Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wonderful, Horrible Fun of Myra Breckinridge, in 847 Words or Less

Gore Vidal, on whose novel the film was based, publicly disowned the film, calling it the second worst film he had ever seen (you'll have to ask Mr. Vidal what the worst was).  It killed the career of its whack-job director, Michael Sarne, who would never work in Hollywood again.  It pretty much put the kibosh on the budding career of sex goddess Raquel Welch, slowing her meteoric rise to a mere trickle afterward (though, to be honest, her relative inability to act may have had a certain amount of cause and effect in such matters).  Film Critic Rex Reed, who makes his acting debut in the film (and ironically gives probably the closest thing this movie has to a good performance), wrote in Playboy magazine, that the film was so bad, it would probably never open (it did).  

Former child star and then-current US ambassador Shirley Temple Black, got her white house buddy Tricky Dick to demand the archival footage of her being squirted in the face while milking a cow (from a scene from Heidi) which was interspersed with a rape scene, be taken out of all prints immediately (which it was, though we do see and hear Ms. Temple in another, non-rape, section).  Loretta Young then, without the help of President Nixon, successfully sued 20th Century Fox for using images of her in that same infamous scene.  Seventy-six year old Mae West, who hadn't been in front of the cameras for nearly twenty-seven years, and acting as the diva bitch from Hell (Welch would get the brunt of such behaviour), made herself look pathetic and kinda creepy as a septuagenarian sexual deviant in her obvious long blonde wig and typical double entendres to all the young bucks within ear reach (including a very young Tom Selleck).  And to top this all off, Time Magazine opened their scathing review of the film with the line "Myra Breckinridge is about as funny as a child molester."

Now though this film is truly atrocious, easily deserving many of those aforementioned "accolades",  and is, from a cinematic standpoint, a train wreck from beginning to end, there is indeed another side to the film version of Myra Breckinridge.  A side that is a cheap and giddy delight for anyone with such cheap and giddy tendencies - which, admit it or not, we have at least a little bit of such inside us all.  A film that seemingly emulates Robert Altman's style, though in a much more amateurish manner (though considering Myra Breckinridge was being made at about the same time as Altman's breakthrough film M*A*S*H, this is either mere coincidence or just a sign of the filmmaking times) this quite infamous work (on many a worst movies of all-time list) is filled with fun moments that if strung together would make for a fine film - only, for some reason it never does.

As far as these so-called moments go, I am not sure which is my favourite.  Could it be the opening, pre-title sequence where Rex Reed is about to get his manhood severed by a mad-looking doctor played by John Carradine of all people?  Could it be that same Rex Reed, later on in the film, pawing at his chest and screaming "Where are my tits!?  Where are my tits!?" (a scene Reed had to be bullied into doing by being told they would cut away from Reed and a voice impersonator would just do the line for him in post production)?  Could it be Raquel Welch strapping on her own manhood and raping the naive young buck she has tied to an examining table, while dressed as some sort of cross between Wonder Woman and a cowgirl stripper (even without the aforementioned Shirley Temple scene)?  Could it be bellowing John Huston, strutting around in silly, jingle-jangling singing cowboy gear, complete with ridiculously over-sized twenty-five and a half gallon hat?  Could it be the male-centric joy of seeing Raquel Welch in bed with a young Farrah Fawcett?  But wait, there's one that tops 'em all.

Perhaps my favourite part of this ridiculous film is watching the sad and quite pathetic seventy-six year old Mae West, mostly blind from cataracts, and having to be led to the stage, and dressed in a slinky, skin-tight sequined gown complete with long flowing flaxen blonde wig, a chorus line of tuxedo'd black men dancing a la Pips style behind her, belt out a horrendous version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" (a supposed prerequisite in Ms. West's contract was the demand to perform at least one song).  That one takes the proverbial cake for sure.  Whatever the case, and however bad this film may be, with no one wanting to take credit for any part of it (disavowed by pretty much everyone in a dvd special feature doc, from Vidal to Welch to Rex Reed to studio head Darryl 'Freakin' Zanuck!) there is still much to love in Myra Breckinridge.  Anyway, any film wherein Rex Reed screams "Where are my tits!?  Where are my Tits!?" is just alright with me.  Indeed.

No comments: