A Real Hero – Russ Meyer’s ‘Eve and The Handyman’ (1960)

3 Jul

Eve and The Handyman isn’t the most exceptional film in Russ Meyer’s catalogue but it stars one of his all time greatest finds; his second wife Eve Meyer. Eve had the looks and the attitude to hold her own and it’s an undeniable shame that Handyman is the only film that Mr Meyer made with his wife in an acting role. But let us rejoice that this fun little romp was made at all, the tale of a hard-working handyman being followed by a mysterious woman on a mission.

In 1959, Russ Meyer had already broken new ground in film with his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, the film which invented and kickstarted the sexploitation genre. Teas proved popular and was a big success, showing the world that whatever experience Meyer had gained behind the camera during his photography career was experience that transcended well onto moving image. Not just a successful pin-up photographer, Meyer knew he could become a successful filmmaker (indeed one of the most successful independent American filmmakers of all time), only there was one problem. He’d upset his wife Eve by neglecting her during the production of Teas. As a duo, they were a formidable force in the cheesecake photography business, Mr. Meyer the talented photographer and Mrs. Meyer the beautiful Playboy centrefold. Meyer’s answer? Eve and The Handyman, with his wife in the lead role.

Eve, as beautiful as she always was, plays a woman spying on a hapless handyman as he tries to get on with his days work. Kitted out in a trench coat and beret, Eve follows the handyman, taking notes and trying to get his attention (stripping to hitch a lift being a good attention seeking attempt). Similarly to Teas,  comedic encounters ensue (lets not forget that although Russ Meyer may have had his own unique brand of humour, he certainly knew how to milk it and use it to his advantage, with this film sowing the seeds that would eventually grow into the humour of 1962’s Wild Gals of the Naked West) until we reach the revealing, if not slightly underwhelming, closing climax. Just like other filmmakers at the time, Meyer was copying the format he had previously created with Teas, and for the first time introduces his idea of women as being sexually active as opposed to the passive model that had been widely portrayed. In this instance, roles are reversed and Eve becomes the voyeur with the handyman in the objectified role.

The film is all about Eve and she owns the screen time she is given. Yes, there are other voluptuous women (briefly) in the feature but they don’t have the sassy attitude that Eve possessed. An incredibly bright woman, Eve knew how to wrap people around her finger, using all her charms to her full advantage and every time she appears on-screen she lights up the shot. By this point in time a professional photographer, Eve’s composure in her different roles is something few other of Russ Meyer’s leading ladies managed to possess. Simply put, Russ knew how to photograph Eve and Eve knew how to move for the camera. As a moving image pictorial, this is one of the best examples of Eve’s work. It is such a shame that after the film was completed and distributed she decided to stay behind the camera for the rest of her working relationship with Russ. Not that that was a bad thing, a natural business woman, Eve became an important producer on a number of Russ’s features and financially pulled some of them from the brink of being no more. Aside from a war picture, Operation Dames, filmed the year before (Eve and The Handyman was shot in 1960 and released in 1961), Eve Meyer only made two films in a leading role, a number that should be a little higher.

And let’s not forget the Handyman himself, Anthony James Ryan. Ryan was another combat photographer that Meyer had met during the War and the two became very good friends in the years after, a loyal friendship that lasted right up until Meyer’s death. Russ was very fond of the Handyman character, one might argue a step up from the somewhat female-phobic Mr. Teas (the two characters are essentially the ying and yang of each other), and one that Meyer liked to resurrect now and then, even cropping up (sadly) in his last feature Pandora Peaks. The handyman was ironically a role that Ryan would end up playing throughout the directors life, looking after him throughout the years, producing and funding some of his projects and even finishing Pandora Peaks when Meyer became too ill to complete it himself.

Premiering at the Paris Theater in Los Angeles on May 5th 1961, Eve and The Handyman was another success for Russ Meyer. Playing on the handyman role, the first ten thousand customers were promised a free plunger and members of the plumbers’ union got in for free. What was an incredibly small production for Meyer reunited him with his previous producer Pete DeCenzie, who had left Russ and Eve to go it alone. With DeCenzie back on board, that year Meyer went on to shoot and release Erotica (out of circulation since release and now presumed lost) whilst Eve began to take a behind the scenes role. Sadly in 1977, Eve was involved in one of the worst disasters in aviation history, the Tenerife Airport disaster in which two airplanes crashed, and died. Eve and The Handyman is, and remains, a testament to their relationship and working partnership.

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