Softcore maestro Radley Metzger (THERESE AND ISABELLE) adopted the pseudonym "Henry Paris" for a mere five hardcore endeavors, all of which – with the possible exception of the last, 1978's MARASCHINO CHERRY – are considered true classics of their kind. It was his eminently witty spin on "Pygmalion", THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN (1976), that would singlehandedly assure his everlasting reputation as one of the most adroit and intelligent filmmakers in adult. Two years prior, Metzger was just dipping his toe into the water when he made THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN, a sophisticated comedy of bad manners, wowing genre critics and audiences alike.
An unnamed private eye (played by veteran performer Eric Edwards) receives a phone call from worried businessman Mr. Mann (Alan Marlow, the womanizer reincarnated in female form in Roberta Findlay's ANGEL #9) who suspects that his wife Pamela (gorgeous Barbara Bourbon, the violated farmer's wife from David Fleetwood's A DIRTY WESTERN) may be fooling around on him. Trailing the sexy socialite, Edwards uncovers all sorts of naughtiness. Having got the idea from a dinner conversation about Gerard Damiano's box office blast DEEP THROAT, very much the scandal du jour at the time, she obviously wants to see whether she can perform Linda Lovelace's "Look, ma, no gag reflex" party trick by picking up a stranger (the massively endowed Marc Stevens, an early bisexual performer) near the Brooklyn bridge and going down on him right there and then. She supplies social rehabilitation services for happy hooker Klute (legendary adult actress Georgina Spelvin) in one of the all time Sapphic encounters and drags off a moral reformer running for mayor (beefy Sonny Landham, ironically cast in retrospect considering the political upheaval he would cause in later life) for a quickie mere moments prior to his addressing a women's group. A drawn-out garage rape sequence (missing from VCA's recent DVD release) by a pair of propaganda-spouting revolutionaries (perennial bad boy Jamie Gillis and Darby Lloyd Rains, who would rejoin forces with Metzger on NAKED CAME THE STRANGER) might seem somewhat out of place due to its – admittedly cartoonish – brutality, until the director turns the tables by the last act revelation that Pamela's "rapists" are actually her domestics and part of the whole set-up. The couple have in fact constructed these elaborate games to spice up their marriage, hiring a series of good looking detectives to capture their escapades on film, Pamela's seduction of the investigator (who subsequently refuses all remuneration as he has "failed" in his assignment) forever the final movement of their association.
Almost as complex as Metzger's 1970 simulated sex masterpiece THE LICKERISH QUARTET, this is one of very few porn movies that actually yield whole new levels of meaning on each viewing. The general motif seems to be appearances, the various roles people assume in daily life taken to farcical extremes. No one is what he or she pretends to be, certainly not the game-playing Manns or the private dicks hiding their identities as an occupational requirement, unwittingly ensnared to do the couple's bidding. These deceptions extend well beyond the main characters. Actor Hiram Wood (Levi Richards, who took part in the memorable Georgina Spelvin sandwich scene with Marc Stevens in Damiano's DEVIL IN MISS JONES) claims sexual confusion in order to fool the prostitute, just to see whether he could play a gay character on Broadway. She recognizes him anyway but plays along since she has always wanted to have sex with him. Who's fooling who then ?
Brimming with subtle visual and aural jokes in just about every scene, the film's funniest conceit might be the presence of the female poll-taker who regularly pops up to ask Pamela the most ridiculously long winded political and sociological questions (invariably answered by a brisk yes or no) and who explains her role at film's end as providing socially redeeming value ! Rarely has a pornographer thumbed his nose quite so elegantly at morally upright naysayers. Beautifully photographed and meticulously edited (witness the final sequence with the couple mirroring the actions in their home movies), PAMELA MANN's one conceivable failing might be its lack of heart due to all the pretending going on. The audience never gets a grip on any of the characters, robbing the film of the warmth that Metzger's other hardcore works possess. It's perhaps unfair to cite this as a flaw since it comes down to a matter of personal taste. There's no denying Metzger's brilliance as a writer, director or eroticist however, as every single frame of this movie bespeaks so eloquently. If, like me, you've watched enough run of the mill fornication marathons, you really come to appreciate the genuine gems the genre has to offer.