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April 13, 2012

Movie Review: Naked Came the Stranger (1975)

Directed by Radley Metzger (under the nom de porn of Henry Paris)

Reviewed by Greg Goodsell

A too-cute-for-words professional couple, Gillian (Darby Lloyd Raines) and William Blake (Levi Richards) host their radio breakfast chat show from their sprawling New York mansion. Their lifestyles are almost too good to be true, and so William begins a clandestine affair with their assistant Phyllis (Mary Stuart). Catching them en flagrant delecto, Gillian is both incensed and turned on by the whole sordid situation. Gillian, dressing as a tuxedo'd Marlene Dietrich and William attired as Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch – appropriate, as he justifies the affair the result of “a three year and five month itch,” attend a decadent New York City costume party. Gillian's eye are opened to life’s possibilities, and begins a series of affairs in the most unlikely places, such as a London double-Decker bus cruising down Fifth Avenue, an elegant ballroom filmed in black-and-white silent movie fashion, even a lesbian fling with Phyllis. William and Gillian get back together, and things are so bright and colorful and lighthearted it's a genuine shock when all the triple-XXX humpings begin.

The sexual revolution of the Sixties and Seventies didn't result in good literature. Incensed by the fact that such terrible writers as Jacqueline Susanne and Harold Robbins were raking in millions while truly talented writers starved, Newsday journalist Mike McGrady enlisted his fellow journalists to join him in writing a subversive sex novel. The rules for the book, “Naked Came the Stranger” were simple: each writer would write a chapter, a minimum of two sex scenes each. All literary merit would be rigorously edited out. McGrady enlisted his sister-in-law to pose as the book's author, Penelope Ashe, and a best seller was born. When the hoax was revealed, the American public turned out in droves to pick up the paperback anew.

When it came time to adopt the novel to the screen, Radley Metzger went all out to provide a hardcore pornographic film with an epic sweep. His other films under the Paris pseudonym, Barbara Broadcast and Misty Beethoven, have a professional sheen to them, but have limited settings – Broadcast takes entirely in a posh New York restaurant. (Metzger pretty much gave it up with Maraschino Cherry, with the most unappetizing Gloria Leonard in the lead.) No expense was spared in finding the most comely locations for the feature. Two settings stand out – the mansion where the main couple lives, where novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly penned “The Great Gatsby.” The scene where Raines does a tap dance in the drained swimming pool has often been pointed out as one of the film's non-fleshy high-points. There is also the scene in the ballroom of the Hotel St. George where Raines and George Grant (the philandering husband who introduces Casey Donavan into the ways of homosexuality in Score (1971)). Both New York City locations have a heavy gravitas, with colorful pasts that speak volumes.

The extras included on the DistribPix disc are on level with anything from Criterion. Most impressive is the 40-page booklet which is exhaustive in detail. We get a the story behind the book, the story behind the film, the story behind all the actors – even detailed liner notes on the library music cues used in the film!

The disc itself comes with a "fun facts" subtitles track along with proper subtitles in a multitude of languages. There are also brief features scattered throughout. The distinctive New York City shooting locales are visited thirty-five years later, and sadly, the mansion that served as the film’s chief location is now a shuttered ruin of its former self. There are also a few deleted scenes cutaways from the hardcore action, and a hard-vs-soft split screen comparison showing how the film was re-edited to take out the explicit action which also includes entire alternate takes of the action. One could lose themselves for days in this disc, literally. If you are curious, but not yellow, there’s absolutely no reason not to get Naked with this stranger.                                     

                                   Photos Courtesy of Rock! Shock! Pop!

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