The Lickerish Quartet
Director- Radley Metzger
Cast- Silvanna Venturelli, Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg, Paolo Turco
Country of Origin- Italy, Germany, USA
Distributor- Cult Epics
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
The Film: 4/5
Prior to my first viewing of The Lickerish Quartet I had never watched one of Radley Metzger’s films. No reason in particular, I just never got around to it. Maybe it was really because I tended to shy away from Euro-erotic cinema from the 1960’s and 70’s. I had seen a few films in that genre and they always bored me; the “plots” were clotheslines on which to hang a string of supposedly hot sex scenes that were in actuality no more risqué than reading an issue of Playboy from the late fifties, and the scenes in between the rutting were inane and as about as exciting as watching British drawing room drama. So I approached Metzger’s The Lickerish Quarter, said to be the director’s greatest film, with apprehension. I was gently surprised by what I saw.
The story revolves around a wealthy family living in an luxurious castle by the ocean in the mountains of Italy who have an obsession with a black and white, silent porn film that the family patriarch (Frank Wolff) enjoys running at night for his wife (Erika Remberg) and stepson (Paolo Turco). One evening the family ventures into the nearby town to attend a carnival and at a motorcycle stunt show they notice that one of the riders (Silvana Venturelli) bears a striking resemblance to an actress prominent in the porno. The thing is the rider is a brunette and the woman in the film is a blonde, but that doesn’t stop the father from inviting her back to the castle for drinks and entertainment. The night gets off to an awkward start when the father runs the film for the comely visitor in the hope that it will shock her into admitting that the woman on the screen is her but she doesn’t remember being in any film. The next day the woman begins seducing each member of the family by getting them to bare both their bodies and their souls. Over the course of the next 24 hours any and all emotional and physical boundaries will be broken down and the darkest secrets of the family will be dragged kicking and screaming out of the darkness, with the help of lots of sex.
As I said before The Lickerish Quartet really took me by surprise. Even without the sex scenes this movie would be a riveting psychodrama about an emotionally-isolated family forced to confront their worst fears about the ones they love due to the intervention of a mysterious stranger. That story has been done before and better on television and on the stage and screen but Metzger downplays the more lurid aspects of his story, allowing his lush visuals, crafty editing, and the body language of his actors speak volumes no drawn-out dramatic monologue could ever hope to reach. The quality of acting is compromised by the dubbing, which is better than most European films made for international markets, and the lack of talent in most of the cast with the exception of experienced performers Frank Wolff and Erika Remberg. Wolff, best known to spaghetti western fans from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence, gives an understated performance as the sexually-repressed father whose haughty, aristocratic manner acts as an armor for his simmering lust, so I almost had no problem with seeing a flash of his cock. Meanwhile Remberg, a famed German actress whose career dates back to the early 50’s, does fine work as the society wife driven into a state of frigid boredom by the lack of love in her marriage. Venturelli plays the eye candy exceptionally well and she looks fantastic in the buff, but her acting suffers whenever she talks, and that’s not just because she suffers from the most obvious dubbing due to her thick Italian accent. Fortunately Metzger, working from a screenplay by Michael DeForrest, doesn’t give her many lines and rather lets her sizzling presence do most of the heavy lifting acting-wise. Paolo Turco’s performance comes off as the most off-putting because his character is only defined by his propensity for acting like an overgrown, petulant child whenever he’s not nailing Venturelli to a tree, again not helped by the obvious overdubbing of his voice.
But this is Radley Metzger’s show all the way. He has crafted an elegant and mature film about pain and desire with tasteful love scenes that go beyond sweaty writhing and pumping. The score by Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood, Nightmare City) is smooth and perfect to go with a night of passionate lovemaking. The real champ of the production crew is art director/costume designer Enrico Sabbatini, with his triumph being the secret library where the father and the beautiful stranger have their daytime encounter.
Hans Jura’s pristine cinematography shines brilliantly in a beautiful new high-definition widescreen transfer enhanced for 16x9 televisions, and the English Dolby Digital 2.0 comes through great with the dialogue and Cipriani’s music meshing well together without either one drowning the other out. No subtitles are provided.
Cult Epics has stocked their disc for The Lickerish Quartet with some worthwhile special features, the centerpiece being the newly-recorded audio commentary with director Metzger and film Michael Bowen. Metzger makes for an excellent commentator with a lot of interesting stories about the production and a discussion of his filmmaking aesthetic. “The Making of The Lickerish Quartet” is a fine 11-minute documentary that goes in great detail about the production with a mixture of behind-the-scenes footage and stills. “Cool Version Love Scenes” (32 minutes) is a reel of tamer alternate takes of every sex scene in the film that were intended to be edited into the movie for foreign territories that couldn’t take the full, unedited version. “Giving Voice to the Quartet” (13 minutes) presents a side-by-side comparison of select scenes before and after the actors rerecorded their dialogue in post-production. It’s interesting to hear that only Wolff and Remberg sounded the same in both versions while Venturelli and Turco had to be overdubbed by different actors because their English was often indiscernible as a result of their thick Italian accents. The extras package is wrapped up by trailers for the film and two of Metzger’s other films, Score and Camille 2000.
It’s a shame Metzger had to close out his career making hardcore porn. It’s not that I have anything against porn, but on the basis of The Lickerish Quartet you could be forgiven for thinking his career as a mainstream filmmaker would continue to grow until he could stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats of world cinema. Aw hell he can do that anyway in my opinion. After all Metzger treats erotic drama with the same level of respect that Leone had for the western and Scorsese for the gangster film. He raises them to the level of cinema art through the sheer force of his talent, and The Lickerish Quartet may be his greatest achievement.