While director Radley Metzger's XXX output may have been limited to just five films (made under the exotic sounding alias of Henry Paris), there's no doubt that his pictures made a lasting impression on those who saw them and that the man justly deserves the cult following that has sprung up around both his hardcore and his softcore films over the last three decades. Like Gerard Damiano and the best of the more artistic directors from the golden age of porn, Metzger obviously cared about things like lighting, cinematography, acting and most importantly, storylines and character development. The fifth and final hardcore film that Metzger would make, Maraschino Cherry may not be his finest moment, but it's definitely better than most hardcore films, vintage or otherwise.
The film, which is fairly light in terms of plot compared to many of Metzger's other pictures, follows a New York City high society madame named Maraschino Cherry (Gloria Leonard) whose sister, Penny (Jenny Baxter), comes to visit her. The two discuss Maraschino's business and clientele, which leads into a series of sexual vignettes - and that's about it. Don't expect the rich, layered storyline of something like The Opening Of Misty Beethoven, as Metzger's hardcore swan song (he'd go back to making softcore films after this picture before retiring in 1984) is much lighter in that regard. That said, if the film is short on storyline, it makes up for it with some genuinely inspired scenes that are legitimately erotic.
As it often tends to be with early hardcore features, many of the sex scenes are quite brief but a few stand outs are worth noting, starting with Constance Money's scene in which she wads through a pond in order to get closer to the man she knows she has to have, played by Lance Knight. Constance looks beautiful here, shot outdoors under natural lighting and looking quite stunning. Fans of Annette Haven, and there are lots of them out there, will definitely enjoy the scene where she gives it up to Alan Marlow atop a full sized grand piano and likely be even more impressed with a kinky dungeon scene in which the prettiest lady in porn gets down with Gloria Leonard and CJ Laing, both of whom come close to equaling Haven's unbridled sexiness in this scorcher of a scene (the stand out in the film). This fairly strong scene involves Laing's attempts to balance two shots of whiskey to amuse the other two ladies, who penetrate her anally with a dildo and threaten to force her face into a hot plate should she spill a drop. Other scenes, involving cast members such as Wade Nichols, Leslie Bovee, Eric Edwards, Suzanne McBain, Jenny Baxter and other luminaries from the golden age of smut (including a brief appearance from none other than Spaulding Gray) are perfectly enjoyable but none of their efforts compare to that aforementioned dungeon scene.
While this might not be as cerebral an effort as some of Metzger's other pictures, it's still a beautifully shot film that shows some real attention to detail and a knack for framing and lighting. Shot in various locations around New York City and, according to Gloria Leonard's interview, on a soundstage on the upper west side of Manhattan, there's a fair bit of speculation that the story was written to allow Metzger to use up bits and pieces that were shot for other films but never used. The film does have that sort of disjointed feel to it but each and every frame is unmistakably Metzger's work and as such, it's good stuff and unlike the previous (horribly cropped) release from Video-X-Pix, this new release is, thankfully, completely uncut and presented full strength.
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Ultimately, this is lesser quality Metzger but still very definitely a film worth seeing, particularly for those who appreciate adult films of the era in which it was made (1978 for those keeping score). The dialogue is well written, the humor genuinely funny, and the cinematography quite stunning in some spots. It doesn't quite stimulate the mind the way some of the director's better pictures do, but it'll get a well deserved rise out of anyone who appreciates classic erotic cinema.
The good news is that Video-X-Pix has gone back and re-mastered the film from 35mm elements and presented it on DVD in its original anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The bad news is that the transfer is interlaced and that a Video-X-Pix bug appears in the lower right hand corner of the frame at the beginning of each and every sex scene. Before I whine too much about that, I'll simply let it suffice to say that this is an annoying practice that thankfully Video-X-Pix has said they will cease doing on upcoming Platinum Elite Collection releases.
