This week’s queer film review is quite a shocker – it’s one of few films that fall into IMDb’s “Adult” genre. But what is this titillating explosion of swinging and bisexuality? It’s Radley Metzger‘s 1974 film, “Score”. When it was released in theatres, it was both shocking and quite divisive; it’s also one of a very small niche of films from the 1970’s “Golden Age of Porn”. But perhaps more surprising is that it’s actually based on an off-Broadway play of the same name. In fact, Claire Wilbur is the only play cast member to reprise her role as Elvira. But while films have sex scenes woven into the plot and porn films “try” to have a storyline, how does an actual film about sex fit into the spectrum? Well, let’s dive in and find out!
Synopsis of “Score”
Living in the idyllic city of Leisure, Elvira (Claire Wilbur) and Jack (Gerald Grant) have a perfect life – and an ongoing competition between them. Fully embracing their swinger lifestyle, their current bet is whether or not Elvira can seduce newlywed Betsy (Lynn Lowry). If she fails to do so before midnight tonight, then Jack gets to seduce Eddie (Casey Donovan), Betsy’s husband. They seem to be the perfect couple for seduction, as there is some underlying sexual tension between the two newlyweds. Elvira has been working on Betsy for the past six months, and has a plan. When Betsy comes over in the morning, Elvira continues revealing tidbits about her sexually open lifestyle full of drugs and partner-swapping. Right away, Betsy was concerned because she was unable to get through on the phone – turns out Elvira “yanked” out the phone cord that morning as part of her plan. When Mike (Carl Parker), the electrician arrives, Elvira seduces him right in front of Betsy. Betsy is torn between being intrigued & turned on, but also unsure if she should leave.
Elvira and Jack set dinner plans with Betsy and Eddie that evening, however the events of the afternoon caused Betsy to be afraid to attend. Eddie arrives straight after work and is surprised Betsy is not there. Turns out Betsy “has a headache”, and is worried about who else is coming to dinner. However, Jack tells her that Eddie will be staying and she is welcome to join later for dessert when she feels better. Before long, Betsy arrives wearing a white lace dress. Right away she gets another shock – Eddie has confessed to being turned on before! (smoking weed). But Jack and Elvira talk Betsy into partaking a joint with them, it’s a safe place. Before long, they are all slightly high and stripping down to put on costumes. Jack don’s a sailor’s outfit, Betsy puts on sexy & revealing lingerie, Elvira in a sexy nun’s habit – and together they all convince Eddie to strip and don a cowboy costume.
As the night progresses, tensions continue between Betsy & Eddie – and both Jack & Elvira slip into those cracks to win the bet. But Jack is uncertain if Elvira can win this round. He even ups the ante and says that if Elvira can still pull it off, she can have Eddie as well. Things move ahead when Betsy tells Eddie that he looks foolish dressed up, so the boys end up going out to test how much he looks like a real cowboy. Elvira stays home with Besty, taking their girl gossip session upstairs to the bedroom. As Betsy continues to loosen up, she reveals that she is unsure if she should have married Eddie; he even masterbated by himself that morning instead of coming to her! Elvira helps her relax, dropping additional hints about sexual fluidity of herself – and Jack. By the time the boys return home, it’s nearly midnight. After a quick phone convo between Jack and Elvira, and with only twenty minutes to go, they both ramp up their game of seduction with their respective newlywed.
At the stroke of midnight, both claim victory; Elvira claims the clock is too fast, Jack claims the clock is too slow. Now the REAL seduction begins! As the amyl nitrite breaks open, Betsy is opened to a whole new world as Elvira takes her massage to a new level – with her tongue! Downstairs, after stripping himself, Jack slowly undresses Eddie before going down on him. Both Betsy and Eddie writhe in bliss while being sexually pleased, however it’s only the beginning for both. By the end of the night, Betsy is pegged by Elvira while wearing a leash and collar. Eddie not only performs fellatio on Jack, but has the pleasure of getting fucked too. In fact, the bliss is so great that Eddie even flits into a hallucination where Betsy is fucking him instead of Jack!
The following morning, it’s clear that Betsy and Eddie’s lives have been greatly changed. Betsy has a newfound spring to her step, ready to explore new experiences. But Eddie panics and tries to retreat back into the closeted shell he previously called home. They have a lot to sift through, especially when they both confess to having sex last night. Suddenly Mike stops by, while initially hesitant, Betsy shocks them all by stripping down and joining in on the orgy. When Eddie comes back downstairs to leave, it seems like the end for Eddie and Betsy. That is until Betsy asks where he’ll go, and suggests that he go bowling. Mike chimes in that he also enjoys bowling, and begins to chat more with Eddie. Finally Betsy suggests that Mike stop by their place and “watch television”, after noticing Eddie ogling Mike. Before long they’re all running off to have their own fun to the amusement of Elvira and Jack! But before they leave, Betsy promises that they’ll be back next week to play “bingo”.
I have a couple issues with “Score” that unfortunately lower my overall rating. The first isn’t so much a negative, just not a positive. While writer Jerry Douglas successfully adapted the off-Broadway script into a screenplay, it still suffers from what nearly all porn films do – the lack of a solid script. Now don’t get me wrong, there is actually quite a lot of storytelling in “Score”. But if you remove all of the sex scenes and the abundance of sexual innuendos, there isn’t enough left to create a feature length film!
