The early 1970’s was a time where the boundaries were being pushed in all walks of life. Thus, it made perfect sense that artists of every kind reflected this new freedom of expression in their work. Filmmaking was naturally at the vanguard of this experimentation and some of the most arresting films from this time were made by directors of erotica, who brought the sexual revolution to mainstream screens in ways that were unthinkable just a few years before.
One filmmaker who did interesting things with his new freedom was Radley Metzger. By the 1970’s, he was already a pro at blurring the line between erotica and arthouse fare thanks to his ability to mix carnal concerns with a rarified sense of style and an intellectual ambition that sometimes eluded his competitors. Score is one of his most unique achievements, a film that starts with the then-trendy topic of swingers and opens it up to explore even more complex psychological/sexual terrain.
Score focuses on the tricky interaction between two sets of couples over one 24-hour period. Elvira (Clare Wilbur) and Jack (Gerald Green) are the more cosmopolitan couple of the pair, a duo that embraces a jet-set swinging lifestyle. They set their sights on a more naïve couple, Betsy (Lynn Lowry) and Eddie (Calvin Culver). Elvira and Jack having a playful competition going and Elvira has the chance to turn its score in her favor if she seduces her chosen member of the couple before Jack gets his.
However, the twist of the story is that Elvira and Jack aren’t interested in heterosexual competition. Instead, Elvira is aiming to seduce Betsy and Jack has his eyes on Eddie. The veteran seducers approach their chosen task like spiders closing in on the flies in their web. They are lucky in that Betsy and Eddie have hit that rough patch in their young marriage where they are discovering matrimony isn’t the perfect dream they were hoping for. However, closing the deal will prove a challenge for both Elvira and Jack as the clock ticks down — and the end result might take both of them by surprise.
Score was based on a play — it was adapted for this film version by the playwright, Jerry Douglas — and as such, it is an actor-centric piece with minimal locations. Thankfully, Score never becomes static for a few reasons. This first is the fast-paced nature of Douglas’ narrative. He uses a screwball comedy approach to dialogue, creating machine gun-paced exchanges laden with hidden meanings and saucy double entendres. The end result is the verbal equivalent of a rollercoaster ride, one that is made all the more heady by its advocacy for bisexuality and sexual experimentation.
The other thing that keeps Score from getting too stagey is the sleek, artful direction from Metzger. His visuals and editing reflect the story’s snappy pacing, using a lot of camera setups and cutting back and forth between them in a brisk yet carefully controlled manner. He’s always drawing the viewer’s eye to specific and interesting details in a way that reflects the ever-shifting balance of power between these characters.
Interestingly, the film only has two sex scenes despite the subject matter but Metzger turns each into an ambitious setpiece that shows off skills as a photographer and editor to oft stunning effect. The double-seduction sequence that dominates the third act is practically a film unto itself, full of dazzling psychedelic touches.
Metzger also gets strong performances from his main quartet of actors. Wilbur was the holdover from the play’s New York stage production and she is effortlessly convincing as a seductress who affects a casual tone while scheming relentlessly beneath her cool exterior. Green creates a genuine equal for her to bounce off of, mixing playfulness and manipulation with a convincing, subtly-expressed joy. Lowry and Culver do solid work as the two ingenues/seduction targets, with Lowry showing a nice knack for sly comedy that she seldom gets to use in her horror-genre work. Metzger fans will also be amused by a cameo from The Image’s Carl Parker as a randy telephone repairman (a role that a young Sylvester Stallone played in the stage version!).
The end result is a movie that dazzles the audience while also challenging their views on sexuality. Viewed through modern eyes, it creates a fond and fun-loving portrait of a time where the only risk of sexual experimentation was a loss of one’s old value system. That said, the issues it raises about sexuality, gender identity and the relationship between love and sex remain as timely as ever. Simply put, Score is a memorable example or erotica that stuns your mind as much as it does your eyes.