The off-Broadway play by Jerry Douglas, from which Radley Metzger’s quirky film adaptation of his seduction drama “Score” was originally derived, first appeared on the New York stage in the wake of Kenneth Tynan’s 1969 unclothed theatrical revue “Oh! Calcutta!”, which brought full-frontal nudity to the theatre for the first time and opened up the floodgates for similarly challenging fare to push the boundaries of acceptability even further during the early 1970s. Radley Metzger was by this period the doyen of a certain brand of high class cinematic erotica, but he was already beginning to sense that the game was up for his own measured, sophisticated approach to this genre. Indeed, by the time “Score” actually did open in theatres, its much franker display of nudity and sexual practice was already considered passé as far as his core audience was concerned: these viewers had recently been introduced to much more graphic imagery than that which had hitherto marked out Metzger’s work, after the success of theatrical runs of “Deep Throat” and “The Devil and Miss Jones”; the course of modern sex cinema was firmly set now on ever more explicit displays of sexual activity after this acceptance of pornography started to become the norm and even expected. It was an area Metzger would soon no longer be able to resist visiting himself, despite public standards decrees making the possibility of censorship ever more problematic a danger.
“Score”, however, now stands as a charming flower power era retro piece that perfectly captures the whimsical ‘anything goes’ atmosphere of this transition period, in which Metzger’s gathering intimations that the glossy charms of his previous mainstream ‘60s Op Art erotica could no longer cut the mustard for current sex film aficionados, and that he would soon be forced to find new methods of making his work stand out from the crowd results in “Score” not only venturing boldly into the on-screen portrayal of gay sexual activity, but in it endorsing a sort of polymorphic sexuality and partner-swapping among the inhabitants of its ‘groovy’ 1970s milieu of consequence-free sex parties ,where pill-popping & dope-smoking are the orgy dessert toppings to be sampled when horizontally liberating oneself amongst the shag pile carpet fittings. As if sensing that this form of carefree sexual liberation could never last in reality though, Metzger relocates the story, taking it out of the original Queens, New York setting of the play (which starred a young Sylvester Stallone!) and moving it to one of his films’ typically lush, fantasy European locales, in this instance endowing it with the quirky name ‘Plenty’ in a voice-over narration which situates this fictional land in ‘the state of affluence bordering decadence to the North and the state of Euphoria to the South’, with the main action occurring in ‘the peaceful city of Leisure’ where ‘love has nothing to do with the archaic notion of romantic love’.
This setting is actually an idyllic, sparsely populated seaside port town in Zagreb where a predatory, permanently horny bisexual couple, Elvira and Jack (Claire Wilbur and Gerald Grant) plot and compete with each other over which of them can pick up and seduce the most young couples from among the constant influx of naive tourists emerging straight off the bus, or among the newly sexually liberated hippies they seek to recruit from the back pages of underground newspapers. Wilbur actually played the part of Elvira originally in Douglas’ stage version and the character is a classic example of what these days would be termed a milf (although she’s far too preoccupied with her recreational shagging to be bothered with the mothering part of the equation). The film affects a jaunty light-hearted air congruent with the tone then common to the risqué counterculture-courting dramas of the day, and relishes its picturesque setting of quaint cottages and dockside cafes, filmed in a small Croatian village in the former Communist Yugoslavia on the Adriatic coast, then a film production haven for foreign filmmakers.
