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October 14, 2011

Whimsy in the Boudoir: Radley Metzger's THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN

Humans. We are curious creatures by nature. For example, when you walk by an open window, what is your first instinct? To look. Not always to intentionally be nosy, but just by sheer, curious instinct. What about that guy? Is he a boxers or briefs man? What about that girl? Is she happy with her life? Now take that and imagine if you got to be a private detective and follow around a beautiful, leggy blonde by the name of Pamela Mann. That's exactly the situation that grabs ahold of Eric Edwards in Radley Metzger's THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN.

Frank (Eric Edwards) is the type of detective whose personal interest in voyeurism, one that dates back through several generations (!), has transformed from a lurid hobby into gainful employment. (Talk about living the dream!) His bread and butter, naturally, are jealous lovers who often suspect their partners of infidelity. After having to break the bad news to one perturbed, awesomely fey man (Kevin Andre), he soon gets another case. The client in question? Mr. Mann (Alan Marlowe), a mens magazine publisher who is suspicious that his wife, Pamela (the flaxen haired Barbara Bourbon), is “doing things I wouldn't like.” Sounds kind of broad but between Frank's profession and the fact that this is erotica, you can guess what some of those things are. (Undoubtedly something wonderful, lovely and saucy.)

Speaking of the devil, Pamela soon encounters a lanky, initially nervous looking young man (a refreshingly tan and healthy looking Marc Stevens). She soon puts him at ease with the come on, “Want a good time, Sailor?” This line would be cheesy and borderline skanky coming from anyone else, but out of Bourbon it is just silly and cute. Stevens thinks so, too, as he smiles, with them going off to have a special moment in an alley during a thunderstorm. (Though no alley in NYC has ever looked so clean and flora filled. Mind you, that is not a complaint.) 

 The late, great Marc Stevens

We soon get to see their time together in some incredibly well executed slow-mo as Frank plays his footage for Mr. Mann, who seems more passively riveted than anything else. Meanwhile, Mann's receptionist (Naomi Jason) is getting routinely harassed by a young mustachioed man whose goony face matched with his penchant for whipping it out and punching the munchkin in front of her reeks of being a worm-burner. Granted, she only seems mildly annoyed and even employing a lobster bib, in one of the film's best sight gags, for preparation.

One character who crops up in Pamela's afternoon more than once is Linda (the always great Georgina Spelvin), your veritable wisecracking and likable hooker with a good nature and a breezy attitude. She ends up becoming an all too knowing pawn in a putzy actor's (John Ashton) game, who is out to prove his talent by trying to convince Linda that he is a gay man. Ridiculous, but funny and needless to say, he fails. 

The always great Georgina Spelvin.

In stark contrast, Pamela's next encounter ends up taking on a Patty Hearst/SLA tinge with her being abducted by two anti-fascist terrorists (Jamie Gillis and Darby Lloyd Rains). She manages to survive the encounter just fine and ends up meeting up with Linda, looking all sunshine and golden-haired, despite being “indoctrinated” in a bare looking garage. After offering Linda some some emotional and mental motivational support, they end up having some quality female bonding time. 

 Jamie Gillis and Darby Lloyd Rains corner Pamela. 

Meanwhile, Frank's still very much hot on the trail, getting more and more wrapped up in the case. What started off as just another workday has turned into a psychological riddle that has a certain pull for our detective. All of this in the name of unwrapping the beautiful enigma that is Pamela. 

 Frank looks for Pamela. 

THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN is one light and lovely film, right down to the carnival type music that begins the proceedings. Even the one dark moment, being Pamela's abduction, all ends up being part of an elaborate web of arranged fantasy. The whole film is riddled with mischievous deception, but much like a carnival funhouse, things are not always what they appear to be. 

The cast is great, with Edwards, Bourbon and Spelvin all being the big standouts. Edwards, one of the most solid actors to have emerged in the last 40 years, is fun as the man who truly loves his work. Perhaps a little too much but with his affable, “damn, I'm a handsome bastard” grin, it never comes across unseemly.

Eric Edwards: Handsome Bastard

Barbara Bourbon is part of the prestigious line of almost supernaturally beautiful Metzger leading ladies, which also includes Danielle Gaubert, Lynn Lowry, Constance Money and Silvana Venturelli. Like these other lovelies, she can also act and is quite charming as the intelligent and coquettish Pamela. As for Spelvin, she gives a spunky and high energy performance here. You can practically smell the grass, nag champa and pheromone funk that would have emanated from her character's apartment. 
 The beautiful Barbara Bourbon.

Direction wise, it is fully apparent here why Radley Metzger (under the nom-de-plume, Henry Paris) is well regarded as the maestro of sophisticated and often erotic cinema that appeals to almost all of the senses. Every frame in this film looks good and could easily be a photo in any adult minded coffee table book. (The gorgeous restoration at the hands of the always reliable Distribpix does not hurt either!) On top of that, Metzger's Pamela is no nymphomaniac bimbette with daddy issues. Instead, she's a confident, free spirited and smart woman who is ultimately the mistress of her destiny.

On top of that, you have some striking mirror imagery, something that has cropped up in a number of Radley Metzger films. It first occurs with the visual introduction to Pamela and then later on, when she has her climatic meeting with Frank. The real crux of this film is that people are often more than they appear to be, ranging from the Manns, Frank, the insecure actor and even Mann's beleaguered secretary. Every one of us often posses a duality. Human nature at its core is ruled by duality, so the double image and the double cross are two elements that are handled so well here.
If you have ever wanted to see a cherried out DVD set, then look no further at Distribpix's very loving and lush presentation. In addition to a gorgeous and cleaned up print, there is a veritable buffet of some truly great extras. This includes a commentary track with Metzger himself, both the original theatrical and fresh for DVD trailer, two in depth interviews, one with Eric Edwards (who is still as handsome and charming as ever) and the other with the eternally vibrant Georgina Spelvin, a still gallery, deleted scenes, a well written booklet and even a glossy photo card of Bourbon. However, the one truly unique extra is the softcore cut of the film.

Making safe for pay-cable broadcast and non-adult theaters versions of X-rated films was not at all an uncommon occurrence during the 1970's and 80's. However, it is safe to say that no softcore film could even touch with what they did with PAMELA MANN. They brought Barbara Bourbon back to introduce this special cut, complete with a bicentennial theme, to cover up all the offending shots. Sometimes it might be just a brief shot of her smiling face, but more often than not, she is going into mini-monolog mode, which ends up ranging from silly to borderline subversive and political! She even wears, at one point, a tricorn hat! Amazing. Granted, it probably mutes the erotic power of the film as a whole, but that is part of its brilliance. To quote Murray Head, I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine. Too bad this was shelved shortly thereafter, making its inclusion here even more special.

If you are a lover of high quality filmmaking, humor, the duality of human nature, sauciness and DVD companies that adore the films that they release, then you absolutely must check out THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN.


  1. Wonderful piece Heather on a truly special film. I share your enthuiasm on the film, the performances, Metzger and Distribpix! Excellent work!

  2. Awesome as usual. Love it, Heather!

  3. One of my favorite porn classics. Barbara was lovely in this. Too bad she only appeared in 3 movies.