Mudhoney is based on Raymond Friday Locke’s novel Streets Paved With Gold and it’s probably the most serious of any Russ Meyer film I’ve ever seen. The auteur said, “That’s when I thought I was Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck and George Stevens all in one.”
The film was a financial failure, Meyer later saying, “I made a gamble with Mudhoney and I failed. The only reason I made Mudhoney was I was in love with a girl named Rena (Rena Horten, who plays Eula) I should have not made the film.”
Collaborator Roger Ebert disagreed, calling it Meyer’s neglected masterpiece and “his most interesting, most ambitious, most complex and longest independent production.”
It’s the Great Depression, Calef McKinney’s (John Furlong, the voice of Meyer if you ever see him in a movie) journey from Michigan to California brings him to small-town Spooner, Missouri. There, Lute Wade (Stuart Lancaster) hires him for odd jobs and he gets involved with Wade’s married niece, Hannah Brenshaw (Antoinette Christiani).
She’s married to the wife-beating Sidney, who plots against McKinney and Wade, along with a preacher named Brother Hanson. McKinney has a past that’s about to catch up to him and a burning love for Hannah. Speaking of burning, before it’s all over, Sidney burns down his farm, frames our hero and even assaults Brother Hanson’s wife before a lynch mob strings him up.
Imagine if the sideshow brought the sights, sounds and, yes, women of exactly what you expect the backwoods to look and feel like. Cross-eyed men, toothless old women, deaf and mute children, ranting preachers and pulchritude of the blonde variety on all sides. It’s pretty amazing that Meyer never tried pure drama again after this, but no one really cared. They just wanted to see if he could fit all those gigantically endowed women into frame, which is a shame really.
I saw this when I was a Junior or Senior in high school, it’s relatively tame by today’s standards, with some exceptions I won’t go into here. This one, along with Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! and of course Beyond the Valley of the Dolls are Meyer’s most well made and cohesive films with surprisingly interesting and compelling stories.