Thursday, 17 May 2018

Review #1,338: 'Mudhoney' (1965)

Russ Meyer's keen eye for satire is in full swing in Mudhoney, one of the cult filmmaker's best films, as he explores the extremities on both sides of a topic he spent most of his career pondering and exploiting. Set in the one-horse town of Spooner, Missouri during the Great Depression, its inhabitants seem to spend their time between either a farm owned by kind and respectable old man Lute Wade (Stuart Lancaster) and the local brothel ran by a toothless, moonshine-brewing madame who "ain't turned a trick in fifteen years." Mudhoney bears comparison with Meyer's Lorna, made just the year before, in the way it explores themes of sexuality in an unconventional, and perhaps controversial, manner. Both films also starred Meyer favourite Lorna Maitland.

While making the journey from Michigan to California in search of work, drifter and ex-jailbird Calif McKinney (John Furlong) is approached by Eula (Rena Horten), a buxom deaf-mute girl who takes an immediate liking to the handsome young man. It is suggested Calif travels to Wade's farm to seek out a job, and seeing the ex-con's genuine desire to turn his life around, the old man employs him as an extra hand to help out around the place. Calif also meets Wade's niece Hannah (Antoinette Cristiani) and almost instantly falls in love with her. Hannah is beautiful and kind, but also emotionally beaten down by her monstrous husband and town drunk Sidney Brenshaw (Hal Hopper), who fills his time at the local brothel swigging corn-liquor, when he isn't harassing the town's female occupants with his lecherous behaviour.

Sidney is central to the film's concerns. Dressed in a dirty old suit and cowboy hat, licking his thin lips as he arrives home drunk to rape his poor wife, he is borderline comical in his monstrosity, and Hopper is fantastic in the role. His two stomping grounds - the dingy brothel and the farm he calls home - are two sides of the same coin. One represents sexual freedom, a place a man can get his rocks off without fear of judgement, and the other a breeding ground for violence, born out of Sidney's lust to gratify all of his sexual desires and prove his manhood. The town, which has little to no law and order, shows the risks of unchecked human behaviour. It ends with a lynching, and although there's no suggestion of racial tension, Mudhoney captures how resentment and anger can grow out of loneliness, resentment and sheer boredom, where one angry word from a man in a position of authority can quickly turn into a lynch mob. It's perhaps Meyer's most interesting work and, thanks mainly to Hopper, one of his most entertaining.

Directed by: Russ Meyer
Starring: Hal Hopper, Antoinette Cristiani, John Furlong, Princess Livingston, Stuart Lancaster, Rena Horten, Lorna Maitland
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Mudhoney (1965) on IMDb

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