Color, 1973, 92m.
Directed by Radley Metzger
Starring Clare Wilbur, Lynn Lowry, Gerald Grant, Calvin Culver, Carl Parker
Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / DTS-HD Mono, Cult Epics (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), First Run, Image (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

By the time this stylish, charmingly witty slice of hedonistic fun opened in 1973, director Radley Metzger had earned his title as a master of visually sumptuous, literate erotic fare like The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000 but was branching out in unusual directions, such as his unofficial Eva Peron biopic, Little Mother. Once again he shifted gears by tackling a sexy Off-Broadway play about bisexual couple-swapping in a Queens apartment among five characters. Cleverly opening up the action, the film adaptation takes place in a fictitious, fairy tale-style town along a river (actually in Yugoslavia) where everyone has a cushy, fulfilling job and submits to any sexual whim that strikes their fancy. Elvira (Wilbur, a veteran of the play) and Jack (Grant, who later appeared in Metzger's Naked Came the Stranger and the Italian gore favorite Eaten Alive), are a pair of happily married swingers who play a game with each other in which they earn points by seducing unwitting members of the same or opposite sex. In the midst of exchanging savvy film history bon mots, they agree that they have become bored with the lack of challenge in picking up folks from magazine ads and set their sights on a young new couple: Betsy (Lowry, a striking actress hot off of Sugar Cookies, I Drink Your Blood, and The Crazies) and Eddie (Culver, aka gay porn actor Casey Donovan, who gained notoriety for dating late novelist/actor Tom Tryon and going straight, sort of, in Metzger's The Opening of Misty Beethoven). Elvira's plan entails inviting Betsy over while Jack's away and seducing the studly phone repairman (Carl Parker, also in Metzger's remarkable The Image), a part originally played onstage by Sylvester Stallone(!), by dousing his lap with scalding coffee and having Betsy take photographs of the extramarital tryst on the floor. Betsy and Eddie return that night for a little dinner and costume party in which they don outfits as reflections of their personalities, allowing the experienced couple to close in and make their movie.

While Score could easily have become yet another stagnant play on film, the excellent performances, sharp and very funny writing, eye-catching locations, and inventive camerawork keep things moving at a rapid clip. Once again Metzger's sense of rhythm during both the dialogue and seduction sequences is impeccable, with the stylish centerpiece (crosscutting between Elvira/Betsy and Jack/Eddie) churning up tremendous momentum thanks Scoreto the inventive lighting, creative revealing costumes, and camera movements. Though it didn't find a huge audience upon its release thanks to the sudden advent of full-on hardcore, Score went on to find a substantial audience and become one of the director's most popular titles thanks to its freewheeling sexual attitudes and its bubbly sense of humor, while the casual integration of explicit (but tasteful) sexual imagery was later adopted by indie films as diverse as Shortbus and Ken Park. Seen today, even its nods to poppers and pot as party favors exude a charming retro vibe within a story whose timeless setting makes it just as enjoyable today.

Despite the rapid loosening of censorship standards, most people never had much of a chance to see Score in anything close to a complete version for decades. Back in the late '80s it appeared on VHS from Magnum in a sick-looking, heavily cropped transfer that also wiped out virtually every single trace of frontal nudity in the film, which amounted to a huge chunk of the running time. Metzger's Audubon Films briefly ran a direct-response mail service in the early '90s and released a complete but equally cropped, very blurry and desaturated video onto the market that few even knew existed. This print, seen only in a tiny handful of theaters originally, contains several shots of unsimulated oral sex between the male leads and some steamy (but simulated, barely) lesbian groping between the women. Not surprisingly, the more graphic material was excised again when First Run picked up the rights to the Audubon Films catalog and issued DVDs through Image, but rather than taking their transfer from the softer prints circulated in most venues, they simply opted to randomly hack out the offending shots without covering any of the edits. The result made complete mincemeat of the soundtrack as well as a visual jumble of weird edits and continuity that wrecked the main payoff of the entire film. On the positive side, at least it was finally letterboxed (albeit non-anamorphic) which restored the original hard matted compositions, and colors were richer than its pallid predecessors. First Run eventually reissued the exact same transfer directly themselves as part of a trio of Metzger box sets, while Umbrella in Australia carried it over to their Metzger collection as well.

