Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Meyer Files #6: Mudhoney (1965)

As far as title/tagline combos go, it does not get much better than this: "Mudhoney... leaves a taste of Evil!"

Mudhoney is a major step up from Meyer's previous work. The photography and editing are terrific, the acting is better, and, most importantly, there is an actual script here for everyone to work with.

The story is fairly simple: It's the Great Depression. A young ex-con named Calif (John Furlong) is on his from Michigan to California. Stopping off in the country town of Spooner, he gets a job working for kindly farmer Lute (Stuart Lancaster) and his niece Hannah (Antoinette Christiani). This also puts him in the sights of her degenerate husband Sidney Brenshaw (Hall Hopper), a violent drunk who runs the small town like a two-bit tyrant.

While it features a strong roster of Meyer babes and perennial oddball Princess Livingston, this is Hal Hopper's movie.

Fresh off his scene-stealing role in Lorna, Hopper stars as Sidney Brenshaw, the scourge of the Depression-era farming community. The first great character in the Meyer rogues gallery, Brenshaw sets the template for all the sexually demented freaks who would terrorise Meyer's heroines in the future.

Boiling over with rage and lust, Hopper's performance defines Mudhoney, a dark melodrama populated with two-faced characters filled with hate and fear.

The supporting cast is made up of Meyer regulars. Following a similar character in Lorna, Franklin Bolger returns to play an expanded part as brother Hansen, a fire and brimstone preacher who Sidney uses to turn the town against Calif. One of the more demented residents is played by bug-eyed Mickey Foxx, who would go on to play similar roles in other Meyer flicks. Princess Livingston, accompanied by her diabolical cackle, gets a great supporting role as a deranged country madam.

Lorna Maitland returns for a brief role as the madam's lusty daughter Clarabelle, but her limited charms are eclipsed by Rena Horten as her deaf mute sister Eula -- she is a rare ray of sunshine in this grim, unhappy place.
Lancaster in his most famous role, the Old Man from Faster, Pussycat!
The most important member of the cast, and an iconic face in the Meyer canon, would turn out to be Stuart Lancaster as kindly farmer Lute. He (and Lute) would return to grace several Meyer films with his bland, mid-western charisma. In his book, Jimmy McDonough describes Lancaster as a 'middle aged everyman with an insurance salesman's self-satisfied smile' who 'functions as the cosmic guide for Meyer's sex-industrial universe...' You could say that Lancaster is the most bland of Meyer's stock company, yet that quality often makes him stand out as the most uncanny character onscreen.

Mudhoney ends with one of the darkest endings of Meyer's career. Brenshaw uses his influence and Brother Hansen's Old Testament style to turn the townsfolk into a bloodthirsty mob. However, his newfound religion does not cure his destructive ways -- the mob winds up hanging him in the middle of town after he rapes and murders Hansen's sister.

With that finish, Mudhoney is easily the darkest film Meyer ever made. Even Pussycat, which is stepped in some pretty disturbing ideas, has moments of levity to offer the viewer a respite from the misery. Mudhoney has none. It's the most mature take on Meyer's world view, and while it is dark, it is electric to watch. Dark, yes, but a truly impactful, exceptional piece of work.

While Lorna was a bigger hit and is often cited as being responsible for Meyer's shift into narrative cinema, Mudhoney is the more fully realised work. It was the first movie to really show what Meyer could do with a decent story and cast. From here on in, the sky was the limit.

Russ Meyer will return with Motorpsycho!

For previous entries...

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

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