Out in the backwoods of America's Deep South, there is a smalltown where two local labourers, Luther (Hal Hopper) and his sidekick Jonah (Doc Scortt) have left a bar in dissatisfaction. Luther is on the lookout for female company, but nothing he has seen today excites him until he spots a drunk young woman, Ruthie (Althea Currier) wandering along the street. She brushes him off, and tells him she doesn't need to be accompanied home, but he and Jonah follow her anyway, break into her house and Luther attempts to rape her. That does not happen, and he beats her up instead when she attacks him back, but as he admits to Jonah, there's only one woman he really wants...
And that's just the pre-credits sequence. Actually, that's not precisely how it starts, as the beginning shows the camera's view of travelling down a road until it stops when a preacher appears there and begins to pontificate. This is actually the screenwriter James Griffith, setting out his stall as a work of extreme morality - believe that if you like. Lorna was director Russ Meyer's first film with a proper plot, and could actually pass muster as a genuine narrative film rather than the nudie-cuties he had made his name with previously. A step up for the auteur's development cinematically, then, but did it carry the weight that it purported to?
It depends how seriously you want to take it, as that preacher who shows up at infrequent points to sermonise at the audience looks perilously close to outright camp, and the treatment of the title character is hard to approach with any gravity considering what happens to her. Here, in Meyer's world, she must be punished for having sexual feelings, well, not so much for the feelings but for how she acted on them. The message is that if she had stayed in her shack in the middle of nowhere and put up with her lack of satisfaction with her nice but passionless husband Jim (James Rucker), then she would have had a quiet life, but the fact that she courted an escaped convict to use him as her sexual plaything means she is doomed.
Of course, there's a sense that this is all tongue in cheek, but the fact that Meyer might have secretly believed all of this makes it troubling. Not least because of the scene halfway through where Lorna (Lorna Maitland) goes for a nude swim thinking there is no one about, and when she emerges to put her shirt and Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas short-shorts back on, the convict jumps on her and tries to rape her. In an example of the worst kind of male sexual fantasy, Lorna finds she quite enjoys this rough treatment and ends up taking the convict as a lover, leading him back to her home and having him settle in for a meal and a drink, which she goes as far as venturing to the store to get for him.
It's not only Lorna who is heading for punishment as we know Luther has done wrong in his lawbreaking, so when he, Jonah and Jim go to work mining salt, he keeps on questioning Jim about his wife, who he has unsavoury designs on. Luther is the most vile character in the film, and we really could have done without his timewasting song that he composes about Jim's marital situation, but oddly when he gets what is coming to him at the hands of the cuckold, he mellows considerably as if seeing the error of his ways. In a more sexist manner, Lorna gets her comeuppance in a no less violent way, and it's only the stylish presentation, almost like a rural update of a film noir, that makes the film palatable. It did show that Meyer was learning, and was a big success for him in its day which prompted him onto further refinement of his methods, so for that alone Lorna is worth watching. The music was by Griffith too.
American director and one of the most notable cult filmmakers of the 60s and 70s. Meyer worked as a newsreel cameraman during World War II, before becoming a photographer. In 1959, his work for Playboy led to his first film – the hugely successful ‘nudie’ feature The Immoral Mr Teas. Other soft-core features followed before Meyer moved to a series of trashy, thrilling B-movies – Mudhoney, Motor Psycho and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! – that combined the two elements – incredibly voluptuous women and graphic violence – that would become Meyer’s trademark.