Once the rights to Score finally passed into the hands of Cult Epics in early 2011, the doors finally opened for both versions (each with Metzger's seal of approval, apparently) to finally get a respectable commercial release -- and on Blu-Ray, no less, with a subsequent UK dual-format Blu-Ray/DVD version from Arrow Films in early 2013. It might seem like faint praise to say that this transfer is light years beyond any of the previous versions, but it really does look astonishingly good if one takes its release history into account. Anyone who says "ewww" at the sight of a speck of dirt or a little scratch during a reel change will find some element issues here (while anyone who says "ewww" at the sight of guys kissing will shut it off when the main menu for the American version comes up), but the increase in detail here is way beyond anything seen on a standard def rendition, the print used is still far cleaner, and the all-important punchy colors are wonderfully vivid (especially that electric blue shag carpeting and Culver's bright red bandana). The framing also looks more accurate and satisfying than before, with the maximum amount of visual information onscreen without exposing the messy matte lines at the bottom that plagued the First Run release. The Arrow releases edges out the Cult Epics in the audio department by offering a DTS-HD mono track instead of the lossy standard Dolby Digital one, making the most of the infectious score. It's a terrific musical potpourri including a memorable theme song ("Where Is the Girl," written by a local band Metzger heard at his hotel) and a collage of library tracks including standout cuts like Barry Forgie's "Hunted" (from the epic Euro Mindbender Stringtronics LP) and the Morricone-like "Shake Tragico" from Amadeo Tomassi's terrific, ultra-rare score for the film Thomas. Both US and UK editions share the same extras, though the buying configurations are a bit different. Cult Epics offers both the softer version standalone and the more graphic one (link at the top), with the softer one also included in the triple Blu-Ray Radley Metzger's Erotica Psychedelica set. The Arrow version contains the softer cut and almost entirely emphasizes the girl-on-girl aspect, which makes sense given the market but seems a bit funny for a label who also released the unrated Caligula!

As for the extras, the Blu-Rays deliver on a slew of excellent extras kicking off with an audio commentary by Metzger and Michael Bowen (who previously did laudable work on Let Me Die a Woman and lots of Joe Sarno titles). Rather than commenting on the onscreen action, it's basically a 90-minute interview about the ins and outs of the film including Metzger's discovery of the original play (written by Jerry Douglas, who later revisiting many of the same themes in the much more somber Both Ways, also starring Grant), the trouble with shooting deadlines in Eastern Europe, and a funny anecdote about Culver's attitude towards shooting his brief "solo" scene at the beginning of the film. Things go curiously quiet for several minutes during the restored footage near the end, so this was presumably recorded for the softer print; in any case, it's a good primer for Metzger newcomers and an entertaining ride for familiar fans. Up next is "Keeping Score with Lynn Lowry," a 20-minute video interview that serves as a nifty successor to her already solid piece on the Crazies disc. Here she talks about the state of her career at the time, her disobedience to the director's orders to stay out of the sun which resulted in a visible blister of her lip, the very contentious relationship between her and Wilbur throughout the shoot, her dismayed reaction to her first viewing of the film and her more recent change of opinion, and very funny stories about hitting on Culver (unsuccessfully) while dodging Parker's sexual advances as well. "On the Set of Score" edits together 20 minutes of on-set footage, mainly showing the actors preparing for several outdoor scenes as well as some preparation with Metzger blocking out the seduction routine between the male leads. Some of the fashions here are pretty eye-popping, and while the quality's a bit rough (and very obviously interlaced), it's a real treasure trove and is also accompanied by some thumbnail trivia bits from Bowen over the otherwise silent footage. You also get the theatrical trailer and a few bonus ones as well. A swinging good time for all is guaranteed.

Updated review on 2/18/13.