Eve and the Handyman

After the groundbreaking The Immoral Mr. Teas, Russ Meyer didn’t procrastinate in filming a quick follow-up. Eve and the Handyman continues the general comedic satire of its predecessor, but suffers from the classic sophomoric slump. The result is a film that’s as void of laughs as it is intelligence or even titillation (a rarity for a Russ Meyer film). Compared to Teas, Eve plays it more relatively straight; there’s almost no nudity, with the isolated exceptions of two bare butts, and one bare chest of a woman serving as a sculptor’s model. Instead, Meyer seems to be attempting a more “traditional” comedy. Of course, there’s still not a great deal that’s traditional about it; like Teas, Eve contains no dialogue and replaces a linear story with a series of sketches that revolves around its hero, which is accompanied by music and a voiceover.

But while the voiceover in Mr. Teas was provided by an unnamed source outside the action and used to parody the “educational” exploitation films that had preceded it, the voiceover in Eve comes courtesy of Russ’ real-life wife, Eve Meyer. She’s playing a detective, complete with trench coat, who is following Anthony-James Ryan, aka The Handyman, around town as he attends his various jobs. Eve’s voiceover is in itself a kind of parody of the detective thriller/mystery, with her treating The Handyman as if he’s some superhuman Adam to her Eve. The writing is replete with ludicrous, grandiloquent metaphors that provide the majority of the film’s successful comedic attempts. The Handyman himself is the source of the vaudevillian, slapstick comedy as he repeatedly finds himself failing at his job (like getting stuck in a lady’s restroom stall) or being tempted by the classic Russ Meyer buxom beauties around him.

The film begins promising, with The Handyman’s alarm clock going off and his complete inability to shut it off. He grabs it and tries to drown it in his bathtub, but when that doesn’t he throws it out the window where it lands in a trashcan. It’s carried through the neighborhood, waking a variety of people up (like a man who sleeps in his boxer shorts and boxing gloves), until The Handyman eventually wakes up (to a frowning nude woman painted on his wall), gathers his tools, starts his jalopy, and goes off to his work. Eve takes to continuously spying on him from a distance, building him up to bizarrely mythical heights while we bear witness to his ineptitude. All of this is fine and good in the abstract, but once we’re in on the joke, Meyer ultimately fails to go anywhere with it.

In Mr. Teas Meyer had flirted with a similar mind-numbing repetitiveness, but ultimately saved the film through its sheer variety. In Eve, the film’s biggest problem is that runs unfunny jokes into the ground to the point that they’re not only unfunny, they’re just plain annoying. The entire film plays like a poor schmuck who, after telling a bad joke and looking, with growing terror, at the silence in the room, attempts to retell the joke in hope that people either didn’t get it or weren’t listening. A good example of this is when The Handyman goes to a window washing job and finds himself in the present of a busty secretary. He climbs out on the window ledge (as Eve watches below), and Meyer cuts between close-ups of the woman’s chest and the Handyman’s fretful face; again, there’s nothing wrong with it in the abstract, but Meyer attmepts to ride this same joke for a good minute-or-more, past the point of amusing, past the point of dull, to just plain annoying.

Even the more varied scenes seem too stock to elicit even the slightest smile. One has The Handyman climbing up a pole to read a sign, which he eventually discovers is “wet paint”, and he slides down covered in the paint. Another finds a female hitchhiker frustrated by her inability to get cars to stop. She begins stripping, eventually taking off her bra and catching the eye of Mr. Handyman, who simply throws her his paint-soaked coat. Again Meyer takes what should be a 90-second scene, at most, and stretches on for far too long. The scene in the woman’s bathroom seems to be a lone-man recreation of the famous scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Night of the Opera which had a ton of people filing into one cramped space. Here, Meyer attempts to make comedy out of The Handyman’s entrapment, but the scene proves too dull and banal to work.

Most of the film’s best scenes do find the soul of wit in brevity; one has The Handyman in a Laundromat where a girl is stripping next to him, even though he’s oblivious. We see her walking away, barebacked, while he has his head stuck in the washer (much to the amusement of Eve). Another has the Handyman going to get water for his overheated car and coming across a nude woman bathing in a nearby creek. The moment isn’t particularly funny, but at least it finds Meyer reveling in what he does best, but not indulging to egregious lengths.

To his credit, Meyer does save the best for last, as The Handyman visits an art studio where several artists (perhaps students) are hard at work. This is one of the film’s few examples of the satire that added such a nice layer in Mr. Teas, with Meyer taking a pot shot at the High Brow form of “erotic art”, and questioning just what the hell makes it any different than what he does. Even this scene runs a bit long, but Meyer concludes the film in a grand way as Eve eventually confronts The Handyman, revealing herself to be an appliance saleswoman who’s been stalking him to, apparently, find a way to sell her, errr, “wares”. Meyer uses a blatant (but inventive) bit of symbolic montage to suggest their sexual encounter, and ends on a nice note with the painting of the nude woman changing her frown to a smile.

As in all his work, Meyer is blatantly celebrating the positive aspects and joys of sex and all things erotic. But the problem is that most of Eve seems less focused on that eternal Meyerian theme than it is on its burlesque and unsuccessful comedy. Eve especially suffers from the same problem as Mr. Teas, and that’s the inability to find a charming and compelling lead that can match the ebullient spirit of Meyer himself. But while Mr. Teas was saved by the spirit that pervaded all aspects of Meyer’s creative input, Eve fails on those same levels, leaving us very little to enjoy either in front of the camera or behind it.

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About Jonathan Henderson
I'm a dedicated aesthete that's been fascinated with the arts since I was in my early teens. At 13 I saw my first foreign film, which ignited my passion for world cinema. I also discovered the enormous world of music out there and fell in love with everything from death metal to classical. My love for literature has especially grown in recent years, and I've taken up writing (and working really hard at) poetry. But over the past 12 years I've probably taken to film criticism more than anything, and seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion reignited my love for the arts (especially film) and took it to an even higher level. Now I write film reviews for two sites, including this one and Cinelogue. I play poker professionally, and while the world of arts and poker don't seem to converge much, I have taken the deductive and inductive logic that poker requires and attempted to apply it to all the arts as well as my criticism in an attempt to get past the jellybean syndrome ("I like blue jellybeans, you don't, and that's all we can say.").

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