But the couple’s idyllic sexually open marriage increasingly comes to seem like being merely a sticking plaster for other issues which are only ever hinted at lurking beneath the surface of what remains a light-hearted, frothy comedy of manners and sexual mores. Elvira is a former concert pianist who gave up her career so that her itinerant bisexual photographer partner Jack could continue his own globe-trotting lifestyle, and the couple’s habit of collecting sexual partners of both sexes as a form of point scoring in a perpetual game of sexual one-upmanship appears to be her way of re-asserting her inveterate sense of social superiority over those around her. In looks and manner, Elvira comes across as a sort of cross between the socially aspirant Beverly from Mike Leigh’s “Abigail’s Party” and Margo Leadbetter from 1970s British TV sitcom “The Good Life” (although apologies if this comparison inadvertently makes you think of an alternate version of that classic in which Margo and Jerry set out to seduce Barbara and Tom into partaking in a dope-fuelled same-sex partner swap!), or, as Jack calls her: ‘a sexual snob’. ‘Every time I turned over, there was another appendectomy scar’ she sniffs condescendingly at the start of the film, while discussing last night’s low grade orgy with some preceding conquests who evidently didn’t come up to scratch on her social barometer.
But now Elvira has her sights firmly set on a young couple with whom she and Jack have only recently come to be acquainted. Betsy and Eddie (Lynn Lowry and Calvin Culver) are typical corruptible sex movie fare: she’s a former convent girl and he’s a work engrossed ecologist with repressed homosexual proclivities. Elvira and Jack make a bet that Elvira will not be able to convert this prim, fey young thing Betsy to the delights of Sapphic love before the stroke of midnight, despite the amyl nitrate and the dope in the salt cellar that the couple routinely use as aids in their seduction schemes, while Jack promises that he’ll ‘give’ Eddie to her as a bonus if she succeeds (‘there’s a convent between you and that girl … I’ll bet on the nuns!’). Enticing Betty to the couple’s pad for a shopping trip, Elvira instead persuades her to snap erotic photographic portraits of her and then seduces a visiting telephone repair man (Carl Parker) in front of her, as a warm-up means of introducing the girl to the middle class swinging lifestyle. Embarrassed, Betsy makes a swift exit, but is apparently intrigued enough to visit again that evening with her slightly awkward but handsome blond husband now in tow. A game of dressing up results in Eddie ending up in a cowboy suit and Jack as a sailor and it’s not long before, at the stroke of midnight (in true fairy tale tradition) the two men get down to business downstairs (so to speak) while the girls cavort upstairs under a tent of Metzger’s beloved reflective Mylar polyester film.
“Score” has acquired something of a gay following in the decades since its initial release, despite being very much a flower power product of its sexploitation era. It was one of the first mainstream films to present gay sex openly and without issue though, so it retains a certain cachet for an approach that still seems daringly inclusive even today. Calvin Culver was actually a gay porn performer at the time who starred under the name Casey Donovan in ground-breaking underground gay porno titles such as “The Boys in the Sand” (1971); the play’s author and the film screenplay writer, Jerry Douglas, later went on to write and direct a number of gay porn titles which became celebrated in the genre. While recruiting from New York’s underground gay porn community, Metzger also made use of mainstream acting talent such Gerald Grant (Umberto Lenzi’s “Eaten Alive”) and the emerging young actress Lynn Lowry, who was brought to Metzger’s attention after her recent appearance with Mary Woronov in the 1973 Lloyd Kaufman soft-core thriller effort “Sugar Cookies” (aka “Love Me My Way”), accruing several cult appearances later in George Romero’s “The Crazies” and David Cronenberg’s “Shivers”. Wilbur, meanwhile, was also a professional theatre actress, although she doesn’t seem to have made too many other screen appearances after this film. The Croatian production manager on “Score” Branko Lustig has gone on to become a major Hollywood producer on titles such as “Schindler’s List” and “Gladiator”, though.
This is a work which abandons the glossy, expensive look of Metzger’s previous movies, and indeed Metzger himself operated the camera throughout the shoot, while local director of photography Frano Vodopivec was employed to work the lighting. Being based on a stage play inevitably means that the film is completely dialogue centred and takes place largely on one set, but Metzger manages to overcome the threat of staginess by devising elaborate camera set-ups and tracking shots which keep things visually stimulating; with this in mind, mirrors and reflective surfaces are frequently employed to suggest the characters’ sexual double identities -- a fairly characteristic Metzger trademark. The film exists in both hard and soft versions (this Arrow Video release features only the soft version), but the sex scene between Culver and Grant was the only part of film which ever had any explicit element to it, and even this wasn’t really hardcore as such. Wilbur and Lowry’s lesbian scene was always entirely simulated and non-explicit.
