Plumber, The (1979)

“It’s what you can’t see that counts in plumbing; always remember that.”

Plumber Poster

Synopsis:
A working-class plumber (Ivar Kants) terrorizes the wife (Judy Morris) of an anthropologist (Robert Coleby).

Genres:

Review:
Made by writer-director Peter Weir for Australian television, this darkly humorous thriller is an unusual and strangely compelling treat. Judy Morris (as Jill) and Ivar Kants (as Max) are perfectly cast as opposites who immediately clash with one another when they’re forced into close proximity. Kants (effectively creepy) is deeply insecure about his working class background, and makes his scorn of intellectual Morris known immediately; after insinuating himself into her house (are there really plumbing problems in their pipes?), he proceeds to harass and mess with her, making snide comments about her lifestyle which she’s (initially) too polite to do anything about. It’s both ironic and strategic that Jill (a cultural anthropologist) is studying the “bizarre” cultural rituals of a Guinean tribe while simultaneously trying to deal with the equally inscrutable mystery of Max the Plumber. Will he harm her? Does he have ulterior motives? Or is Jill really going off the deep end? (Indeed, there’s a layer of feminist subtext to the plot, given that Jill has just recently chosen to give up her day job and stay at home.) Weir’s satirical brilliance lies in his ability to bring to the surface latent class tensions we’ve all felt at one time or another in our lives, as we’ve encountered people either more or less moneyed or educated than ourselves. Fortunately, he resists turning The Plumber into a traditional horror film, instead focusing on Jill’s increasingly paranoid reaction to Max, a feeling which no one around her — neither her distracted husband (Robert Coleby) nor her best friend (Candy Raymond) — seems to share. At just 77 minutes, The Plumber leaves you curious about its outcome until the very end; all film fanatics should check it out at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Judy Morris as Jill
    Plumber Morris
  • Ivar Kants as Max
    Plumber Kants
  • A humorously creepy screenplay
    Plumber Creepy
  • Rory O’Donoghue and Gerry Tolland’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a most effective and unconventional thriller. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation (I agree) in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Plumber, The (1979)”

  1. First viewing. I suppose I’m really flying in the face of things here but – not a must. Actually…a complete waste of time.

    It’s all well and good – and allowed – to look at ‘The Plumber’ from a completely different perspective – and, no doubt, value can be found from it that way.

    However, five minutes in, I couldn’t wait for the stupid, one-note thing to be over. Weir, of course, did what he could with the premise. It’s designed to be unsettling – we get that straight off (and Weir capitalizes on that angle). But (to me, anyway), it’s not unsettling for a satisfying purpose. It moves into merely dumb, then ridiculous, then annoying – then worse…ultimately pointless.

    There is, of course, the whole ‘class’ thing. Fine.

    But I take ‘The Plumber’ more on a surface plot level. I listened to what the characters were saying (so much of which goes nowhere) and watched how they were responding (ditto). And I just didn’t buy what was being played out realistically on a logical plane.

    By the film’s conclusion, I just felt empty and (appropriately?) drained.

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