Sunday, 27 September 2015

Eve and the Handyman (4 Stars)

"Man is constantly building his own little scrap pile".

Before I write about this film, let me make a few remarks about the official Russ Meyer collection. When he retired from making films in 1980 he had made 21 films. A few years later he authorised a release on videotapes of what he called his official collection of 17 films. He deliberately omitted four films which he didn't consider to be representative of his work. I've seen 20 of the 21 films, and the inclusion or omission of certain films seems arbitrary to me. "The Seven Minutes" is very different to his other films, so I understand it being omitted, but "Blacksnake" is also different and it's been included. In 2001 Russ Meyer made one last film, a documentary, which he added to his official collection, making it a total of 18 films. I intend to watch the whole of his official collection in order over the next few weeks.

"The Immoral Mr. Teas" (1959), which I reviewed earlier today, is the first film in the Russ Meyer Collection. "Eve and the Handyman" (1961) is the second. Once more it's a short film (less than 70 minutes from the beginning to the final credits).

At first sight this might seem like a simple role reversal from the first film: Mr. Teas was a male voyeur, Eve is a female voyeur. It's true, Eve Meyer does spend the whole film observing the unnamed handyman, but it has nothing to do with voyeurism. This film is Russ Meyer's first and only dabbling with film noir. He uses many of the conventions of film noir to great effect, while turning others on their head.

Eve is the film's detective. The whole film is seen from her perspective. She is present in every scene, whether she is on or off camera. As in "The Immoral Mr. Teas" there is no dialogue, but this time the voiceover isn't an external narrator, it's Eve's immer monologue, in true film noir tradition. She spends a whole day secretly observing the handyman as he does his daily tasks, such as cleaning the floor, washing windows and unblocking toilets.

When the day begins Eve considers the handyman to be a worthy opponent. She says she intends to outsmart him, but she can't be sure that she'll succeed. As the day continues she changes her mind. She sees that he's a bumbling idiot, making a mess of almost everything he does, and she stands laughing at him from afar. It's the handyman's relation to women that makes him weak. Unlike Mr. Teas he's not a voyeur. When women expose themselves, always deliberately, he tries to look away, but he doesn't succeed. When he's cleaning the outside of a window of a high building a secretary inside is wearing a very low cut top. This distracts him and he accidentally unhooks his safety harness, almost falling to his death. Eve finds this hilarious. In another scene he buys an ice cream sundae, but he's unable to eat it because a busty waitress is standing in front of him. He runs out of the restaurant in fear.

That's the dilemma that men face when they're confronted by provocative sexy women. It doesn't matter whether you're a Mr. Teas or a Handyman. If you stare at the women you're in their power. If you try not to stare you still can't resist taking little peeks and you're in their power anyway.

(In Russ's later films we see a third group of men. They're the ones who have the will power not to stare at all. If they're completely ignored the sexy women mock them by saying they aren't real men, forcing them to look to prove their manhood, leaving them too in the women's power).

When we finally find out the reason why Eve is following the handyman it's a disappointment. I expected a serious resolution to the film, but it's pure comedy.Nevertheless, it's still a powerful film.

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