Lorna feels interchangeable with most other Russ Meyer movies but lacks something distinct. It’s the first film of his I’ve seen that I had trouble remembering the specifics of a few days later. That isn’t suggest it’s completely forgettable though.
The central performance by Lorna Maitland feels titan. Maybe not because of her acting talent but more due to Meyer’s worship-at-the-altar style direction of her. As with all his leading ladies, Meyer gives Maitland all of the best angles, all the attention and all the glory. If Lorna isn’t in a scene then characters are talking about her. The thing I always respond to in Meyer’s movies, beyond the eye-candy, is how complex his female characters are. Yes they are sexy specimens of the female form but one gets a sense that Meyer, while hunched over the typewriter, was really trying to get under the skin of these ladies and feel their insecurities, their desires and their frustrations. He didn’t just treat them as tits and ass, despite what many would argue.
Lorna is a movie about a married woman who isn’t satisfied sexually. Her “aw shucks” husband Jim, played by James Rucker, is a dope but a kind-hearted one. Lorna frequently gives him the cold shoulder because she wants a real man to sweep her off her feet. The only problem being: she lives with him on a river where real men are scarce. Lorna’s only other options are Jim’s dim-witted work mates who spend most of their time leering over her or chastising Jim. Lorna is the sole female in the movie and is lusted after by most of the supporting characters and, evidently, the director himself. In this world, Lorna’s beauty is both her strongest weapon and her biggest vulnerability. Therefore the male gaze itself becomes an oppressive force. There’s an uncomfortable sense that the always scantily-clad Lorna will soon be taken by force and, eventually, she is. This is where things get complicated.
Following her rape by an escaped convict (Mark Bradley), Lorna suddenly finds her sexual appetite satisfied and becomes besotted, even inviting her rapist into her house to play happy families while hopeless Jim is at work. As Lorna is established within the film, this makes sense. Yet the idea of presenting her rape as the answer to all her problems is still a troubling plot development. I’m not sure if it’s a bold choice on Meyer’s part or simply a naive and idiotic one. The fact Lorna so willfully dotes herself to her attacker lessens her strength in many ways, yet it’s also a human flaw that grounds her and makes her complicated. It’s a dark turn that certainly kept me watching but by the film’s conclusion Meyer fails to present any further depth that could heighten it from mere exploitation. It’s even worse being that, judging from the steamy presentation, Lorna’s rape is intended to be the film’s centerpiece of titillation. Not cool.
Beyond all that this is still an enjoyable Russ Meyer flick. It has plenty of his visual flair and nutty cutting to be aesthetically splendid and oozes a swampy, sexed up atmosphere that is, for the most part, quite fun. The only problem is that the final film is rather middle of the road and becomes quite blurry as time passes and has some plot and thematic issues which are tough to stomach. Pretty much the 1964 drive-in equivalent of Jason Reitman’s Labor Day.