Radley Metzger, Director Who Left Erotica for Hard Core, Dies at 88

Mr. Metzger did not leap into hard-core after seeing “Deep Throat,” perhaps the best-known pornographic film of the ’70s. Still, when Mr. Canby reviewed “Little Mother” (1973), a thinly disguised take on Eva Peron, he said a “primitive” movie like “Deep Throat” had “hounded” Mr. Metzger’s comparatively genteel erotica into a kind of respectability.

By his account, Mr. Metzger had been reluctant to direct more explicitly pornographic films until his 1974 movie, “Score,” flopped. Shot in Yugoslavia, it had some hard-core sex but, to his mind, not enough to compete against the new XXX-rated films. Its failure persuaded Mr. Metzger and his longtime business partner, Ava Leighton, to change course.

“We felt we were way above that sort of thing,” Mr. Metzger told Filmmaker magazine in 2014. “So I sat with Ava and we said, ‘Well, maybe we just have to do it, just to put the company financially back on keel.’”

He took the pseudonym Henry Paris to protect his reputation but reasoned that after more than a decade of directing, his skills would enable him to make a better brand of dirty movie.

He made five hard-core films in two years, including “The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann” (1974) and “The Opening of Misty Beethoven” (1976), a twist on Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” cementing his reputation for blending raw sex with European locations and quality cinematography. “Misty Beethoven” is seen as a high point in the genre’s so-called golden age.


A poster for “The Opening of Misty Beethoven.”

Movie Poster Image Art, via Getty Images

Writing in Playboy, the author Toni Bentley said that “Misty” is “so good, so funny, so sexy that you will not be tempted to press pause after the usual 12-minutes-to-orgasm, time-for-a-beer routine that porn reliably delivers.”

Mr. Metzger said that his films, particularly those done as Henry Paris, were distinguished by the “in-betweens,” or what occurred between sex scenes.

“I heard a lecture by an instrumentalist who said that it’s not what you play on the notes, it’s what you do in the silences,” he told the culture website BlackBook. “I always remembered that. It’s the in-between that counts.”

Lynn Lowry, who acted in “Score,” which featured gay sex among two swinging heterosexual couples, said in an interview that Mr. Metzger “made everyone look beautiful, sophisticated and glamorous.”

Ms. Lowry, who is best known for horror films, said she had declined to be in the Henry Paris movies. “I didn’t want to be in hard-core films,” she said. “I barely wanted to be in ones with simulated sex, but the part in ‘Score’ was too great to pass up.”

Radley Henry Metzger was born on Jan. 21, 1929, in the Bronx. His father, Julius, was a bellhop; his mother, Anne, a homemaker. When he was a teenager his allergies sent him into air-conditioned theaters for relief, and there he became infatuated with movies. He got a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts from City College of New York. But his studies for a master’s at Columbia ended when he entered the Air Force, where he worked in its motion picture unit.

By the early 1960s, Mr. Metzger was editing trailers for the art-house film distributor Janus Films. “I did Antonioni’s ‘L’Avventura,’ Truffaut’s ‘Jules and Jim’ and many Ingmar Bergman films,” he told Filmmaker. “In fact, the best compliment I ever had was when Bergman sent word back that I did a good job on a very difficult film.” The film was “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961).

With Ms. Leighton he founded Audubon Films and distributed European films with sexual stories and flashes of nudity. He re-edited some and shot new scenes for others before branching out into directing his own sometimes campy sexploitation movies like “The Dirty Girls,” “Carmen, Baby” and “Camille 2000.” (They were among the films shown at Lincoln Center in 2014.)

Mr. Metzger is survived by his daughter, Annabelle Metzger. His only marriage ended in divorce.

He made only a few movies after “Maraschino Cherry,” the fifth Henry Paris film, and largely retired, making money from licensing his works to video.

In 1978 he took a stab at true respectability, directing a mystery film called “The Cat and the Canary” with a cast that included Honor Blackman, Edward Fox and Wendy Hiller.

It was rated PG.

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