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September 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Lickerish Quartet (1970)

Directed by Radley Metzger

A jaded and world-weary married couple (Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg) with the wife’s son from a previous marriage (Paolo Turco) watch a black-and-white stag film at their crumbling Italian villa. They become intrigued by a blonde actress (Silvanna Venturelli) they see in the loops – and wonder under what circumstances prompted her to appear in a pornographic film. Heading into town, they catch a trick motorcycle act the carnival – and a female bike rider removes her helmet to reveal herself as the aforementioned film’s “star.” Convincing the woman to return to their villa, she denies participating in the film, and when they screen the film a second time – she’s nowhere to be found! In the manner of Pasolini’s Teorema, the mysterious woman winds her way through wife, husband and son, and nothing, not even the film itself is what it appears to be.

Buy The Lickerish Quartet Blu-ray or DVD

Radley Metzger’s masterful “Mind Games” (the film’s original title appears to have been inspired by equal amounts of Last Year at Marienbad and Twilight Zone. The usual rain-coated crowd who caught these fleshy romps at the local grindhouse or drive-in got much, much more than what they bargained for with The Lickerish Quartet. Audiences went to see a pornographic film where the characters were watching a pornographic film – the surprise being that majority of the sexual action remains on the crackling, black-and-white film stock. Patty-cake action is intercut with shots from a hideous Hieronymus Bosch-like mural where monsters devour young maidens. The son dispenses with the usual happy banter to discuss his childhood vision of Saint Margaret, who was devoured by a dragon. The hoity-toity married couple have a far more common and sordid origin than they are willing to admit, involving the past war and a possible murder – again, nothing is what it seems, and Metzger is not as interested in eroticism as he is in exploring what constitutes identity and reality, themes explored by major filmmakers.

The Lickerish Quartet is lovely to look at, with attractive performers – making its extremely dark themes more palatable for popular audiences of its day. Metzger continually pulls the rug out from under the viewer with contradictions, flash forwards and flashbacks, of the same scenes with different performers. The film’s one major disappointment is that it’s “big surprise” ending fails to tie up all the many loose ends, but then again, maybe the “meaning” of The Lickerish Quartet is intended to be a subjective one.

Cult Epics DVD/Blu-Ray release of Quartet is aces all around. Presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 2.0 Mono, the disc comes with a commentary with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen, a making of feature, and a comparison of the original audio and the dubbed version. There’s also the tamer version of some of the sex scenes, odd in that in its uncut form, the film is extremely tame, even by 1970 standards! Also included are trailers for this and two other Metzger films.

The one bitter irony lies in the fact that The Lickerish Quartet was hailed as a watershed in erotic filmmaking at the time of its release, the world would be transfixed and beguiled by a crude, little stag film not that far removed from the one unspooled at the villa, Deep Throat in 1974! Metzger would be forced to turn his attentions to far more explicit fare afterwards – with far less interesting results.

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