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MYRA BRECKINGRIDGE (4 outta 5 stars) Considering that this is historically considered one of the "worst" movies ever made, I didn't expect I was going to enjoy it... though I was curious to see how bad a train wreck it was going to be. Well, I was simply amazed at how well-done the movie actually is! To be honest, the movie is not for everyone... and I don't even know if I could actually recommend it to casual movie viewers in good conscience... but if you are a fan of truly bizarre and outrageous movies... this one is a must-see. Raquel Welch gives the best performance of her career... really! She never got many decent film roles but in this one she actually got to show that she was more than just a huge, heaving bosom. (Nonetheless, I also maintain that she probably never looked more attractive in a motion picture than she does in this one.) This movie really is a mess in certain respects but there is so much going on and most of it is so entertaining that I didn't mind the incoherence at all. The use of vintage movie clips to "comment" on what's going on in the storyline is brilliant. (The later HBO series "Dream On" also used this technique but I think this movie did it much better.) Rex Reed is perfectly cast as Myron, a gay man who decides on having a sex change (though Reed vehemently insisted throughout filming that he *wasn't* playing a gay man... uh, okay, Rex). Well, Rex turns into Raquel Welch and that's when the fun begins... he/she embarks on a quest to make men and women re-think the roles that society has imposed on them (I think that's sorta kinda supposed to be the point but it does get muddled a lot of the time). Mae West shows up for no real purpose... 76 years old and belting out her most outrageous sexual innuendos ever. (One of the recipients, a young Tom Selleck.) I never really cared much for Mae West in her prime... and was amazed how not-bad she was here! (I also am a bit reluctant to admit that I have been humming the Shirley Temple ditty that opens and closes this movie non-stop since hearing it.) John Huston probably gives one of his worst performances ever... but he's STILL worth watching... now THAT is star power! There are many classic scenes in this movie that will have you shaking your head in disbelief... could you imagine a Hollywood movie *today* that would have a buxom beauty wearing an American flag bikini, strapping on a dildo and using it on an unwilling male? I think not. Only in the 60's, baby!
Somebody once said that Gore Vidal's novel "Myra Breckinridge" was
un-filmable to begin with. That's probably true. One scene in the
book--- a female-on-male rape, described in nauseating, horrific
detail--- would have sent most movie directors scurrying in the
opposite direction. There's no way that this story could have ever
become a classic mainstream movie. But it's not all that bad, thanks
mostly to some really clever casting (bringing Mae West into the film
was a stroke of genius) and a wonderful, bitingly funny and dead-on
performance by a young Raquel Welch.
The basic story is a *really* bizarre dark comedy involving a guy, Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed), who has sex-change surgery--- or does he, really?--- to become his alter-ego Myra (Raquel Welch). As a female, Myra tries to shake down her uncle Buck Loner (John Huston) into giving her at least half of his popular acting school. There are a few side stories along the way, involving Mae West as a sex-mad Hollywood agent, Farrah Fawcett as a sunny-smiling dumb blonde, and Roger Herron as handsome young Rusty-the-Stud, who ends up being nothing much more than a boy-toy (both in the film and in real life. Was he *ever* heard from again after appearing in this movie?)
The theme of this movie is "Hollywood" in great big letters. A fascination with the movie industry runs through it. It's about everything we imagine Hollywood to be: actors, agents, Southern California, limousines, wild sex, drugs, nudity, the whole bit. There are references to, film clips of, and appearances by, classic Hollywood movies and stars. If you aren't interested in Hollywood and what it represents--- or used to represent--- forget this movie. You won't like it. That's what it's about.
The fun (and there is some) lies in the cynical mechanisms of nearly all the leading players. Well, all except Farrah Fawcett, that is; her wide smile and big teeth, years before "Charlie's Angels", is all happy sincerity; this girl doesn't have a cynical bone in her body. You can't help but like her).