Now as to the quality of the image itself, it's pretty good. There is some minor print damage here and there as well as a little bit of color fading but by and large this is a nice transfer of some good source material. You might notice some odd flaring where heavy reds appear on the screen but aside from that things look pretty good. Detail is stronger than your average seventies porno movie transfer and skin tones look lifelike and natural throughout. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or noticeable edge enhancement and what we're left with is a strong, film like image that really helps you appreciate the film's lush cinematography. It's not a perfect picture, the flaws mentioned are definitely noticeable (and it really should have been flagged for progressive scan playback) but it is a huge step in the right direction in terms of how classic XXX cinema is generally treated on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix on this disc has a bit of hiss in a couple of scenes if you listen really hard for it but is otherwise just fine. Levels are all properly balanced and you never have to strain to hear or understand the performers. For an older mono mix, there's really very little to complain about here, the movie sounds pretty good.
Video-X-Pix has included an interesting array of supplemental material on this release which they've spread across two DVDs as follows:
First up is a Gloria Leonard Interview (5:41) in which the film's star discusses her memories of the production. She talks about shooting the film in an old RKO studio in uptown Manhattan and how she recalls the set being huge and much more elaborate than most other adult films. She talks about how she got her start in the adult film industry through Jamie Gillis, and how the adult film industry has changed over the years particularly since video cameras have become so mainstream and so easy to use. She talks about other movies that she appeared in briefly and how the thirty or so pictures she actually acted in have been spliced into compilations and 'greatest hits' packages over the years, what it was like working with Wade Nichols, why she went into porno movies, what the industry is like today as compared to when she was still performing, how starlets used to get paid in the golden age of adult movies, and her memories of Ron Jeremy (or lack thereof). Leonard is a wealth of information on this era and makes for a great interviewee.
Disc One also includes a Classic Slideshow (just over three minutes of stills from various seventies adult films that play silently), and bonus trailers for All About Gloria Leonard and Inside Seka. Both trailers look to be taken from tape sources and are presented fullframe. Animated menus and chapter selection for the main feature are also found on the disc.
The second disc starts off with another Gloria Leonard Interview (29:51) where she elaborates on how she got her start in the adult film industry in the New York City of the 1970s before discussing her relationship with director Radley Metzger and what it was like working with the man that many consider to be the finest erotic filmmaker in American history. She then delves into details about working on Maraschino Cherry, what it was like shooting that film and what makes Metzger's movies different from other adult films. In between reminiscing about the golden age of porn and her work in the field we see some behind the scenes photographs and clips from a few of the pictures being discussed. She also makes some interesting points about the differences between shooting skin flicks on the West Coast versus shooting them on the East Coast. She talks about staying in touch with a few of her female co-stars over the years and how it all started out as a support group, talking to Spaulding Grey, and more. It looks like bits of this interview were used for the shorter interview that appears on the first disc, which is rather odd, but regardless, this is a fascinating talk with Ms. Leonard who proves herself to be a very intelligent and amiable woman with a good head on her shoulders and some great stories to share.
From there, check out the two bonus scenes starring Gloria Leonard, the first of which is from All About Gloria Leonard (7:15, fullframe) and the second of which is from Misbehavin' (1:30, fullframe). Rounding out the extras on the second disc is a Maraschino Cherry slideshow containing roughly two dozen black and white and color production stills, the film's lengthy original theatrical trailer (5:55, VHS sourced, non-anamorphic widescreen) and some classy animated menus. A small thing, maybe, but as you can see in the screen cap of the Gloria Leonard interview, all of the supplements on the disc are interlaced and so you could potentially notice some combing artifacts depending on your set up.
A note about the packaging - inside the keepcase is a full color insert booklet containing an essay from Benson Hurst on the history of the film that puts it into context alongside Metzger's other films and that reproduces the movie's original theatrical poster art. Also included inside is a strip taken from an original 35mm print of Maraschino Cherry, a nice touch! The keepcase fits nicely inside an o-ring/slipcase that features identical cover art (though it features metallic embossment and looks extra classy because of it). All in all, they've done quite a nice job with the supplements here, though you can't help but wish that there was a commentary track provided. Regardless, this is a nice effort and should be commended.
Video-X-Pix's Platinum Elite Collection release of Metzger's Maraschino Cherry may not be perfect but it's certainly the closest we've seen for this title so far. The restored transfer is quite nice and the supplements are much stronger than average as well. Despite the logo bug and the interlaced transfer, fans of classic adult cinema should pick this one up based on the strength of the film, the cast, and the effort put into this release. Here's hoping that the minor complains levied against this disc can be fixed in future releases in this line, which Video-X-Pix is touting as Criterion level treatment. Highly recommended.