1964, the year of Lorna and the start of director Russ Meyer’s Gothic period and obsession with social redeeming value (aka the morals that make smut acceptable). This black and white beauty, Meyer’s first film shot in 35mm and with live dialogue, marked the end of a successful run of nudie cutie features (The Immoral Mr. Teas, Eve and The Handyman, Erotica) and the beginning of his first ‘proper’ foray into theatrical filmmaking. Opening with a shot that tracks a long winding road, we are suddenly met with a maniacal preacher. Spewing the directors first morality tale, the gentleman asks us ‘Do you know where this road leads?… Do you do unto others as they do to you? Do you judge as others judge?… Pass on… There is no return’. And right he is. There is no return from Lorna.
With the tagline ‘Ever wonder why wives WANDER?’ it’s not too difficult to see where Meyer was going with the narrative. Oft referred to as the female Tom Jones, the story focuses on Lorna (Lorna Maitland), a sexually unsatisfied housewife who is married to nice guy Jim (James Rucker), a miner studying to be a CPA. Jim loves Lorna very much but when it comes to bedroom antics he leaves her completely exasperated. Lorna has to be persuaded to have sex with Jim, and not only reluctantly gives in, but has a face like a slapped arse during and after. Cue a cute monologue where Lorna stares out of the window and expresses her disappointment; ‘I’m a woman, not just a tool’. She dreams of another life, one full of excitement and a lot of topless go-go dancing (real footage of Maitland that would also crop up in films Europe In The Raw! and Mondo Topless, not surprising given that she was a Vegas dancer before the film). Instead, Lorna goes for a nude swim one day and gets raped. But instead of being a victim, the attack finally brings her rampant sexuality to the fore.
And what a town to commit adultery in. The picture was shot in Locke, a depressed town in a run down area of Sacramento, with boarded up shops and grimey bars. This is a town that harbors the worst in people and stifles those that genuinely have some good about them. A real boiling point for morals to play out, it was the perfect environment for Meyer’s melodrama and makes the religious element of sinners being punished seem all the more fitting (apparently an added piece of cinematic insurance so it played well within the Bible Belt). Upon viewing it’s hard to ignore the influence of Italian neo-realism, something that Meyer both acknowledged and dismissed quickly along with other academic theories related to his work. In Meyer’s eyes, it was a melodramatic piece shot in black and white because he couldn’t afford colour film stock. That said, like environments in other Meyer feature films, the location is beautifully shot and incredibly lush; run down shops and small houses juxtaposed with lush lakes and shrubbery.
Cast wise, the feature has some memorable creations made all the more comically large by the actors playing them. James Griffith played the formidable preacher; the bearded and somewhat morally rabid provider of the films prologue and epilogue. Griffith also wrote the screenplay, in four days no less, going on to provide Meyer with the story for Motorpsycho the following year before having a long career in as a supporting actor in film and television. The role of the poor, naive husband Jim is played like a total wet blanket by Rucker. His sin is that he could never satisfy Lorna and by the end of the film you end up feeling both sorry for him and his wife; sympathizing towards his wife because bad sex is bad towards him because he genuinely loves her. The real stand out amongst the crowd in Hal Hopper in the role of Luther, Jim’s sadistic co-worker. So slimy and horrible (watch him rape and beat a woman in the opening fifteen minutes of the film in a scene that sets the moral tone for the rest of the picture) that he steals the role of the villain away from the real rapist himself. With rather menacing eyes and a sickly smile, Hopper doesn’t have to do much to get under your skin and it isn’t remotely surprising that Meyer cast him in Mudhoney in a similar role (what is surprising is that he sung the film’s title theme).
The crown jewel of the entire film though is Lorna herself, played by Barbara Popejoy. Meyer christened her with the name Lorna Maitland when he finally cast her in the film, giving her the name that she would eventually be most known for. It’s not hard to see why the sexploitation director liked Maitland so much. With a 42D bust size and breasts that were swelling even more (to 50 inches) with the hormones of a pregnant woman (Maitland was three months pregnant at the time the film was shot), the star also had the wholesome looks that made her attractive to all sorts of clientele that the film would be watched by. It’s hard to believe that Maitland wasn’t the first choice for the role. Meyer had cast another actress, Maria Andre, whom he had used in Heavenly Bodies at the insistence of Griffith. Maitland had made very little in terms of an impression went she went to the casting call for the picture and it was only thanks to her manager who handed Meyer’s producer wife Eve a few Polaroids of her that she ended up with the gig. Eve eventually found them, the day before they were meant to start shooting, and showed them to Russ who knew instantly that Maitland was the one.
That said, it would seem that Maitland and Meyer never quite saw eye to eye, with both parties apparently hating each other and Maitland being quite vocal about it. Lorna would go on to star in Meyer’s feature Mudhoney which was shot and released the following year, somewhat of an expansion on the themes that were explored in Lorna itself. Not that Meyer seemed to care. He complained and told a large number of people that Maitland’s figure had gone post-pregnancy and that her now 42 inch chest was intolerable due to its sagginess. It seems no love was lost between either of them, just as some states in America found it hard to love Lorna as a picture. It was deemed obscene and prosecuted in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania, despite making a tonne of money on the Drive-In circuit. Meyer even had his appeal to have the seized print returned to him denied by the Florida Supreme Court who decided that it should be burnt instead. Watching it now is hardly shocking in comparison to subsequently released features but it still packs a punch, a rare mix of remotely genuine emotion, sex and the dark side of morality. One of Meyer’s classics.