Plopped directly into the middle of various scenes, often with no purpose whatsoever but to add "mood", are dozens of film clips from old 20th-Century-Fox movies. The inclusion of these off-the-wall clips give the whole movie a slightly off-center, psychedelic feel that must have felt self-knowingly hip in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Two big highlights in this movie: the performances of Raquel Welch and Mae West. West got top billing, but is actually seen in a *very* small role; maybe 10 minutes of total screen time. Her scenes are completely self-contained; they don't have much to do with the rest of the movie (except in mood and style), but they are great fun to watch. I'm really shocked by all of the negative comments about her by other reviewers. They aren't giving her enough credit, because West was *hilariously* funny at the mind-boggling age of 77 when she made this movie. Most of the time, she seems easily 30 years younger. (Only for one brief scene in the back seat of a limo--- where she looks quite weary--- does it seem even possible this woman might be on the far side of elderly).
West may have been in her late 70s here, but her character was definitely not. She's playing a hip, powerful, horny, dynamic, middle-aged foxy chick, and damn if she doesn't pull it off with aplomb and style. It would be an impossible role for any other woman of her age, but she did it so successfully that you don't realize what an accomplishment it was until you think about it. West alone is worth the price of admission--- or the price of the DVD, anyway.
Raquel Welch was also at the very top of her form here. An absolute knockout to look at, Welch was drop-dead gorgeous, and she gives a biting, sarcastic, and also hilariously funny performance as Myra. She, by the way, *is* the leading role, despite Mae West getting top billing. The two women did not get at all along during filming, by the way, and in their one scene together, it's obvious that they were never filmed at the same time; their dialogue consists entirely of close-ups of each lady separately.
This movie tried, maybe a little too hard, to be hip and "adult" at the time, and so it's got some needlessly raunchy language and situations in it (including the afore-mentioned female-on-male rape which, unfortunately, did make it into the movie. It's almost as horrific as reading about it in the book was, and you have to feel sorry for Roger Herron as Rusty, the object of Myra's ugly power fantasy.) It was awfully hard to even put a story like this on film in the first place, but Michael Sarne did try, and he succeeded more than failed. I think it's worth it. But know what you're in for when you watch it!
Seldom seen since theatrical release in 1970, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE has
become a byword for cinematic debacles of legendary proportions. Now at
last on DVD in an unexpectedly handsome package, it is as unlikely to
win wide audiences today as it was when first released.
Gore Vidal's 1968 bestseller was a darkly satirical statement. Most filmmakers felt that the novel's story, structure, and overall tone would not translate to film, and industry insiders were surprised when 20th Century Fox not only acquired the rights but also hired Vidal to adapt his novel to the screen. But studio executives soon had cold feet: Vidal's adaptations were repeatedly rejected and novice writer-director Michael Sarne was brought in to bring the film to the screen.
Studio executives hoped that Sarne would tap into the youth market they saw as a target for the film, but Sarne proved even more out of synch with the material than the executives themselves. Rewrite upon rewrite followed. The cast, sensing disaster, became increasingly combative. In her DVD commentary, star Raquel Welch says that she seldom had any idea of what Myra's motives were from scene to scene or even within any single scene itself, and that each person involved seemed to be making an entirely different film. In the accompanying "Back Story" documentary, Rex Reed says that MYRA BRECKINRIDGE was a film made by a bunch of people who hid in their dressing rooms while waiting for their lawyers to return their calls.
The accuracy of these comments are demonstrated by the film itself. The basics of Vidal's story are there, but not only has the story been shorn of all broader implications, it seems to have no point in and of itself. Everything runs off in multiple directions, nothing connects, and numerous scenes undercut whatever logic previous scenes might have had. And while director Sarne repeatedly states in his commentary that he wanted to make the film as pure farce, the only laughs generated are accidental.
Chief among these accidents is Mae West. It is true that West is unexpectedly well preserved in appearance and that she had lost none of her way with a one-liner--but there is no getting around the fact that she is in her seventies, and her conviction that she is the still the sexiest trick in shoe leather is extremely unsettling, to say the least. But worse, really, is the fact that West is outside her era. Her efforts to translate herself into a hip and happening persona results in one of the most embarrassing self-caricatures ever seen on film.
