Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mudhoney

Directed by Russ Meyer.
1962. Not Rated, 92 minutes.

Cast:
Hal Hopper
Antoinette Cristiani
John Furlong
Frank Bolger
Lorna Maitland
Rena Horten
Princess Livingston
Sam Hanna
Stuart Lancaster
Nick Wolcuff
Lee Ballard


Often, a movie is only as good as its villain. Mudhoney has a very good villain. His name is Sidney (Hopper). He’s a mean drunk that gets into fights at the local whorehouse whenever they refuse to give him freebies. After all, he is a loyal customer. Eventually, he staggers home, smacks around his wife, Hannah (Cristiani), and even rapes her. Against her father’s wishes, she stays with him, clinging to memories from when he was a better man. Sidney, on the other hand, is only hanging around because he, through Hannah, will inherit the farm they live on once his sickly father-in-law, Lute (Lancaster), kicks the bucket. He intends to sell it for all he can as soon as the old man’s body goes cold.

Since Sidney is no help with the upkeep, Hannah and her dad hire Calif (Furlong) as a live-in farmhand. Lute doesn’t want to hire him, mostly because of possible friction with Sidney. However, he likes Calif even though he’s picked up on the fact that the young man is fresh out of prison. It also becomes clear pretty quickly that Calif and Hannah have the hots for one another. They both respect her vows, but Sidney senses their obvious attraction. He takes every opportunity to antagonize Calif and remind him that Hanna is his woman.

Knowing this is a Russ Meyer film, I was ill-prepared for what I saw. I thought I was going to see a campy exploitation flick with outlandish scenes played for laughs and filled with large-breasted women badly reading sexually suggestive dialogue. That’s the director’s M.O. as I’ve encountered it. Instead, I saw a thoughtful, solidly directed morality tale that may have been ahead of its time. In other words, this is a genuinely intriguing movie.



I have to be completely honest, though. Mudhoney does have plenty of the elements I expected to get. Almost all of them involve the whorehouse, run by Maggie Marie (Livingston). Her only two workers are her daughters Clara Belle (Maitland), who talks a lot and Eula (Horten), who is ridiculously gorgeous but literally can’t talk at all. They don’t really add anything to the story. Their main function is to kick Sidney out when he gets too rowdy, provide us with a physical embodiment of his evil side and give us gratuitous nudity. Princess Livingston’s performance as Maggie Marie is akin to chalk screeching across a blackboard. Youngsters, if you’ve never experienced this youtube it, or something, with the sound up. It’s something that can’t (yet) be replicated on a dry-erase or smartboard. Aside from her, the acting as a whole leaves something to be desired. The dialogue is hammy at times, always lacking subtlety.

Flaws aside, perhaps even because of them, Meyer has crafted an entertaining, slyly poignant film. I’m certainly not suggesting this is among the era’s great movies. However, I will say it’s a step above the B-movie madness much of his canon gives us. He establishes characters we can root for and against. While each is merely a type and not a fully realized being there is some depth to our main players, some gravity to their situations. Whether by accident of him being prolific or somehow on purpose, Meyer has crafted a pretty solid flick.

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