Reviews

Russ Meyer

USA, 1964

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 26 August 2008

Source RM Films International DVD

Categories Bosomania!: The Sex, the Violence, and the Vocabulary of Russ Meyer

Our point of view throttles down a desert highway and comes upon a man clad entirely in black, his overcoat swaggering in the breeze. He raises his hand to halt us, and begins professing:

Do you know where this road leads? Then hear this, all ye people: give ear! All ye inhabitants of the world, both high and low, rich and poor together. Do you indeed speak righteousness? Do you judge uprightly, all ye sons and daughters of men? Or do you do unto others as they do unto you? And do you judge as others judge? Then woe to the hypocrites! Thy form is fair to look upon but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead men’s bones. And as you judge, you shall be judged! And if you condemn, you are condemned! Then who will rise up with me against the evil-doers? Who will stand up with me against the workers of iniquity? Death. Then, pass on. But there is no return!

We proceed to move past him, an upright bass reprising the jazz groove, into a small, nearly vacant Californian town. Herein, the evil-doers the street preacher speaks of are manifested in two local townsmen who come upon a beautiful and unprotected specimen of the opposite sex—her name is Ruthie, she is quite visibly snockered, and they follow her determinedly to her house where one of the men attempts to rape her. These are all minor characters in Lorna, and this scene delays the title credits for some ten minutes, but this scenario is effective in demonstrating the clear moral trajectory that architects the remainder of the film: poor judgment is inherent in most every man and woman, and it always results in ills that repressively affect the whole of a community.

Seldom, if ever, is a Russ Meyer film about a community, and the term here (and in other Meyer films) refers not to a group of people in the sense of summary, but rather to a hierarchy stemming from a woman. Here, that woman is Lorna Maitland (who will subsequently star in Meyer’s next film, Mudhoney). She is of extraordinary proportion and humility—more significantly, she is one of apparently two beautiful women in a town populated by only a handful of people, each of them lustful, oblivious, or bored.

Lorna is here a newlywed, and we are introduced to she and her naïve but good-hearted husband, Jim, one moonlit evening. He is honest but slow, inevitably incapable of satisfying Lorna’s ample sexual appetite. The next morning, Lorna stays in bed, dissatisfied again, refusing to prepare her husband’s breakfast or lunch, and lies staring at nothing, a prisoner in a land of no opportunity and no inspiration. When she finally lumbers out of bed, she repairs to an afternoon of skinny-dipping, which is presumably a regular hobby.

In this summary of Lorna’s dissatisfaction we see the only depiction of her true desires: as she stands afore her bedroom window in the middle of the night, Jim conked out in bed, she first recalls her wedding day exactly a year prior (in a customary Meyer montage) and then considers how such an intense promise of happiness has so depleted in the months past. She envisions a locale comprehensively discrepant from the one she inhabits: an urban street and alleyways seen at night, animated signs bathing the littered pavements in flashes of neon. She is dancing excitedly in her dream, and – in the only instance in the film – smiling. This ideal of happiness is easy for the viewer to demean – Lorna is essentially imagining a Las Vegas comprised exclusively of go-go bars – but it is important to note, given the narrative conclusion, how responsibly sensitive Meyer is to his protagonist’s desires, despite their cartoonishness.

Lorna was the first entry in what Russ Meyer deemed his Gothic period, which is characterized by stark black and white photography and highly fatalistic premises—the Grim Reaper, even, is summoned by the end. The women remain as empowered here as they are in his other films, but their beauty is not an heroic asset; rather, beauty is a catalyst for hubris and selfishness. These films generally concern violence and moral retribution, but it is the women who are often the casualties, maritally and otherwise.

After her afternoon skinny-dipping, Lorna is found and raped in quick succession by an escaped convict, whose escape is depicted in yet another of Meyer’s economic montages. This rape – this opportunity for a man to domineer his will as Lorna would upon a man of greater carnality than her husband – is precisely what Lorna wants: boldness, satisfaction, passion. Literally ten minutes later, she is in her best summer dress, jogging excitedly into town to buy her new beau groceries. Lorna is liberated, but her virtue as a wife is compromised, and she will fail to kick her newfound lover out of bed before her husband returns home from work.

Rape here signifies Lorna’s liberation, but it is also the greatest injustice a human being may inflict upon another in a Russ Meyer film: the undermining of marital vows. The esteem with which Meyer observes the principles of marriage is peculiar to me, because it feels contrary to his motions toward sexual liberation. These two tenets are in conflict in Lorna because they may not agreeably inhabit the same community, and this conflict results in a violent climax that is doubly a conclusion to the film’s hostile and religious observance of morality. The good aren’t necessarily rewarded, but the bad are punished with determination.

The opening prophecy proves true, so Lorna is in effect a parable of the benefit of righteousness and the ills of hypocrisy. But it’s also a skin flick, albeit a chaste one despite its advertising (like each one of Meyer’s films, Lorna’s VHS sleeve copy is craftily misleading, and its X rating bogus). The film is ultimately a seventy-eight minute contradiction, an entertainment designed to arouse, and yet one intent to condemn that very response.

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