Please note: This review contains significant spoilers
After enjoying the creative and financial success from Therese and Isabelle (1968) and Camille 2000 (1969), plus pick-ups like I, A Woman (1965), Radley Metzger could pretty much choose any project to direct and release through Audubon Films, the company he smartly began in the late fifties to handle erotic films, as risqué European dramas were making major inroads into U.S. art theatres.
Impressed with the novelization of his film Carmen, Baby (1967), he contacted its writer (then an editor for the publisher, hence a pseudonym) and the two collaborated on a story entitled “Hide and Seek.“
Partly the result of preferring to shoot two films in whatever country he was working in at the time, Metzger stayed in Italy, and with the Balsorano Castle already in mind, he and co-writer Michael De Forrest spent time in the impressive 15th century fortress, nestled high in the Abruzzo mountains, about 90 minutes away from Rome.
The pair had the rare freedom to write scenes in locations they were free to use due to the disused castle being prepped by its owners into a large restaurant, and after the script had been hammered out, the full production team returned for a 6-7 week shoot.
Most of Metzger’s team was carried over from his prior Italian production, Camille 2000, including longtime cinematographer Hans Jura, and art director / costume designer Enrico Sabbatini, whose work in Camille 2000 bridged the disparate worlds of contemporary rich brats with the elegant renaissance locations.
Rebranded as The Lickerish Quartet (named after a more antique use of lickerish, which inferred a large appetite) for a catchier distinction in the marketplace, the film emerged as another filmed play - Metzger’s specialty, since having a few characters allowed him to explore layers of intimacy and conflicts without intrusive secondary characters.
Spinning on Pirandello’s concept of “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” Metzger blurred the line between the stilted reality of a teasing, largely unhappy couple (Frank Wolff and Erika Remberg) and their spoiled debutante son (Paolo Turco), and a circus performer (Silvana Venturelli) who starkly resembles the lead woman in a stag film the family had just watched.
The woman, known as ‘the visitor,’ is invited to the family castle purely to be ridiculed: the bored couple wants the pleasure of watching their guest humiliated by the surprise of being unmasked as a former porn performer. Their son tries to stall the ordeal, but when the film is finally run, the actress’ face isn’t visible, and when replayed, it’s a different actress.
Only after the visitor is invited to spend the night does Metzger open up the drama as a fantasy whose characters are in a state of flux, particularly the couple who may have a less than ideal past: where they met during the waning days of WWII, and a murder that may have occurred.
Moreover, the father thinks he’s impotent because the wife tells him he’s libidinously flaccid to cover her own loathing of sex; and the son has never experienced intimacy, preferring to bury his attention in silly magic tricks because he’s so isolated from the general populace.
The sprawling castle is a kind of pleasure garden and prison, but the visitor is able to help each person advance past key hurdles: the father rediscovers his mojo after he deflowers her; the son experiences a playful seduction with the visitor that’s akin to Adam dancing with Eve in an Eden of olive trees, minus snakes and God’s annoying pointing finger; and the mother perhaps realizes its time to get past the inner pain and get own with her marriage – emotionally and sexually.
Just as the healing process begins, the visitor disappears, and Metzger flips the actors’ position in the film and the stag loop, setting up another variation on bored rich characters in search of excitement, and getting more than they anticipated.
While the dialogue is sometimes precious (the only real aspect of the film’s aging), what stands out are the performances, the conflicts, and the direction which advances the art of editing without rendering an already disrupted narrative into something pretentious and incoherent.
Metzger’s flash edits, continuity fractures, and ongoing reordering of performers within his four-character play is remarkably modern, as are the small gestures that infer what we’re watching is a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie.
At the beginning, the characters are watching a stag loop; we then watch the two film levels slowly converge, and Metzger eventually breaks the illusion of his primary story & characters by bleeding the film’s colour and cutting to black and white stock, intercutting WWII vignettes that become a flashback to the couple’s first encounter, and rewinding a segment of the main drama for a quick replay, as though the director is still fiddling with the narrative as its being sent through the projector’s aperture onto the screen.
(A more manipulative variant of this technique is present in Michael Hanake’s Funny Games, where the film is rewound to deny audiences the upbeat ending they felt they deserved after being subjected to waves of cruelty and emotional horror.)
There’s also the camera noise that bleeds into a particular scene where the father reminds his wife of their first true and rather sleazy encounter. Filmed in the jail-like wine cellar of the castle, the location audio contained mulching camera noise which Metzger later remixed as a continuous ambient track to infer again that we’re watching a drama that’s still unfinished, and transitional.