The remaining cast is largely wasted. Raquel Welch, a significantly underestimated actress, plays the title role of Myra very much like a Barbie doll on steroids; non-actor Rex Reed is unexpectedly effective in the role of Myron, but the entire role is essentially without point. Only John Huston and cameo players John Carradine, Jim Backus, William Hopper, and Andy Devine emerge relatively unscathed. Yes, it really is the debacle everyone involved in the film feared it would be: fast when it should be slow, slow when it should be fast, relentlessly unfunny from start to finish. It is true that director Sarne does have the occasional inspired idea--as in his use of film clips of everyone from Shirley Temple to Judy Garland to create counterpoint to the action--but by and large, whenever Sarne was presented with a choice of how to do something he seems to have made the wrong one.
The how and why of that is made clear in Sarne's audio commentary. Sarne did not like the novel or, for that matter, the subject matter in general. He did not want to write the screenplay, but he needed the money; he emphatically did not want to direct the film, but he need the money. He makes it very clear that he disliked author Gore Vidal and Rex Reed (at one point he flatly states that Reed "is not a nice person"), and to this day he considers that Vidal and Reed worked in tandem to sabotage the film because he refused to play into their 'homosexual agenda'--which, when you come right down to it, seems to have been their desire that Sarne actually film Vidal's novel rather than his own weirdly imagined take-off on it.
Although he spends a fair amount of commentary time stating that the film is widely liked by the gay community, Sarne never quite seems to understand that the appeal of the film for a gay audience arises from his ridiculously inaccurate depiction of homosexual people. When taken in tandem with the film itself, Sarne emerges as more than a little homophobic--and quite frankly the single worst choice of writers and directors that could have been made for this project.
In addition to the Sarne and Welch commentaries and the making-of documentary, the DVD release includes several trailers and two versions of the film: a "theatrical release" version and a "restored" version. The only difference between the two is that the final scene in the "restored" version has been printed to black and white. The edits made before the film went into general release have not been restored, but the documentary details what they were. The widescreen transfers of both are remarkably good and the sound is quite fine. But to end where I began, this is indeed a film that will most interest film historians, movie buffs, and cult movie fans. I give it three out of five stars for their sake alone, but everyone else should pass it by.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The book "Myra Breckinridge" is marvelous, and so is its nutty sequel
"Myron" (which takes place on the set during the making of the Maria
Montez movie "Siren of Atlantis" and, in its original published
version, is a diatribe against censorship and finds new ways to use the
name Rehnquist). The movie, a big flop in 1970, is not marvelous, but
starts intriguingly and still has an aura of the forbidden about it (it
was rated X; in 1970 that wasn't a liability, it could be a marketing
scheme). The Fox Movie Channel showed the film recently in widescreen
and I watched it (the latest in several viewings ) and I failed to
notice exactly when it begins to unravel.
In spite of its ultimately depressing and sleazy tone, the movie does have some lovely things in it: the winking girl who pops up in various scenes throughout, Raquel Welch's game, amusing performance, an intriguing visual style, the usage of old movie clips to comment on the action in a meta-cinematic manner (my favorite is the brief glimpse of Marilyn Monroe in the unfinished "Something's Got To Give," a glimpse that could have been furthered), a bizarre underused supporting cast of excellent Old Hollywood character actors (Jim Backus, Kathleen Freeman, Grady Sutton, Andy Devine, John Carradine, etc.) and a short appearance by Genevieve Waite, the star of the director's previous, and only, hit film "Joanna." Waite is also the mother of Bijou Phillips and the ex-wife of John Phillips, of The Mamas and The Papas. (John Phillips wrote the song "A Secret Place" that was used in the film.) I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the movie was being made. Rex Reed, one of the stars in the film, WAS a fly on the wall and wrote about the fiasco in Playboy magazine. Then he went on The Mike Douglas Show and gave out his Christmas list. To everyone who saw the movie "Myra Breckinridge" he gave a case of amnesia.
