Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Meyer Files #5: Lorna (1964)

Lorna was the film that proved that The Immoral Mr. Teas was not a one-off. Switching to black and white, adding a salacious storyline (with a moral ending to satisfy the censors) and lashings of violence, Meyer created the movie that inaugurated his 'roughie' phase, a period that would culminate in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Lorna also introduced the first of Meyer's Superwomen in the title character. The Meyer Superwoman is the thing that separates Meyer from other exploitation filmmakers of the same period, and explains why his audience continues to endure.

The Meyer Woman is a mythic creature -- her excessively voluptuous figure matched by an insatiable lust that she can never quench. If a lover cannot meet her needs, she will move on to find someone who can. In the early 60s, where discussions of sex were based around male desire, this was revolutionary, and remains key component of critical discussions of Meyer's work.

Generally, the men who can service the Superwoman's needs are as over-developed as she is, creating a parallel form of excessive machismo. Ultimately, the conflict of these movies is based on sexual dissatisfaction, and the movies end either with satisfaction being attained, or the character's destruction.

Let's jump into reviewing the movie proper.

The first thing that is interesting about Lorna is that while there is a story here, it is a bit odd. The first half feels like the set up to a particularly tawdry harlequin novel, or an episode of Desperate Housewives.

Lorna is a frustrated housewife with a milquetoast husband, Jim (James Rucker), who cannot satisfy her sexual needs. She is finally satisfied when a runaway convict (Mark Bradley) comes upon her while hubby is away at work. Finally charged up by her lover's hyper-masculinity, she takes him home to continue their affair. Meanwhile, Jim's degenerate 'friend' Luther (Hal Hopper) waits in the wings, salivating over the chance to steal Jim's wife for himself.

Luther needles James to prove his masculinity, leading to a final confrontation with the Convict in which both he and Lorna die. The movie ends with the hapless James crawling over his wife's body, pleading for her forgiveness. This scene is where Meyer's worldview becomes fully crystallised.

In Meyer's world, if you cannot satisfy your sexual partner, you are the one at fault -- hence Lorna's death is James's punishment for being a lousy lover. It's an insane ideology that forms the backbone of Meyer's 'roughies', and one which he would soon recognise the comic potential of in his post-'roughie' work.

While it is considerably better than Meyer's 'nudie cuties', this movie is a bit of a slog at first. The photography is very good, and occasionally quite atmospheric (the swampy locations certainly help). However, the pacing is too slow. Like the other early Meyer flicks, it takes a while to get going. It took Meyer quite a few films for him to figure out his signature editing style, and while there are some great visuals (particularly Lorna's dance against a backdrop of flashing neon), it lacks pizzazz.

On the acting front, lead Lorna Maitland is not much of an actress but she certainly fits the Meyer bill. The role does not require much, and she does as well as she can. She is more of a visual signifier than a character in her own right, and does not have the charisma or personality of later Meyer stars like Tura Satana and Erica Gavin.

The best part of the movie is the villain, Luther, played by Meyer favourite Hal Hopper. With his mean little eyes and toothy sneer, Hopper is gloriously hateful. Meyer clearly saw his potential as a heavy, and would build his next opus around his seedy malevolence.

Another player worth mentioning is Franklin Bolger, who essays the role of a nameless preacher who bookends the film with biblical moralising that frames the story as a morality play. While clearly an attempt to appease the censors of the day, Bolger's hilariously overblown sermons show that even at this point in his career, Meyer's sense of the absurd was already in place.

Lorna hit big on release, signalling that Russ Meyer was not a one-hit wonder and could make a proper narrative feature, an opinion that would be further validated by his next picture...

Russ Meyer will return with Mudhoney!

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

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