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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Paul Bartel | Eating Raoul


swinging at the swingers
by Douglas Messerli

Richard Blackburn and Paul Bartel (screenplay), Paul Bartel (director) Eating Raoul  / 1982

Mr. and Mrs. Bland (Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel) is a perfectly happy couple living in a TV-version world of 1950s in an appropriately bland apartment, decked-out with Paul’s mother’s 1950s plates, lamps and other accessories, double-beds with matching bedspreads and matching pajamas. The couple has equally bland dreams of opening a restaurant to be called Chez Bland or Paul & Mary’s Country Kitchen.

      The only trouble is that they are living in the hubristic, self-centered culture of Los Angeles of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when booze, swinging sex, and cocaine were served up at nearly every celebratory event. The long-legged, statuesque Mary is sexually accosted not only by the patients she is nursing, but by the bank manager, Mr. Leech (Buck Henry), from whom she attempts to get a loan. Paul is ogled by a buxom woman customer in the liquor store where he works. Even taking down the garbage is an ordeal, as Paul is pulled into a party where Doris the Dominatrix (Susan Saiger) immediately attempts to whip him into submission. Swingers  pour into their apartment building, seeking out parties, while the clean-living Blands have, as the film begins, recently had their credit cards cancelled; Paul has just lost his job for ordering a case of Château Lafite Rothschild and refusing to sell his customers the rotgot featured by his boss. Although Mary, in particular, attempts to maintain her natural good spirits, both realize that life doesn’t seem to be fair. All the swingers seem to have wads of cash.

       A space just perfect their restaurant has just been discovered by their real estate agent James, who’s about to join them for dinner, but how are they going to pay for it in the two weeks they’ve been given to raise the cash? As if this weren’t enough, a drunken swinger forces open their apartment door and attempts to rape Mary. When Paul slugs him in the stomach, he retches all over their bland shag rug, in response to which Mary joyfully sprays the entire room with a fragrant carpet deodorant.  
      After pulling him off to the bathroom, the drunken delinquent appears to drown himself in the bathroom toilet, only, soon after, to revive and, once again, try to rape poor Mary. What is the accosted couple supposed to do? The quick-thinking Paul picks up their ready frying pan and hits the man over the head, this time truly doing him in. In his billfold they discover several hundred dollars, money which will certainly go well toward that down payment for the restaurant location. With their guest at the door, the couple throws the body into a garbage bag and, after the agent leaves, tosses the intruder into the apartment garbage compactor. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? And Los Angeles now has one less “pervert.”
      Bartel’s dark comedy is so very funny because, even though the Blands are imaginatively living in another era, they are as blinded by selfish motives and are just as violent as the world in which they actually live; in short, they are Americans. Like the batty sisters who kindly poison the lonely men they encounter in the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, the Blands quickly decide to become serial killers with all the good intentions of societal redeemers.

      Putting an ad in a local newspaper read by all the swingers, they promise to play any fetish or sexual scenario imaginable, and part of the fun in this world of upside-down morality is the fantasies they are forced to play out: a Nazi camp matron (after that “fantasist’s” death, Mary quips “Why don’t you go to bed, honey. I’ll bag the Nazi and straighten things up around here.”), a hippie chick, and a maniacal nurse. As David Ehrenstein, writing in the DVD accompanying flyer, describes one of Woronov’s best scenes, “…in a Minnie Mouse-like outfit and having served up the latest sex maniac to Paul’s trusty frying pan, she sits down, exhausted, in a  chair and complains about the heat—as if she were a typical wife finding it hard to unwind after a long, hard day.” But now, little by little, the money comes in, as they work, like any ordinary couple, to obtain their American Dream.
     The only trouble they encounter comes in the form of a handsome Chicano locksmith, the Raoul of the film’s title (played by Zoot Suit star Robert Beltran). Raoul, while attempting to rob the couple, discovers their secrets, and offers to help them by disposing their victims’ bodies, selling the dead men’s clothes, rings, hats and other accessories, and rendering up their “meat” as dog food. He shares some of the profits with the couple; but what he doesn’t tell them is that he also tracks down the victims’ cars, selling them at a huge profit.

      Such a symbiotic relationship might have worked, nonetheless, had Raoul not determined to also collect further payment in the form of sex with Mary. Plying her with drugs, he awakens her not so very deeply buried libido, resulting in her secret entry into the very world she and her husband are trying to cleanse. After blackmailing her into a deeper relationship, Paul begins to suspect, following their collaborator, only to discover what he’s been doing with the bodies, etc. 
       Desperate to raise enough for their final down-payment, the couple determine to attend a swingers party themselves, where Mary, once again, encounters the sex-obsessed banker; when he tries to force himself upon her, she is forced to kill him and toss out a bathroom window. And when they attempt to retrieve the body, the entire naked group, having jumped en masse into a  hot tub, demand they join them. A nearby space heater, which Paul lobs into the tub, results in a mass murder of the gyrating orgy-participants. This time, they themselves sell the wealthy partygoers cars!
      Hearing of their new-found success, Raoul goes in for the kill, determining to take Paul out of the triangle. The film’s title says everything; the trusty flying pan is swung once again, as the Blands sit down to dinner, for a final meal with their real estate agent, who comments how tasty Mary’s new dish is. This time they can pay him for the restaurant. And we are left wondering whether the new dish, à la Sweeney Todd, has actually made it onto their menu.

Los Angeles, January 20, 2016

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