Metzger saw the movie in terms of it being very much a chance to normalise homosexuality for a mainstream 1970s sex movie audience and it is perhaps this rather ambitious side of the film which ensures that it hasn’t dated as much as its rootedness in 1970s counter cultural sexual mores would have otherwise ensured, since the intercutting of the girls’ conventional and simulated sex scene with images of unabashed gay activity in which body parts and partners merge to the strains of a very late-sixties beat music soundtrack (the Jagger-esque title song alternates between two versions which swap the lyric ‘where is the girl of my life’ for ‘where is the boy of my life’) still plays like a radical manifesto of bisexual openness. There’s a likable camp quality to it as well, but its deliberate fantasy setting ensconcing it within a bubble of impossible sexual freedom where repressions and prejudices are entirely banished, gives it a carefree innocent quality despite the predatory nature of the Elvira and Jack characters. They are portrayed as manipulative pleasure seekers who to some extent exploit their conquests’ naivety and hang-ups; the film is as much an in-depth examination of the power play involved in seduction, which Metzger sees as an entirely non-gendered phenomenon. Lynn Lowry is the crucial piece in this jigsaw as her transformation during the course of the one day and night depicted in the movie from buttoned-up convent girl to bisexual free love advocate has to seem believable in order for the film to work. She gives perhaps her best performance here as the nice girl next door who becomes increasingly flighty and unpredictable as the pot takes hold and doubts about her seemingly happy marriage are aired in between bouts of dress up and sex play.
The audio commentary with Metzger, moderated by Michael Bowen, is again very informative, and Metzger’s good humoured and articulate discussion of the period evokes a lost epoch when the line between sex movie and mainstream erotica was still very much blurred. “On the Set of Score” offers 18 minutes of rare behind the scenes footage of the cast and crew on location and even more anecdotes and info on the film delivered by Bowen in an accompanying audio essay. Here we learn of the feud between Lynn Lowry and Claire Wilbur over the fact that Lowry was being paid considerably more than Wilbur for her part in the film; and that the home of Elvira and Jack was actually the summer house of a high-ranking Yugoslav military official. “Keeping Score with Lynn Lowry” is an 20 minute interview with the actress in which she reveals she had no idea who Metzger was at the time of accepting the role, and talks specifics about the mutual dislike that was shared between herself and Wilbur (even though they had to perform intimate love scenes with each other). Apparently Lowry really was taking amyl nitrate during one of the sex scenes as well, and also had to deal with a rampant Carl Parker (who plays the handyman)attempting to pressure the 24-year-old actress into having sex with him in order to help him play their scene together! (‘You’ll just have to learn to act!’ she told him) Lowry also fell out with Metzger over pulling out of a Penthouse shoot she had originally agreed to as part of her contract, because Playboy were offering her more money; because of this she had little awareness of the film until later on when it started playing in a 42nd street revival, which was when she found out for the first time that it featured un-simulated gay sex scenes!
“Score” feels far more dated than many of Metzger’s earlier hyper stylised erotic-chic offerings but the happy, relaxed atmosphere glimpsed in the behind-the-scenes footage comes across on screen, capturing the optimistic mood of a specific period in this carefree pre-AIDS idyll (both Culver and Grant later succumbed to the disease in the ‘80s and ‘90s) and presenting Lowry in her most bewitching role. The Blu-ray features a nice restored print, still with a few scratches evident but very much improved on previous versions and featuring a clear, lossless mono audio soundtrack (with SDH English subtitles also included). There are also trailers for “Camille 2000”, “The Lickerish Quartet” and “Score” featured, and the disc comes with a DVD copy with the same content and a booklet of writing on the film by Robin Bougie. The distinctive cover artwork is by The Red Dress.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!