A graduate of the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking, director Paul Bartel really hit his stride with 1975’s Death Race 2000, one of the greatest low-budget action movies ever. With a firm grasp of black humor, satire, and violence – and Cannonball! – under his belt, Bartel broke away from the famous producer and snuck off with writer Richard Blackburn. They emerged from their session with the script for Eating Raoul, a biting social satire about the American Dream that’s filled to the brim with great one liners and really memorable situational comedy.
Wine connoisseur Paul Bland (Bartel) and his wife Mary (Woronov) are stuck in their lower middle class existence, always managing to stay afloat but never getting much else accomplished. Their goal to open a restaurant is put on hold when Paul loses his job and the couple’s rent is raised. To make matters worse, swingers are taking over their complex and the property for their quaint country kitchen is about to slip through their fingers!
When a swinger breaks into their apartment and tries to rape Mary, Paul beats him over the head with a frying pan and kills him. Before dumping the derelict into the trash compactor, the couple finds a nice chunk of change in his wallet and a light bulb goes off! With the help of Doris the Dominatrix, Paul and Mary place an ad for their non-existent services in the local “adult” paper in the hopes of luring scumbags to their apartment so they can knock them off and take their money. Business is booming until Raoul (Robert Beltran), a con artist, picks up on their scheme and cuts himself in on the action.
With a title like Eating Raoul, it’s kind of hard not to guess where Bartel is going with his riff on capitalism and sex, but the sometimes predictable nature of the film doesn’t hold it back in the slightest. Aside from the fact that the film is incredibly funny and intelligent, it works really well for two reasons. The first is that the while most screenwriters would create a grey area with the subject matter, Bartel and Blackburn smartly never put the couple’s morals into questions. The film only presents the swingers from Paul and Mary’s perspective so in the context of the film, the clients are definitively evil. By not tackling the most obvious theme, the script gives the love triangle between the three main characters room to breathe, and allows the situations and bizarre characters – like Ed Begley Jr. as a hippie – to have a bigger impact. Bartel and Woronov’s chemistry is the other driving force behind the film’s appeal, which is so believable that a lot of people assumed they were an actual couple.
Once again, Criterion has created a stunning transfer that has absolutely zero problems whatsoever. Granted, Eating Raoul is a low-budget movie so it wasn’t shot under the greatest conditions with the greatest equipment, it still looks way better than it should. In particular, the color stands out as a highlight, and there’s a lot of variation in the black levels. The LPCM 1.0 track, though clear and without any major issues, is a bit of a letdown due to it not really having a lot of punch. There aren’t any wild action scenes or giant screaming matches in the film; the issue is more that it just seems kind of flat, even when taking its age into consideration.
Commentary – Screenwriter Richard Blackburn, production Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan cover a variety of topics, with each person talking focusing on their work in the film. They talk a lot about Paul Bartel, who is sadly no longer with us, and point out some really fun tidbits about the film, like the cameos by John Landis and Joe Dante. Everyone seems like they’re having a good time, making it an extremely fun and informative track.
The Secret Cinema (27:12) – Bartel started his career with this short about a secretary who becomes slowly becomes aware that her calamitous life is being filmed and shown in a local theatre – think Truman Show. Almost twenty years later, he was able to remake it as an Amazing Stories episode!
Naughty Nurses (8:56) – Bartel’s second short, about a kinky nurse, isn’t nearly as creative or entertaining as his first, but it is an interesting precursor to several of Eating Raoul’s motifs.
Cooking Up Raoul (24:27) – A collection of interviews with Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg that narratively go over the making of the film, including on-set stories, thoughts on the themes and finished product, and how they got involved. For what it is, it’s a surprisingly satisfying account of the genesis and production of the film.
Gag Reel (5:46) – Presented to Bartel for his 60th birthday by editor Alan Toomayan, this gag reel is exactly what you expect it to be: just a bunch of line flubs and improvisations gone wrong. Nothing particularly impressive, but there is something magical about watching Don Steele ramble.
Archival Interview (21:14) – An interview from 1982 featuring Woronov and Bartel. Woronov takes a backseat to the director, who talks about the film’s influences ( The Ladykillers, for one), how it got financed, his other films, and Roger Corman.