Most fans of the film tend to favour whole sequences, many of which deserve special accolades.
1) The ‘wall of death’ – where the visitor is first glimpsed by the family in a local carnival – is an amazing stunt sequence performed on camera by motorcycle troupe: three riders gun their machines into high gear and crisscross along the sides of a vertical chamber for cheering audiences above.
2) The deflowering scene in the library consists of Sabbatini’s striking costumes, and set design where Metzger combines sexual details of the father and the visitor with zoom-ins of profane and clinical sexual words that have been extracted from dictionaries and reprinted in giant fonts on the floor.
It’s also a rather curious sequence in that there are some thematic similarities with Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna (1969), a film where the actors comment on their characters in documentary clips during the course of the drama. In Bergman’s film, there’s also a major sequence in a library where the emotional and intimate troubles of one of the film’s leading male characters is archived.
It is possible he may have been influenced by Bergman’s film – Metzger was a connoisseur of European dramas which he distributed, and he shared some of the sensibilities of their directors.
In Anna, Bergman also jumbles the line between an escapist drama of a handful of characters and an incomplete movie. There’s also the ending: Bergman’s leading character becomes a literal grain in the 35mm film stock, and Metzger’s main quartet enter the 35mm stag film they’ve been re-watching.
3) The mother’s seduction during a replay of the film. With the visitor’s assistance, the mother sexually reawakens, and her vocalizations gradually merge with events in the stag film until there’s a cross-over, because it’s now time for the stag performers to swap dramas and give Metzger’s primary drama new life, if not new variations.
4) The son’s seduction is less successful only because by staging it as a free-love dance through an olive garden, it resembles a flower child musical montage that’s either supposed to be satirically silly at times, or Metzger’s earnest staging for his naïve character was just too sincere.
It’s still a vital sequence, however, because it reinforces the film’s fantasy realm – here it’s a literal recreation of Adam & Even, filtered through 1970 sensibilities – and it shows the visitor at her most tender.
In the sequence, actor Turco looks like a teenager struggling with a maturing body; he’s physically a man, but his visage still resembles a boy, and while the love scene could’ve been designed as a sleazy tease, Metzger staged it as a seduction where the visitor gently helps the son cross over into manhood.
In a conversation with the father, the visitor cheekily describes herself as being ‘155 years old,’ and a virgin. Because she’s a kind of physically rendered fantasy figure rather than a person in a realistic drama, she becomes whatever each of the three characters need, hence ‘virginal’ for the father (the concept of boffing a free-spirited virgin is what ultimately gets him up); an awakened but simpatico lover for the virginal son; and a kind of sexual psychiatrist who uses her wisdom and physical assets to help the mother break from the past.
The Wrap-Up & Extras
Metzger’s use of European locations has always paid off for audiences, offering details of beautiful architecture and expansive natural environments.
By preferring to cast his films with more ‘enlightened’ or braver European actors, Metzger’s eye for attractive figures ensured his films looked thoroughly beautiful, and perhaps his most striking leading lady of his pre-adult film career was Venturelli, whose face remains mysteriously alluring as she changes hairstyles, costumes, and appears in the stag loop as an avid performer.
Of the four lead actors, only Wolff was American, but Remberg was also fluent in English, so the two redubbed their own dialogue. Turco and Venturelli’s English was less than ideal, so the actors learned their lines phonetically, and Metzger used American voice talent to redub their parts.
Segments from a recently discovered scratch print (a high contrast, black & white copy that’s usually struck from the fine cut edit for sound editing and mixing) contain the original location sound, and as excerpted in the Blu-ray’s longer featurette, “Giving voice to the Quartet,” one can hear the original voices of the cast amid camera noise and location miking. Those entranced by Venturelli – who had a smaller role in Camille 2000 – will find her natural voice and thick accent quite startling.
It’s quite removed from the more emotive and higher pitched English dubbing actress, and sounds almost monotone – a quality that suddenly transforms the striking, emotionally reticent actress into a rather stilted performer.
The featurette compares the original and redubbed voices in extracted scenes, and what’s most remarkable is how Metzger and his cinematographer knew Venturelli’s acting limitations could be solved ‘in the mixing.’ The English dubbing actress did a commendable job in adding more tangible timbers and cadences that enhanced Venturelli’s sultriness and onscreen vulnerabilities.
