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.
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.
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