If there is one word that is often synonymous with the work of Radley Metzger, it is, without a doubt, classy. Whether it is his softcore films of the 1960’s, including such classics as The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000, or his adult work under the non de plume Henry Paris, Metzger’s art is the champagne of erotic cinema. Champagne is just the term too, since it goes perfectly with Distribpix’s Rolls Royce of a release for Metzger’s most famous explicit work, 1976’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven.
Using George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion as a loose framework for the story, The Opening of Misty Beethoven is one of Metzger’s lightest films. Our titular heroine, Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), is a hooker working in the City of Lights itself, Paris. Don’t be fooled by the continental decadence, since when we first meet her, she’s bedecked in a bad wig, worse make-up and a tee-shirt slapped with assorted credit card logos. On top of the questionable fashion choices, there’s the fact that Misty is just not very good at her career of choice. While limiting yourself to giving hand jobs to old men dressed up as Napoleon does have a certain old world charm, it is not going to get you far in life.
It is when she, by the sheer touch of kismet, crosses paths with Dr. Seymore Love (the inimitable Jamie Gillis) one night in a porn theater, that her life is forever changed. Along for the ride is Love’s old colleague Geraldine (Jacqueline Beaudant), whom he encounters in a dingy brothel. In Misty, Love sees a delicious challenge. The goal? To take this seemingly passionless woman and transform her into the “Goldenrod Girl,” which is the crowning achievement for all that is female seductiveness and heat. Geraldine’s dubious but game for the experience and is enlisted as one of Love’s guides of sorts.
Along the way, we get a series of cute training sessions, with Misty, her hair pulled back and wearing a jogging suit, training like a champ. Yet, instead of running up stairs, it’s more recumbent bikes, candy colored phallus training and live action demonstrations. She’s slow at first, but soon gets her figurative feet wet when she seduces a homosexual art dealer (played by Casey Donovan, whom also starred in the gay adult ground breaker, Wakefield Poole’s Boys In the Sand, as well as Metzger’s own Score). This starts the wheel spinning for Misty, culminating at famed publisher,Lawrence Lehman’s (Ras Kean) decadent, jet set party. It’s there that Misty not only seduces Lawrence, but his sexy raven-haired wife, Barbara (Gloria Leonard), too, all for the rapt gaze of Lehman’s guests. Misty gets crowned the Goldenrod Girl, but there is a bittersweet tinge, when she overhears Seymour and Geraldine snickering.
It’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is exactly what happens with Seymour and his protege. There’s a playful twist to the original Shaw work that is a fitting ending to one polished gem of a film.
At the height of the porno chic wave in the 1970’s, there were two films that should have successfully bridged the genre of erotica into the realm of mainstream cineaste acceptance. The first being Gerard Damiano’s 1973 The Devil in Miss Jones and the second being The Opening of Misty Beethoven. The former truly broke ground and paved the way for Misty Beethoven to be highly regarded, not just by the Adult industry but by major critics like Roger Ebert.
Metzger’s work, more so than any other filmmaker of erotica, save maybe Candida Royalle years later, has often been considered to be “couples friendly.” While that kind of categorization depends on the individual couple, given Metzger’s sophisticated eye and touch, the attractive cast, the international locales and characters that are often treated with a semblance of respect, it makes sense. This is doubly so with Misty Beethoven, which is a light pastry of a film, especially compared to some of Metzger’s weightier past efforts, like The Imageand The Lickerish Quartet. Lacking the darker elements that tended to be a hallmark of a lot of the quality adult cinema being made, Misty is more like a delicious, saucy cocktail that is sweet enough to be alluring, strong enough to be heady but not so strong to be threatening.
The cast is top notch, featuring a typically strong performance from the dark prince himself, Jamie Gillis, as the Henry Higgins-esque Seymour Love. Here, Gillis gets to shine bright as the handsome, erudite Professor. He brings a breezy sophisticated charm, lacking some of the violent sleaze that became synonymous with his other roles. Love or hate him, there will never another like Jamie. Jacqueline Beudant, in her only role, is very earthy as the worldly and world-traveled Geraldine. Rounding out the main cast is Constance Money, as the titular Misty Beethoven. Money, whose work prior to Misty, amounted to a couple of loops and the 1975 film, Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak, Money is initially not given a whole lot to do, with her character being more of a blank slate. Misty in the beginning has all of the lusty warmth of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but gradually grows more passionate and comfortable with herself. Money not only conveys this but also displays hints at some good comedic timing. It’s too bad that she only ended up doing a tiny handful of films before retiring in the early 1980’s, because she definitely had the right mix to transcend the cult star status that she has to this day.
One star that emerged just as bright and in fact, even bigger than Money was Gloria Leonard. Any ill informed individual who assumes that women who acted in adult films back then were either victims or bimbos would have their ignorance demolished, if not flat out incinerated by Leonard. In addition to being one of the first notable older women in erotica, she has a background that includes copy writing for a then burgeoning Elektra records, working on Wall Street and serving as publisher for 14 years of High Society magazine. Even better, she is currently a chartered member of the non-profit group, Feminists for Free Expression. This is a whole lot of detail to illustrate the simple fact that Gloria Leonard is an inspirational badass.
Making a suitable companion to the glamorous Leonard is the enigmatic Ras Kean, as the ridiculously handsome and devil-may-care catalyst for Misty’s Goldenrod Girl status. Misty also has some notable actors in smaller roles, including the brilliant Michael Gaunt, who was so incredible in Roger Watkins American Babylon years later, as an escort of Geraldine’s. In a very small, non-sex role is character actor Mark Margolis, who has gone on to act in everything from 1977’s prison film Short Eyes all the way to TV’s American Horror Story.
One trademark of Radley Metzger’s work is how impeccable his films look. It’s not just the attractive cast, international locations and great set design, though all of them have these qualities in spades. But in addition to all of that, there is the cinematography, which is exquisite. When you can make something as wrinkly and awkward as a scrotum look lovely and refined, then you have more that done your job. All low-hangers talk aside, every frame in this film looks like art and really, it is. Not enough kudos can be heaped onto Paul Glickman, whose terrific work as a cinematographer can also be seen in Metzger’s equally lush looking Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, as well as the Dennis Hopper character study, Tracks.
Speaking of kudos, Distribpix have done another stellar job, giving The Opening of Misty Beethoven every ounce of the love, respect and attention to detail it deserves. The restoration work that went into this transfer is beyond perfect, not to mention the cornucopia of extras, including the highly informative director’s commentary, with the man himself, as well as a separate one for the “cool” aka cable TV ready version of the film with Gloria Leonard. On top of that, there’s trailers, ephemera, a wonderful making of documentary and much more. This release is swanky in all the right places.
The Opening of Misty Beethoven is one fun, light-as-meringue film. While it may lack the plot and character layer that other Metzger films possess, it more than makes up for it with an old world charm, a new world sense of freedom and a polish to be envied.