Also included on Cult Epics’ BR is what’s billed as the ‘cool version’ of the film, minus footage identical to the ‘hot’ theatrical release version. Metzger claims the cool version (edited down to a half hour for the BR) was never used, but the scenes with alternate footage (scantily clad actresses and alternate clothed takes in place of frank nudity) have been spliced in chronological order, so fans can do their own mental comparison.
The ‘cool version’ was sourced from an older non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, whose colour has faded over the decades, and whose soundtrack is often very low, with little of Stelvio Cipriani’s music audible.
The last major extra is a running commentary track with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen. Unlike their track for Score, this one’s virtually ongoing, as Bowen realized it was a perfect opportunity to ask the director some pointed, self-reflective questions, in terms of Metzger’s style, themes, and the meaning of the film’s finale.
With only a few brief gaps, it’s a steady stream of discussion that thoroughly covers the film’s genesis, casting, location filming, and some minor info on Cipriani’s excellent score - which was evocative, at the behest of Metzger, of Ennio Morricone’s Love Circle / Metti, una sera a cena (1969).
We also learn the medieval, violent sexual paintings which adorn the screening room and to which Metzger frequently flash cuts were custom-painted for the film; and how the stag film was shot, edited, and ‘aged.’
There are many ways to read The Lickerish Quartet and its possible themes, and Bowen gently pushes Metzger to comment on some of the elaborate theories posited by critics. Metzger’s response concerns the issue of film’s permanence.
The director felt that unlike a stage play, a filmed work lives on and doesn’t wither away with aging audiences. Moreover, by transposing his play to the celluloid medium, and as the film’s de facto director (and co-scenarist), he could reshuffle the characters, ensuring within the film his play goes on for an infinity: each set of new performers and characters comes with a different set of past lives, traumas and hang-ups, all of which will be discovered after they’ve been ‘freed’ from the stag loop.
Cult Epics’ HD transfer is made from a clean Interpositive print with only slight wear in the initial reel changes. Cinematographer Jura deliberately muted the green spectrum to suit Metzger’s peculiar dislike for verdant greens, but the reds, ambers, and blacks are quite rich.
The uncompressed mono soundtrack is clear and balanced, and showcases Cipriani’s sparse but strong score (although it’s a pity the BR doesn’t come with an isolated score track, since this remains one of the composer’s more sought-after, never released works).
The featurettes provide a great offering of ephemera, and the only qualm lies in the repeated use of looped music extracts which are quite monotonous. It’s also a pity the scratch print or cool version couldn’t have been archived unedited on a second disc, but it’s doubtful the director would’ve preferred alternate versions of his most experimental work to exist. (Besides, the contrast between Venturelli’s original and English screen voice may be too jarring for her fans.).
Venturelli appeared in 9 films, beginning with Steeve Reeves’ last film, A Long Ride from Hell (1968), Barbarella (1968), Alibi (1969), Shadow of Death / Viaje al vacio (1969), and her final film Verushka (1971), after which she left the movies and disappeared from the public radar. Erika Remberg would appear in three TV productions before retiring from film.
Turco managed a longer film career, whereas Wolff would appear in a handful of films before committing suicide in 1971. In the commentary track, Metzger is particularly expressive about his warm sentiments for the actor, whose strong personality and sense of humour dominated the film shoot.
Wolff came to Italy while filming Atlas (1961) for Roger Corman, and a year later the actor was cast in the eponymous role of Francesco Rossi’s Salvatore Giuliano. According to Metzger, the actor admitted he became a little big-headed, and shrugged off a number of offers (including a major part in Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars), and after a two-year period of nothingness, flung himself into a prolific career, always earning high billing for even small parts.
Among his final works are Enzo Castellari’s mean little thriller Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), Metello (1971), Luciano Ercoli’s crazy giallo Death Walks on High Heels (1971). His last film, Fernando Di Leo’s Milano calibro 9 (1972), When Women Lost Their Tails / Quando le donne persero la coda (1972), and George P. Cosmatos’ The Beloved (1973) were released after his death.
Radley Metzger’s main directorial works include Dark Odyssey (1961), The Dirty Girls (1965), The Alley Cats (1966), Carmen, Baby (1967), Therese and Isabelle (1968), Camille 2000 (1969), The Lickerish Quartet (1970), Little Mother (1973), Score (1974), The Image (1975), The Cat and the Canary (1978), and The Princess and the Call Girl (1984).
Using the ‘nom de fuck’ Henry Paris, Metzger directed 5 hardcore films: The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974), Naked Came the Stranger (1975), The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), Barbara Broadcast (1977), and Maraschino Cherry (1978).
© 20110 Mark R. Hasan