by Allan Fish
(USA 1965 92m) DVD2
A tale of sex in the de-pression
p George Costello, Russ Meyer d Russ Meyer w Raymond Friday Locke, W.A.Sprague ph Walter Schenk ed Russ Meyer, Charles G.Schelling m Henri Price
Hal Hopper (Sidney Brenshaw), Antoinette Christiani (Hannah Brenshaw), Lorna Maitland (Clara Belle), Rena Horton (Eula), John Furlong (Calif McKinney), Princess Livingston (Maggie Marie), Sam Hanna (Injoys), Stuart Lancaster (Lute Wade),
Russ Meyer? In the list of the best films of all time? Call for the strait-jacket, people, the author’s gone crazy. Well, actually not quite so crazy. Admittedly I can see readers scurrying to the Final Apologies section and wondering how I could include Mudhoney yet leave out such a film. So let’s look at this objectively. If I had included Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! there would not have been quite such outrage, as this is a film with a solid cult following, a masterpiece of sleaze in the eyes of many critics. Then there’s the other underground directors of the time, from Andy Warhol to John Waters, who some would honour but who I have no time for. Now it is true to say that, for much of his career, Russ Meyer was cinema’s self-confessed premier tit man. Such was his obsession throughout the late sixties and through the seventies, in which time what talent he had went to the dogs and his satire was drowned in purest smut with little purpose for existence. But the Meyer of 1965 was one of some skill, for it was in this year that he made his two best films; the aforementioned cult classic about a trio of homicidal go-go dancers, and this Midwest saga, a film which to these eyes stands up as his unsung masterwork, and one of the best underground flicks of the American cinema.
In 1933 during the depth of the depression, Calif McKinney is released from prison in Michigan and sets off for California. After getting a lift part of the way he winds up in a small settlement called Spooner and at a farm outside the town. There he meets Maggie Marie and her two voluptuous offspring, the mute Eula and the far from mute Clara Belle. Advised of a job at a nearby farm, he is warned when he gets there that the last farmhand was beaten up by the owner’s niece’s husband, a known alcoholic wife beater, who is hoping daily for the old man to pop his clogs so he can take possession of the farm through his wife and abscond with the cash.
Right from the opening sequence, we’re squarely in the land of the Midwestern hick. Indeed, this was the sort of film lapped up in southern drive-ins at a time when films shown therein didn’t have to be passed by any Production Code, then reaching the end of its power. This one has every hick cliché in the book, except for incest and the Klan (guess he forgot), but all others are in situ, from the favourite homemade moonshine (“prohibition? Folks around here don’t pay no mind to that foolishness”) and a redneck psycho to the sort of gals who have three meals a day and sex before and after every meal with whoever they can. It’s in the opening sequence that we are introduced to one of the great adverts for justifiable homicide in the American cinema, Sidney Brenshaw, a man who thinks himself God’s gift to women, and who thinks beating them senseless and performing marital and extra-marital rape is just a way of dealing with women who play hard to get. He’s a truly detestable character, and Hal Hopper gives the sort of insanely unforgettable, odious performance that his namesake Dennis would have been proud of. Able support is supplied by Meyer regular Stu Lancaster, a man who seems to have spent his entire life in dungarees. Not to mention Christiani (actually very good), Horton and Maitland, all blonde, all with big breasts, which they bare in obligatory fashion. Finally, who can forget Livingston, a woman so goddarn hideous as to give Lucille la Verne the heebie-jeebies and with a laugh that would make the hardiest soul cringe, who finds nothing more humorous than her daughters’ rampant sex-drives. It’s a film that predates the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (whose family would be at home in Meyer’s world) and the execrable I Spit on Your Grave by a decade, and which has enough pace, visual style and bizarre characters to satisfy the most hardcore fan.