Written by: Christopher O’Neill on July 22nd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, June, 1978
Director: Stanley Long
Writers: Stephen D. Frances & Aubrey Cash (and Stanley Long – uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Neil, Stephen Lewis, Arthur Mullard, William Rushton, Elaine Paige
DVD released: June 2nd, 2008
Approximate running time: 85 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Icon Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99 (as part of the ADVENTURES box set)
Synopsis: Times are hard for plumber Sid South. Up to his neck in bills, facing eviction from his home and in debt to a violent bookie, he desperately needs to raise some funds or else Sid will be a broken man – literally, as there are two thugs ready to break every bone in his body unless he hands over the cash he owes their boss. He doesn’t help that Sid never seems to get paid for any of the work he does, as his occupation lands him in a variety of risqué situations which always end of disaster. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and the browbeaten plumber seeks employment from Dodger, a shady wheeler-dealer who can put some dubious work Sid’s way. But, as always, things never seem to go exactly to plan and the beguiled plumber finds himself in further strife.
Of all three installments of Stanley Long’s ADVENTURES series, the most unusual has to be the final film, ADVENTURES OF A PLUMBER’S MATE. Whereas TAXI DRIVER and PRIVATE EYE possessed an easy-going, good-natured sense of fun, PLUMBER’S MATE has a decidedly despairing, mean-spirited desperation that sits uncomfortably alongside the earlier entries. According to Long, the film suffered several problems during the various stages of production, and one gets the impression that the filmmaker, with his back against the wall, had to do his best under the circumstances. This, however, is not to say that PLUMBER’S MATE is necessarily the worst film of the series, but simply a very different one.
Long claims in the audio commentary that Stephen D. Frances’ original screenplay was dated and unusable, and despite numerous revisions, the writer failed to deliver a workable script, leaving the filmmaker himself to fix it up and add some comedy. While Long as a director had a laid back nature that suitably nurtured his comic actors and the material, his screenwriting skills were less proficient. Punctuated throughout the film are several moments of sexual high jinks and toilet humor that seemed shoehorned into the enterprise out of desperation. One character is called “Crapper” is simply childish, the scene involving a cat stuck under a bed while a couple have sex is bizarre, and the final gag with a mechanical drain cleaner is a stand-out low point for the entire series.
While the earlier ADVENTURES films featured minor criminal elements in the plot (the jewel robbery in TAXI DRIVER, the blackmail plot in PRIVATE EYE), PLUMBER’S MATE is rife with each fixtures. There are debt collectors acting with extreme menace (at one stage Sid visits a friend in hospital who also owed them money), an attempted robbery of a jewelers, and a subplot involving Sid accidentally losing a toilet seat which turns out to be made of melted-down gold from a robbery. Leon Greene gives a threatening performance as the ex-convict wanting the toilet seat back, and the scene in which he slaps around his wife (Prudence Drage) is, although brief, particularly unpleasant.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these uneven factors, PLUMBER’S MATE is essential viewing for anyone interested in British B-movie cinema. The film plays as a highbred throwback to the seedy, small-time crime thrillers of the 50s and the cheeky, light-hearted sex comedies of the 70s. As uncertain as it is in tone, the narrative holds together surprisingly well thanks to Long’s confident handling of the material. As he demonstrated in the earlier films, the director’s low-key use of London locations that are not only atmospheric, and also a priceless illustration of the city during the seventies.
Christopher Neil returns as the lead character who, in striking contrast to his previous role in PRIVATE EYE, is less a naïve well-meaner than a miserable no-hoper with contempt for women (“I’ve seen some dizzy birds in my time but you take the biscuit…get you’re arse out of that bed!”). It is to Neil’s credit that, despite the harsh qualities of his character, he delivers another likable performance and one feels genuine empathy for Sid’s situation due to the actor. PLUMBER’S MATE was to be Neil’s final film appearance as he retired from acting to follow has career as a music producer, working with such artists as Sheena Easton, Cher and Celine Dion.
Several actors who appeared in the other ADVENTURES films offer solid support, including Stephen Lewis, Anna Quayle and Prudence Drage, while Willy Rushton’s performance as Dodger, the wheeler-dealer Sid turns to out of desperation, is a highlight. Arthur Mullard, Christopher Biggins and future EVITA star Elaine Paige also turn up in the cast. The British sex comedy regulars Suzy Mandel, Vicki Scott, Pat Astley and Linda Benson disrobe for the film’s saucier scenes.
Icon Entertainment has released the ADVENTURES series together in a box set, and all three films have been digitally remastered to stunning quality. As with PRIVATE EYE, PLUMBER’S MATE looks incredible. With minimal grain, the image is sharp, without a speck of dirt; print damage or even cigarette burns to indicate reel changes, suggesting that the original negative was used. It is correctly letterboxed at the theatrical ratio of 1:85:1 and anamorphic enhanced, looking better balanced than the open-matte transfers which were released on video and shown on Satellite TV in the UK.
Audio quality is equally pleasing, with the mono sound spruced up and sounding clean in Dolby Digital. Dialogue is clear and free of hiss, while the film benefits from having a full music score by Christopher Neil, rather than the library tracks culled from De Wolfe as in the earlier installments.
Each of the discs contains an audio commentary with director Long. Since the production of PLUMBER’S MATE was rife with problems at various stages, the commentary makes for fascinating listening as Long discusses script issues, casting problems (Rushton’s last-minute casting to replace an inebriated Jimmy Edwards is particularly tragic) and the legal action threatened by Paige’s solicitors that prevented the use of her name on any advertising. Despite such disastrous stories, Long is good-natured and often amusing in his antidotes, particularly when recalling the advice he gave Jan Manthey (director of the amusing spoof short THE ADVENTURES OF A PLUMBER IN OUTER SPACE) in regards to sticking a plunger to a lady’s rear-end. There are a few factual errors (several dates are completely wrong), and a few dead spots here and there. It would have been nice if Simon Sheridan, co-author of Long’s biography X-RATED: ADVENTURES OF AN EXPLOITATION FILM MAKER, could have moderated the commentary, but it is still a worthwhile and enjoyable listen.
There is an image gallery consisting of production photos and some poster images, which can be navigated from the remote control, and trailers for all three ADVENTURES films. Presented fullscreen, the quality is not as good as the main feature and seem to have been masters from the same materials used for the UK video releases from over 20 years ago (the PRIVATE EYE trailer opens with the Stablelane video logo, who published all three films in 1986). That said, they have been cleaned up as much as possible and are perfectly acceptable. The review discs did not include the final packaging, although I believe Simon Sheridan contributed to a 16-page booklet about the series and postcards representing each film’s original theatrical poster should also be included.
ADVENTURES OF A PLUMBER’S MATE may be the most uneven entry of the series but nonetheless is given an excellent DVD release in this box set.