I agree with another comment here that the movie has finally caught up with its audience, but only if you know a little something about Old Hollywood and really love cinema.
MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is one of those rare films that established its place
in film history immediately. Praise for the film was absolutely
nonexistent, even from the people involved in making it. This film was
loathed from day one. While every now and then one will come across
some maverick who will praise the film on philosophical grounds
(aggressive feminism or the courage to tackle the issue of
transgenderism), the film has not developed a cult following like some
notorious flops do. It's not hailed as a misunderstood masterpiece like
SCARFACE, or trotted out to be ridiculed as a camp classic like
Undoubtedly the reason is that the film, though outrageously awful, is not lovable, or even likable. MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is just plain mean. As a Hollywood satire it is cold-blooded and mean-spirited, but in a hollow pointless way. MYRA takes for granted that Hollywood is a corrupt town, but goes further to attack such beloved icons as Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Gary Cooper. The film seems to imply that everything about Hollywood is by its very nature vile. It seems to think that there is something inherently courageous about mocking sacred cows, but doesn't supply a rationale for doing the mocking in the first place. The film is also viscously anti-American and anti-establishment and anti-this and anti-that, but all in a superficial, late-1960's, trendy way. Like CASINO ROYALE; SKI-DOO; I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS and other would-be hip epics, MYRA is a middle-aged vision of the hippy-dippy youth culture. It tries to embrace the very attitude that it belittles. But instead of being cheerfully self-mocking, MYRA makes no attempt to conceal its contempt for everything that comes within its grasp. MYRA BRECKINRIDGE has the humor of a bully; there's not a single moment of innocence in it. Its intentions aren't honorable. TIME magazine aptly described it as being "about as funny as a child molester," but it's not nearly as sympathetic.
For instance, poor Mae West bore the brunt of so much of the criticism aimed at the film, being described as looking like everything from an aging drag queen to a reanimated walking corpse. The octogenarian star obviously didn't know just how ridiculous she looked playing a lecherous talent agent lusting after men young enough to be her grandsons or even her great-grandsons. But, director Michael Sarne had to know, but he used her anyway. Why? Because, she apparently was the joke. Just like John Huston, John Carradine, Grady Sutton, Andy Devine and other veteran performers in the film, they are there only so the film can mock their age and use them to trash their film images. They are cast as smarmy self-parodies, as is Rex Reed, the arrogant, fey film critic, who is cast as just that in the film. But the real Reed, the celebrity hound, jet-setting, talk show gossip, can be charming in an obnoxiously funny way; but as Myron, Myra's alter ego, he is just obnoxious. Again, apparently for Sarne, Reed is the joke.
You watch MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and you don't see actors, you see victims. None more so than Raquel Welch. No one will ever accuse Welch of being a great actress, but it is a testament to her tenacity and her appeal that she survived this film and her career prospered. Being in almost every scene, Welch was front and center as a target for abuse aimed at the film, but to her credit, she gives a remarkably nuanced performance. Though, of course, centered between the scenery chewing Huston and the almost catatonic West, Welch doesn't have to do much to strike a good balance. Even so, she renders her horribly unfunny dialogue with a deadpan smirk, with just the hint of self-righteous glee that would do any James Bond villain proud. Legend has it that Welch was snubbed by a condescending West and subjected to repeated verbal abuse on the set by bumbling director Sarne, not to mention being featured in one degrading scene after another, making it all the more remarkable that she was able to give such a cool and collected performance.
The film's only intriguing element is trying to figure out just what the film's agenda is. The whole story is a fantasy fable, which should indicate that it has a moral to deliver, but what that might be is anybody's guess. With all of its talk about destroying "the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood from the race," it would seem to have a feminist axe to grind. But as a feminist, Myra is a monstrous figure, a sexual predator. Besides, Myra isn't a woman, rather she is a delusion of Myron, who presumably is a gay male. That might explain the male rape scene as well as the character's love/hate attitude toward the macho, seemingly straight, deadhead Rusty, but it doesn't explain his/her obsession for and the supposedly lesbian tryst with Farrah Fawcett's Mary Ann. The film is obsessed with sex, but can hardly be accused of being in favor of the sexual revolution; all the sex is treated as being, if not dirty, than at least perverse and degrading. Turning to Gore Vidal's original novel isn't of any help, because it is as confused and pointless as the movie.
