to shy away from the more controversial aspects of his film. We do get to see Elvira and Betsy make hot lesbian love - a strap-on even figures into the action - because this is after all a Radley Metzger movie and we would feel cheated if that wasn't included. But when Jack and Eddie engage in their bout of intercourse the proceedings get a greater deal more explicit than most filmmakers dealing with the subject of gay sex, and as a result Metzger's approach feels more honest. He also films the various couplings with his trademark visual flair and edits each sequence for maximum impact while leaving some of the nastier aspects to the viewers' imaginations. In the case of Score Metzger tamps down on the stylistic flourishes and instead allows the cinematography by Franco Vodopivec to act as an impassive observer viewing the sex scenes from every conceivable angle, but the scenes never become cold and clinical even though Jack and Elvira's motivations may very well be just that.
There is more attention to the development of the characters than you would find in a typical sex film though very rarely does the story allow for any moments when they are given any memorable personality traits other than what is on the written page, which isn't very much at all. The performances by Metzger's cast have a lot to compensate for but thankfully they all manage to rise to the challenge....so to speak. Culver, who went on to become an actor in various gay porn movies before succumbing to an AIDS-related illness in 1987, and Lowry (best known for her roles in cult horror films like George Romero's The Crazies and David Cronenberg's Shivers - a.k.a. They Came from Within) ably portray both halves of a young married couple whose quickly deteriorating wedded bliss is possibly an indication that they were never meant to be together in the first place, a fact that Betsy readily admits to Elvira during one of their frank conversations. Wilbur, the only actor from Douglas' original play to reprise their role for the screen version, and Grant give better performances than their more innocent screen counterparts by virtue of having superior chemistry; though the only time we ever see Jack and Elvira having sex is in brief flashes at the beginning, their verbal sparring is just as hot and sensuous, and even a bit witty thanks to Douglas' sharp and occasionally incisive dialogue.
Metzger and Douglas structured the film much like a fairy tale, including an omnipresent female narrator who tells the tale as if she was reading a bedtime story to some impressionable children. There is a sense of innocence lost in the characters of Eddie and Betsy that Jack and Elvira prey on as part of their psychological seduction games. Elvira even employs a vintage music box to break down Betsy's Catholic upbringing defenses, while Jack uses a box of colorful costumes to dress Eddie up as the cowboy he always wanted to be to appeal to his childlike nature (Eddie even claims his youthful looks often get him carded). Jack and Elvira are the Big Bad Wolf and the Wicked Witch respectively but in the long run their efforts to liberate Betsy and Eddie from their repressive lifestyle completely frees the younger couple in body and soul and may even prove to be the salvation their marriage needed after all. The music by Robert Cornford is jazzy and romantic but his main themes often get reused to the point of annoyance, as does a catchy pop tune with infectious lyrics that plays throughout the movie. Production manager Branko Lustig would later become a producer and production manager for directors like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott.
Unfortunately this version of Score being released by Arrow is the truncated 84-minute "softcore" theatrical version and not the extended cut released by Cult Epics back in 2011. This is apparent in the number of distracting edits not just to the film but also to the soundtrack in the more intense sexual moments. Having never seen Score until now you won’t hear me crying foul over being unable to see Metzger’s intended cut. However it would have been nice if Arrow had been able to secure the rights to that cut for this Blu-ray.
Since this was my initial viewing of Score I can't tell for sure how Arrow's HD 1.78:1 widescreen video transfer measures up to the quality of Cult Epics' 2011 transfer, so an accurate comparison is not forthcoming. However, I'm sure Arrow did the best job they could with remastering the soft cut of Score with the finest elements they had at their disposal. The picture quality is decent but unremarkable and the print suffers from an overabundance of grain and noticeable damage. Fortunately these problems are not prevalent throughout the entire movie, but they do pop up on occasion and they serve to be an unwanted distraction. Faring a greater deal better is the uncompressed LPCM-encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. The saucy dialogue is given a nice boost in volume but never seems too loud and the Cornford score is thankfully relegated to the background in most of the film and the sound mix is solid. During the final love scenes the action is played almost entirely without dialogue and Cornford's music comes to the forefront admirably. English subtitles are also included.
On the extras front Arrow has included every supplement first produced by Cult Epics for their 2011 Blu-ray and DVD, with most of the vintage material supplied by Metzger himself from his own extensive archives.
Metzger returns to provide an audio commentary over the main feature with the assistance of film historian Michael Bowen, who keeps the track going by peppering the director with multiple questions about adapting the original stage play into a feature film, the production of Score, and its eventual reception and subsequent censorship battles. It is not the most entertaining audio commentary you will ever hear and there are too many moments of dead silence throughout, but fans of Metzger’s filmography will find a great deal to enjoy from giving it a listen.
“On the Set of Score” is an 18-minute collection of silent home movies taken during the production of the film, with the proper context provided by Bowen’s narration.
Arrow has also supplied us with a bonus standard definition DVD copy, reversible cover artwork, and a collector's booklet featuring liner notes about the film written by Robin Bougie, a writer and artist who also self-publishes the brilliant cult and sleaze film 'zine Cinema Sewer.
Devoid of the director's typical stylistic flourishes, Radley Metzger's Score is a more intimate and challenging film than he was known for, breaking down the preconceptions of sex and relationships of his devoted fans while demonstrating the physical and spiritual nourishment sexual liberation can provide. Score wasn't the last of the filmmaker's erotic masterworks but it ranks as one of his finest achievements. Kudos for Arrow Films for giving this sensual diamond in the rough a solid Blu-ray presentation sure to play longtime fans of Metzger's work.