The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann : 2 Disc Collectors Edition – Unbiased Review !

Softcore Maestro Radley Metzger of Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet fame was to adopt the nom de porn of “Henry Paris” (derived from his middle name and longstanding love for the City of Lights) for a frugal five explicit endeavors, although he had already flirted with the form in bothScore and The Image.  All of those with the exception of the last, 1978’s Maraschino Cherry (which is already available as a double disc Platinum Elite Collector Edition), will be released by Video-X-Pix as part of our Henry Paris Collection for which the legendary filmmaker has graciously made his privately owned prints available to us. Although it was to be his eminently witty spin on Shaw’s PygmalionThe Opening of Misty Beethoven from 1976, that would predominantly preserve his well-deserved reputation as one of the most artistically accomplished and intelligent filmmakers in all of adult, 1974’s The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann – best described as a sophisticated comedy of bad manners – wowed contemporary critics and audiences alike.  As Distribpix is planning to release the remaining foursome chronologically, it also happens to be the first one out the door in an exhaustive 2 disc collector edition jampacked with jawdropping extras and a real steal at $29.95 and, no, I’m not just saying that because I’m Steven Morowitz’s bitch !  Oh behave !

Behave is one thing Pamela Mann (the radiant Barbara Bourbon, a classically trained legit stage actress convinced to take the porno plunge due to the director’s lofty pedigree) rarely does, outside of polite society she’s very much a part of that is, and her workaholic businessman spouse (hunky Alan Marlow, the despicable womanizer returned to earth in female form from Roberta Findlay’s scathing Angel Number 9) is starting to catch on to her wicked ways.  To cement his suspicions, he hires bumbling albeit supremely self-assured private dick Frank, played to po-faced perfection by Eric Edwards, already something of an industry veteran even at this early stage.  His opening dialogue with character actor extraordinaire Kevin André (who was to provide perhaps his finest turn the following year as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Shaun Costello’s seasonal classic The Passions of Carol, incidentally also available as a sterling Platinum Elite Collector Edition), as they watch Leo and Linda Lovemore enjoy some afternoon delight with considerable confusion as to which of the two’s the adulterer, is absolutely priceless.

Trailing the sexy socialite, Frank uncovers all sorts of escalating naughtiness. Having the idea planted in her pretty little head from a dinner conversation concerning Gerard Damiano’s blow job box office blast Deep Throat, very much the scandal du jour at the time, she wants to go Linda Lovelace one better by performing her “Look, ma, no gag reflex” party trick on a random stranger of, ahem, appropriate proportions.  Enter massively endowed Marc Stevens, picked up by the mischievous Pamela near Sutton Place with Queensborough Bridge towering over them.  For obvious legal reasons, their subsequent sex scene – one of the best orals ever – was shot in the privacy of a film studio, although the potted plants attempt to convince audiences otherwise. She selflessly supplies social rehabilitation services for happy hooker Georgina Spelvin, looking mighty fetching I must add, in one of the all time Sapphic sessions and drags off a moral reformer running for mayor (beefy Sonny Landham, ironically cast in retrospect considering the political upheaval he would cause in later life, disastrously running for Governor of Kentucky) for a fevered quickie mere moments prior to his addressing a women’s group.

The drawn-out garage rape sequence was cut from many prints shortly following theatrical release and was still missing from VCA’s otherwise honorable DVD release.  Coerced into an underground parking lot by a pair of propaganda-spouting revolutionaries, played to the hilt by perennial bad boy Jamie Gillis and the formidable Darby Lloyd Rains, who would rejoin forces with Metzger on his subsequent Naked Came the Stranger, Pamela’s violated at gunpoint.  Such a harrowing situation might seem out of place at first due to its – albeit admittedly cartoonish – brutality, until the director turns the tables by the last act revelation that Pamela’s tormentors are in fact her devoted domestics and part of the whole set-up. The adventurous Manns have constructed these elaborate games to spice up their threatening to go stale marriage, hiring a series of goodlooking detectives (Stevens being revealed as Edwards’ predecessor) to capture their escapades on film, Pamela’s seduction of the investigator – who subsequently refuses all remuneration as he has allegedly “failed” his assignment – forever the final movement of their association.

One of ultimately very few porn movies that actually yield entire new levels of meaning on each viewing, Pamela Mann continues to stimulate the brain as well as the groin. The general motif seems to be appearances, the various roles people will assume in daily life taken to farcically surreal extremes. No one is what he or she pretends to be, certainly not the game-playing Manns or the gumshoes hiding their identities as an occupational requirement, unwittingly ensnared to do the couple’s bidding. These deceptions extend well beyond the main characters. An actor (Levi Richards aka Rick Livermore though billed as “John Ashton” who took part in the memorable Spelvin sandwich with Stevens in Damiano’s Devil in Miss Jones) claims sexual confusion in order to fool the prostitute, just to see whether he could play a gay character on Broadway. She recognizes him anyway but plays along since she has always wanted to have sex with him. Who’s fooling who then ?