The other reason I knocked my rating down half a star is because Cinematographically, it’s TOO artsy. I mean, we don’t just have a mirror on the ceiling above the bed – it’s a physical mirror that arches over the bed. While many would question the ceiling mirror even in the 70’s, there is no realistic reason for the mirror in Elvira & Jack’s bedroom. But Metzger utilises reflections from that mirror and other reflective surfaces, especially to diffuse the sharpness of sex scenes. He equally uses the len’s focal point to bring the image in & out of focus in a similar manner. While there is a freshness to this unique technique, it is overdone. (It possibly was used to include more of the sex scenes without triggering censorship regulations.) Even with the slow pace of “Score”, I would rather have a shorter sex scene than suffer through constant out-of-focus reflections and unique lens angles.
But the most surprising part of “Score” is how much I actually enjoy watching it! Despite being marketed and critiqued as a film that’s better suited for porn than legitimate cinema, the plot is actually quite intriguing. Yes, I do realise that I just critiqued that there isn’t enough, but what is present is quite enjoyable. Woven in between the sex scenes are a ton of sexual innuendos and flirtatious remarks that only adds to the erotic nature of the film. There are layers upon layers, plenty of foreshadowing and teasing, and some of the innuendos are even unspoken. Some of my favourites are when Elvira slowly removes Mike’s hammer from his belt, a precursor to the actual sex act about to follow; or later when Jack unbuckles Eddie’s belt and grabs the belt evocatively , bringing it against his cheek.
The other part of the script is how well the characters are fleshed out. Unlike porn dialogue, there is a reason for almost everything said in “Score”. Both Jack and Elvira are great characterisations of bisexual swingers, open to sexual acts with anyone. But it’s taken to a new level because of their competition, they equally enjoy the build up to the act and often go after those who can be persuaded to explore their sexuality. Betsy and Eddie are equally well written. Even despite Elvira’s obvious sexual flirtations and nudges, Betsy retains her almost pious innocence right until that final wall breaks and everything gushes out. In contrast, Eddie is clearly a closeted homosexual – even from the start. Jack doesn’t have very far to go in order to coax Eddie into homosexual acts, and even Betsy has some questions about her husband’s sexual preferences.
The casting is equally superb. Because of the actual sex acts shown on camera (in the unedited hardcore version, of course!), the casting agents naturally turned to real porn stars. Eddie is wonderfully portrayed by the sexy hunk and porn star, Calvin Culver, better known by his adult film name Casey Donovan. Gerald Grant matches well with both Culver and his onscreen wife, Elvira. As I noted above, Claire Wilbur reprised her role from the stage play but it’s obvious why. She’s seductive and evocative, even while making a cup of coffee! Carl Parker fits the role of the handyman perfectly. But let’s not forget the very attractive sex icon, Lynn Lowry as the innocent & naive Betsy. Starring in “Score” actually helped kickstart her career and she later become known for non-erotic roles in film! Not only do they all have a great chemistry on screen together, but they are all very attractive. (A necessity when you show everyone in full frontal nudity at least once, not to mention the actual sex acts!)
Cinematographically, despite the noted issues I had with the overuse of mirrors and focusing, the rest of the film elements come together quite well. Surprisingly, unlike other films I’ve reviewed as of late, the use of handheld cameras in “Score” actually works quite well. It evokes the raw, erotic closeness of the sex scenes, which nicely contrasts to the voyeuristic steady camera angles of other scenes. Metzger also uses unique ways to frame the action. While Elvira is seducing Mike on the living room floor, we watch it through Betsy’s legs as she paces back and forth on the sideline. Or later when Eddie gives in and performs fellatio on Jack, we view the scene from between Jack’s legs which skilfully hides the actual act itself. The set of both the house and the town are quite idyllic and Croatian, a perfect setting for this sexually driven tale. Lastly, the music selections perfectly supplement the action on screen; they do not dominate like in porn films.
There is one last area that I need to address: the censorship of the sex itself. There are two versions of “Score” – the “X” rated hardcore unedited version, and an edited theatrical release. What’s the difference? Well, to start off, the soft-core theatrical release was greatly edited down to 84 min to avoid censorship regulations (though that still didn’t save them from trouble), while the unedited & hardcore version chimes in at 91 minutes. As for what was edited out, it’s the actual explicit sex acts. While the full frontal nudity and crystal clear illusions of the sex acts remain in the theatrical release, the unedited version lingers longer as the camera pans over sexual organs. And those sex acts that are alluded to by skilful camera angles? Well, we see everything in full glory – fellatio and more! In fact, if you watch the unedited version then you will feel like you are watching a porno instead of a film. Keep that in mind!
It’s hard to sort out exactly what audience “Score” was created for. Gay guys will turn away at the lesbian scenes, lesbians will not be keen to see the gay sex, and straight persons will enjoy neither. (Though bisexuals will love it all!) Whichever part of the sexual preference spectrum you are coming from, there is one additional thing to keep in mind: choose the right version to watch. Personally, I prefer the unedited version… but I leave that up to you to decide! Either way, I highly recommend watching “Score” at least once in your life. At the very least, you can learn some great & cheesy sexual innuendos for the next time you play “bingo”!