Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Alley Cats (1966)

The Alley Cats is a very early Radley Metzger film, but any Metzger film is most certainly worth a look. No American film-maker has ever had a more thoroughly European aesthetic sensibility, and no-one has ever made erotic movies with as much style, as much care and attention and as much sheer joie de vivre as Metzger.

This being a 1966 movie the erotic elements are very tame indeed by later standards, but Metzger’s approach remained basically the same even in his later hardcore films. He made movies about people that focused on their sexuality. His movies are stylish, witty, adventurous often very funny and always give the impression that Metzger cares abut his characters as people, not as collections of body parts.

Metzger’s movies always focused on the rich. He had no interest in the struggles of day-to-day existence. His interest was in how people functioned as sexual and emotional beings, not in how they earned their living. And Metzger’s movies celebrate beauty - not just the beauty of the nude body, but everything beautiful - clothes, luxury apartments, furniture, art, everything. If your idea of a fun movie is a squalid kitchen-sink drama then don’t bother with Radley Metzger. If you can enjoy beauty and sensuality without guilt (something so few people seem to be able to do these days), then he’s your man.

On to the plot. Leslie and Logan are lovers. Logan, in bed with another woman, confides to her his suspicions that Leslie may be playing around on him. Which she is. Leslie is also finding herself drawn into the orbit of the beautiful lesbian Irena. Leslie doesn’t really know which man she ants, or whether it’s even a man that she wants.

It’s the kind of high-class bed-hopping you expect in 60s Metzger movies.

It sounds like you have the ingredients for any one of hundreds of more or less interchangeable softcore romps made between about 1960 and the present day. But with Metzger it’s not the ingredients that matter. Like a master chef he can whip up a delicious concoction from virtually nothing. But you get more than just a soufflé. You also get a movie about real people with real emotions. The fact that Metzger can make you care about people whose lives seem to be essentially empty is simply another proof of his artistry.

Anne Arthur, in her only film role, is luminously beautiful and vulnerable as Leslie. Karin Field (a more familiar face to eurocult fans) is delightful as always. Sabrina Koch is excellent as Irena. If you’re expecting a standard sexploitation lesbian predator then you’re clearly not familiar with Metzger’s film-making. She’s a complex and sympathetic character. Charlie Hickman as Logan is cheerfully immoral.

For a movie by someone whose name is synonymous with classy erotica you ma be surprised by just how little nudity and sex the film contains. Almost none in fact.

Metzger’s movies have had a tough time of it on DVD. The releases of his early movies by First Run Features have been much criticised, and with some justice. Metzger is the kind of film-maker whose films really need top-notch DVD presentations but unfortunately it’s yet to happen. If and when it does happen he may finally get the kind of recognition he deserves.

The DVD extras include some slightly spicier alternate scenes that suggest that the movie probably existed in a number of different versions, some with a good deal more nudity than others.

If you’ve never sampled the delights of Radley Metzger then I’d suggest that early films such as The Alley Cats and Camille 2000 are not a bad place to start. If you want to dive into something much raunchier then Score might be a better choice, although it represents the very hard end of the softcore spectrum. After those movies you’ll be ready to tackle his most complex and intriguing film, The Lickerish Quartet, one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of European art cinema. And if such things don't offend you then don't neglect his hardcore movies such as the superb The Opening of Misty Beethoven (possibly the wittiest film adaptation ever of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion).

Despite my reservations abut the DVD quality The Alley Cats is still a movie I highly recommend.

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