A more unapologetic objectification of the female form would be hard to find than thiscollection. The camera all but drools over the form of Raquel Welch. For some, that’s reasonenough to check out these films. Fortunately, they are each worth seeing for other reasons too.(And in one case, worth seeing for all the WRONG reasons.)
A remake of 1940’s One Million B.C., Hammer Studios’ One Million YearsB.C. (1967) gave the world what is arguably the most iconic b…kini image of them all,surpassing even Ursula Andress’ initial appearance in Dr. No: Raquel Welch in rabbitfur. The visual spectacle doesn’t end there, however. This is also a showcase for RayHarryhausen’s magnificent stop-motion dinosaurs. The plot is rudimentary: John Richardson iscast out by the brutal Rock People and winds up romancing Welch of the gentle Shell People.But who cares, when you have so many of the most seminal dinosaur sequences this side ofKing Kong? If you want scientific accuracy, watch Quest for Fire. But themammoths there don’t match the dinosaurs here, and Rae Dawn Chong is no Raquel Welch.
Released the same year, Fathom (previously reviewed on this site) is an enjoyablysilly spy spoof with adventurer/dental hygenist Welch getting caught up in wild adventures withTony Franciosa, who may or may not be trustworthy. Immensely good-natured, sunny and stillexciting, this is, for my money, one of the best of the Bond spoofs, much more exciting andsatisfying than James Coburn’s Flint flicks or (God help us) the Dean Martin Matt Helmvehicles.
1968 sees Welch trying both a dramatic role and a Mexican accent in Bandolero!.This Western has Welch kidnapped by fugitive bank robber Dean Martin, much to thedisapproval of Martin’s brother, James Stewart. Our trio (along with Martin’s slimy gang) fleeinto Mexico, pursued by sheriff George Kennedy. The tone of the film is inconsistent, rangingfrom farcical hi-jinks to violent shoot-outs that stop just shy of The Wild Bunch’s balletsof blood. Unpretentiously enjoyable all the same.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” says Welch about taking the lead role in hercommentary for 1970’s Myra Breckinridge, one of the most legendary of all Hollywoodcalamities. Based on the novel by Gore Vidal, the well-nigh incomprehensible story sees MyronBreckinridge (played by film critic Rex Reed) undergo a sex change operation (performed byJohn Carradine) and become Myra (Welch). The new woman descends on John Huston’s actingacademy, and gets up to all sorts of things. (Her strap-on attack on a strapping young man is oneof those scenes that simply must be witnessed.) For no good reason (as far as storyline isconcerned), Mae West also shows up. She came out of retirement, at age 76, to perform here. Shewrote her own lines, performs a couple of musical numbers, and puts the moves on a young TomSelleck (among others). “Creepy” is too weak a word for the spectacle. The movie is even morebizarre than it sounds. Uncountable film clips are inserted (many, it must be said, in a moststriking fashion), and film absolutely must be seen to be believed. Rarely has a big budget self-destructed so spectacularly on-screen. Connoisseurs of bad film will be in Heaven.
Remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer is watching the ThousandDollar Movie Good Time Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great Frisco Freak-Out? He mightjust as well have been watching Mother, Jugs & Speed. This 1976 opus sees Welch, BillCosby and Harvey Keitel (howzzat for a cast?) as employees of a sleazy for-profit ambulanceservice. Imagine Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead played for laughs, and you’llhave an idea of the film’s tone. No way in hell is this a classic, but it is good fun in a very mid-70’s kind of way. One of the highlights is Larry Hagman as an unreconstructed pig.
All of the films are presented in 2.0 stereo (One Million Years B.C. also has its monotrack). The sound isn’t spectacular on any of the discs, and is quite wretched on Fathom.On the other discs, distortion is present to varying degrees (but please remember the age of thefilms), and surround sound effects are minimal. The worst problem appears on the SpecialEdition version of Myra Breckinridge, where, from about 20 minutes in until the end ofthe film, the sound is desynchronized from the images. The slippage varies from less than asecond to quite a bit more, to the point that some scenes become very hard to follow as dialogueis sometimes a whole shot behind the picture. In essence, don’t pick this collection for the soundquality. But then, you weren’t going to, were you?
The picture quality is noticeably better than the sound. One Million Years B.C. hasthe most grain and flicker of the bunch, followed by Mother, Jugs & Speed. MyraBreckinridge is the best-looking of the bunch, with a pristine print. The colours are good inall cases, and the blacks are generally excellent. Ditto for the flesh tones. The image qualityis sharp, and the edge enhancement is minimal. All films are in anamorphic widescreen.
Not much on most of the discs. Fathom, Mother, Jugs & Speed andBandolero! have trailers and nothing else. One Million Years B.C. has arestoration comparison too.
The prize, though, is Myra Breckinridge, where Fox has clearly recognized the film’simportance as a famous disaster, and treated it as such. So, the Special Edition (which is, as far asI can tell, identical to the Theatrical Release apart from the desynchronized sound and unbleepedexpletive) has a commentary from director Michael Sarne. He gives his side of the story, andseems quite pleased with his work. He has a lot to say about the behind-the-scenes battles, and ismost worshipful of Mae West. On the B side of the disc, Raquel Welch provides commentary forthe Theatrical Release, and she sounds a good deal less eccentric. Her primary reaction islaughing disbelief. She has fascinating tales to tell of her encounters with Mae West, but her talkis disappointingly sparse. Her moans of horror and head-shaking laughter, while amusing, aren’tadequate replacements for more detailed discussions. Still, she strikes the right tone, that’s forsure. The A&E Backstory episode on the film has more interviews with Welch, Sarne and RexReed, and is a pretty entertaining piece in its own right. There are a passel of trailers on this disctoo. The menus are all basic.
Only one disc with solid features in the bunch, but a nifty collection all the same. Whateverelse one might say of the various films on offer, they are all extremely entertaining.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary on Myra Breckinridge
- Raquel Welch Commentary on Myra Breckinridge
- A&E Backstory: Myra Breckinridge
- One Million Years B.C. Restoration Comparison
- Theatrical Trailers
- Spanish Trailers
- TV Spots