Brimming with subtle visual and aural jokes, film’s funniest conceit might be the presence of the female poll taker (“Lola LaGarce”, whose real identity is finally revealed) who regularly pops up to ask Pamela the most ridiculously long winded political and sociological questions – invariably answered by a brisk ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and who explains her role at film’s end as providing socially redeeming value ! Rarely has a pornographer thumbed his nose quite so elegantly at morally upright naysayers. Beautifully photographed and meticulously edited by pseudonymous professionals at long last identified by esteemed hardcore historian Benson Hurst in the characteristically thorough liner notes, Pamela‘s one conceivable caveat might be its comparative lack of heart because of all the pretending going on. The audience intentionally never gets a proper grip on any of the characters, robbing the film somewhat of the warmth that Metzger’s other explicit works possess.

The presentation of this landmark in adult cinema artistry can quite simply not be overpraised.  Aside from a few brief blemishes to an otherwise pristinely preserved camera negative, the movie looks every bit as good as past DVD restoration jobs on legitimate Hollywood classics.  The image positively sparkles and sound’s not far behind, with English subtitles provided for viewers who don’t want to miss out on a single word of possibly the wittiest repartee the genre has ever witnessed.  A Metzger commentary track, moderated by Benson Hurst, predictably provides a wealth of background information, much of which even I was unaware of.  Lively talkers both, they expertly avoid the ennui that makes too many commentaries one shot listening at best.  The original theatrical trailer is included, along with an expansive photo gallery of stills and behind the scenes shots, including several of the demure director himself.  There’s a separate gallery on disc 2 of “ephemera”, meaning posters, pressbooks and contemporary reviews.

Spread out over both platters are mirroring featurettes on two of Pamela’s brightest stars, Georgina Spelvin and Eric Edwards, each running a hefty if in actuality all too brief 40 minutes apiece.  Since both were around at theatrical porn’s infancy as it were, they have tons of stories to tell, shedding light on their lives before and after adult.  Spelvin’s still a live wire at a sprightly 75 while Edwards, her junior by about a decade, proves the perfect gentleman he so often seemed on screen, thankfully having successfully battled cancer a few years back even though it has left hem visibly bruised and worn.  With so much information to impart, and somewhat pressed for time, both only briefly touch upon the film at hand but that’s a distinctly minor quibble well-compensated by the director’s commentary.

This would already have been a well-stuffed extras package as is, but there’s much much more, making Mr Morowitz and his creative team perhaps the hardest working people in porn.  Disc 2 kicks off with the softcore cut of the film, running about 10 minutes shorter and prepared when the movie threatened to get into legal hot water in the state of New York although ultimately barely screened.  Barbara Bourbon shot an extended monologue that had her holding court at considerable length about censorship, free speech and hypocrisy (quite appropriate themes considering the narrative), portions of which literally pop up as pictures in picture to cover up any “offending” bits !  There’s two separate featurettes on locations, one specifically on Pamela’s both then and now and the other more generally related to all of Metzger’s movies.  The promotional 2011 trailer which played on Youtube, and thus devoid of sex or nudity, is present and accounted for with nearly 10 minutes of deleted footage – including an extra sex scene with the Lovemores, barely glimpsed in the finished film – finally rounds out the package.

Or does it ?  There’s a glossy photo postcard of the beautiful Bourbon cuddling a pet tiger and extensive liner note booklet that houses not only Hurst’s historical account of how the movie came to pass but an amazingly thorough essay on Metzger’s employment of library tracks with identification of most of them (a feature that can also be accessed as a separate text track on the DVD, surely a first !) by Ian Culmell and a scholarly analysis of the film by the esteemed Lawrence Cohen.  All of these goodies combine to make the current Video-X-Pix release of Radley Metzger’s The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann the instant benchmark by which all future adult DVD releases will be judged…and found wanting ?  Not if Steve Morowitz has his say about it !

Dries Vermeulen

2 replies »

  1. Found the DVD last week at my favorite NYC video store at 40th & 8th and am completely bowled over by the disc contents…the print, the extras, the interviews, the commentary…all first rate.

    A couple of quibbles? Yeah, but they have nothing to so with the movie. A second or third set of eyes might be needed to catch spelling and grammar errors in the extras (Harry Reems’ name is spelled two ways in separate interviews) and the booklet. And given the time and effort that went into the discs, the fonts and overall packaging style (not the content, which is exhaustively good) seemed rather pedestrian. The “Blonde Ambition” packaging was much more attractive.

    And what happened to the little tag at the end of the movie advertising a never-made sequel? It’s on the VCA version but missing from this one.

    That said, can’t wait for “Naked Came The Stranger” and the rest of the Paris movies. You’re doing a bang-up job on the movies themselves…just put a little extra effort into the packaging.

  2. Slight mea culpa…the end-credit announcement of “Pamela Mann’s Horn of Plenty” does appear at the end of the softcore version.

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