11/4/09

The Plumber (1979): Peter Weir's Film Will Rattle Your Pipes

Hello, folks. As you may have noticed, it’s Wednesday, and there’s no Mr. Hitchcock to be found. Well, I’m giving Hitch a little rest to make way for a returning segment. I buy a lot of video tape. In no way could anyone ever describe me as a format snob. I’ll take films any way I can get them. So anytime I’m at a flea market or thrift store, I’m always on the prowl for the box of VHS castaways. Usually it's nothing more than instructional videos, kids movies, or unlabeled generic tapes whose contents tend to scare me away, but every once and a while you can dig up a gem. With so many piling up, I thought it was high time I brought back a short-lived segment I like to call It Came from Video Tape. Each week please check out my Wednesday review for a title culled straight from the days where VHS ruled and Betamax drooled. Without further ado, let’s get into tonight’s selection, Peter Weir’s The Plumber.

After 1982 and his film The Year of Living Dangerously, Peter Weir became established as a skilled filmmaker. He would go on to high profile projects like Witness with Harrison Ford, Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams, and The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. Before his Hollywood career took off, Peter was part of the new wave of Australian filmmakers, and two of his films from this period, The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) rank among my favorites. When I uncovered The Plumber in a local used CD store, I snatched it up. I wondered why it hadn’t ever come up on my radar, but this film had kind of an odd past as I found out.

Weir’s film premiered at the Sydney film festival on July 19th 1979, and the next day it was shown on TV across all of Australia. By 1981, it got a limited release in the United States, and good old Media Home Entertainment released the tape I watched in 1984. For the film, Weir assembled a cast comprised of actors recognized for their work in Australian soap operas, and with a script inspired by friend’s story about an obnoxious plumber, the director crafted a film that bent the thriller genre back onto itself.

The titular Plumber, Max (Ivar Kants) arrives unexpectedly at the new home of anthropologist Jill Cowpor (Judy Morris) and her husband Brian (Robert Coleby). Max claims there is something wrong with the pipes, and after he helps himself to a shower, tells Jill that her house has some serious problems. Max’s repairs go on for days, and the plumber begins to make himself more and more at home. By the time that Max is bringing in his guitar to sing songs to Jill when he should be working, she starts getting really freaked out. Her husband, a doctor, is more worried about their impending visit from an official from the World Health Organization.

If a guy like Max ever showed up at my door, there is no way he’d be getting into my house. Ivar Kants looked like a cross between David Hess and Abbie Hoffman, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to get into a political discussion with the guy, I mean he wears a jacket that says on the back “Liberals = Less Tax”. I don’t even want to think about trying to figure out what would mean in late ‘70’s Australian politics. Luckily I don’t have to, I can just tell you about Kants’ performance. His oddball Plumber by day / a folk singer by night has to be the most threatening tunesmith that I’ve ever seen, and discovering if Jill is in danger from him is quite an interesting ride. Kants is definitely a performer that I would keep my eye out for in other titles, but from a look at his résumé, the bulk of his work after this film was still in Aussie TV.

Judy Morris, who played Jill, has a similar career path to Kants, but she had the distinction of also appearing in the Aus-ploitation killer pig classic Razorback (1984), Morris is really the heart of this film, and her experience with the maniacal plumber would be enough to freak anyone out. Weir’s film paints Jill and her husband Brian as out of touch intellectuals, more on tune with ancient times and rare fertility rights. Both Morris and Robert Coleby, who played Brian, nail this part of their character. Coleby does manage to make his performance as a tertiary character known with some of the film’s broader comedic moments.

On the whole, The Plumber plays out like a dark comedy, and I can see why others have drawn a comparison to Jim Carrey’s film, The Cable Guy. However, unlike the latter film that features Weir’s future star, The Plumber was much more entertaining to me. The Cable Guy’s humor was much more over the top where The Plumber was a more subdued film. I don’t think I’ve seen another film where one of the tense scenes revolved around the threat of eating a piece of cake. Everything down to the pipe organ laced soundtrack plays on the conventions of the genre, and the cinematography by David Sanderson, an alum of the camera department on Hanging Rock, suits the film’s tone as well.

If you’re looking for a film that contains horror, blood, guts, and gore, then The Plumber is not what you’re looking for. This is, after all, a film released to Australian TV. It has some great strange moments, and if you like Bob Dylan at all when The Plumber starts singing his new song “I’m Me, Babe” there’s more than a few chuckles to be had. If you’re a fan of the stalker or thriller genre, then I definitely recommend you checking it out. It’s currently out of print in the states, so keep an eye out in those video dump bins and you might just find a gem that came from video tape.

Bugg Rating

2 comments:

  1. I remember seeing The Plumber on video store shelves back in the day and not giving it a second thought, but your review and the trailer have me intrigued. Nice find, Bugg.

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  2. The Plumber (1979): Peter Weir's Film Will Rattle Your Pipes

    Thanks for sharing

    ReplyDelete

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