Radley Metzger’s reputation was based on his ability to make stylish, arty erotica. Carmen, Baby is one of his earlier films, and for a Metzger movie it’s actually almost completely lacking in sex and nudity. But you don’t watch Metzger’s films for the sex, you watch them for the style, and style is something it has in abundance.
In common with many of his productions (even including some of his later hardcore releases) it’s a literary adaptation, based on a classic novel. In this case it’s Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella Carmen. This book has been adapted countless times for stage and screen and it was turned into a celebrated opera by Bizet. Radley Metzger was never one to be intimidated by something like that (anyone who can make a hardcore sex version of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and make it one of the best ever adaptations of that work is not intimidated by very much). A couple of years after this movie Metzger did a version of The Lady of the Camellias set among the 1960s jet set (the movie being the excellent Camillle 2000; this time he’s done Carmen set in the French underworld of the 60s.
Carmen (Uta Levka) is a high-spirited and completely amoral whore in a small French port city. Jose is a cop who is unlucky enough to cross her path. He becomes hopelessly obsessed, he gets into major trouble with his superiors, loses his job and ends up involved in a criminal gang, all through his mad love for Carmen. Carmen of course betrays him, as she betrays everyone.
The setting works surprisingly well, juxtaposing a small town that looks like it could have come straight out of a 19th century version of the novel with sports cars, discotheques and pop music. Uta Levka looks great. Claus Ringer as Jose is a little bland, but that kind of helps since he’s merely a hapless victim.
As usual Metzger finds interesting and inventive ways to shoot the sex scenes (and there are only two sex scenes in the movie), this time by shooting through differently coloured wine glasses. Metzger always combined his eroticism with a touch of perversity and this is no exception, with Carmen’s bottle dance and her encounter with the head of the local parole board and his wife providing that characteristic touch this time around.
While Carmen, Baby certainly has its charms this is not really the best introduction to Metzger’s work. His visual flair wasn’t yet fully developed, and compared to his later films the eroticism and the stylishness are somewhat muted. It’s also slightly lacking in the wit and good-natured humour so evident in his best movies.
I’d recommend seeing this one after you’ve seen some of his great films such as Camillle 2000, The Lickerish Quartet and Score, and (provided hardcore sex doesn’t bother you) the superb The Opening of Misty Beethoven. But once you’re hooked on Metzger’s brand of classy erotica you’ll want to see all his movies.