And this is a rare movie that actually seems to hate movies. Not just movies as a business, but movies as part of the culture as well. The film itself is wall-to-wall arcane references to old movies, all of which director-screenwriter Sarne approaches with a seething disdain. He has raided the film vaults of 20th Century-Fox and peppered the film with snippets of old films, not as an homage or to provide a social commentary, but to mock the innocence of old Hollywood. How can an artist -- if you generously want to call Sarne that -- make a work of art if he already hates the very medium he is working in? The very effort is totally self-defeating.
MYRA BRECKINRIDGE doesn't seem to be in favor of anything other than being just nasty. It hates Hollywood, it hates America, it hates sex, it hates gays and straights and women and men and old people and young people and Laurel and Hardy and, well, you name it and it probably has a scene showing contempt for it. In a very sad and sorry way, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE may be the first punk manifesto, a celebration of pop culture nihilism.
A man who wishes to become a woman wants to show the world that men are
not the superior beings that they have been made out to be. To in fact
do to men what men have been doing to women since the beginning of
time. Is it surprising that this film is despised by so many people -
especially men? The fact that this film is so threatening is a good
sign that it is right on track. A handsome idiot "stud", an
over-the-hill sexist cowboy wannabe and a whole stable of dumb gorgeous
guys (including Tom Selleck!) show what all those fun, sexist sixties
movies look like in the mirror image. For here it is the women (Myra
and an elderly Mae West) who throw out the sexist innuendo and treat
men like fresh meat that have little value other than what they can
offer women with their bodies. The sight of an unattractive and elderly
Mae West always gets the shaft by the film's critics, yet they rarely
comment on the appearance of her male counterpart (played with great
relish by John Huston) who also seduces (and I might add verbally
abuses) women one-third his age. Hmmm. The fact that this film is so
hated shows how far men still have to go before opening up their minds
and really seeing the double standards that they adhere to when it
comes to sex comedies. It's only when the tables are turned that one
can truly perceive this - and this film does this beautifully. It is
after all a satire and commentary on Hollywood (as well as on the
cheesy camp classics from everyone from Roger Corman to Russ Meyer).
The interspersing of classic Hollywood movies depicting this seems to
have eluded many viewers since they're so used to taking such images
for granted. They don't question them or even see what those classic
images are really projecting.
Anyway, this is the most brilliant example of camp cinema to date. The hilarious sabotaging of scenes with reaction shots from various movie stars reflects the so-called innocence of the audience (no wonder so many people find that uncomfortable!), and the film is also choked full of famous faces parodying the very images that made them famous. It has all the camp and surreal qualities of Gore Vidal's book, and it retains most of his incredible dialogue. It is also one of the best movies about Hollywood and the jerks who work there. And last but not least, Raquel Welsh should be most proud of her performance. I cannot imagine anyone else in this role because she is not only wonderful, she completely turns the tables on the stereotypes she personified to men throughout her career. She was a wonderfully cheesy sex goddess, and here she finally has a chance to ahem, be in the driver's seat. It's all just in fun, and that's what the movie is saying. If treating women like they are just a pair of boobs is entertainment, then why can't treating men like they are just a pair of bullocks be the same?
I read "Myra Breckinridge" in 1969 when I was riding a bus from St.
Louis to San Antonio, and I fell in love with everything about the book.
I saw the movie when it first came out (even though I was not, legally,
old enough) and had a blast. This film (I do NOT use that term loosely)
had so much going on and not going on between pretty people and not so
pretty people who were acting badly and beautifully while doing evil and
funny and disgusting and sweet things to each other in the most vicious
and caring ways possible, I was overwhelmed by it all. It had more to
say in its heaving breast about the cruel and elevated ways in which man
treats his fellow man than every Oscar-winning picture since...and all
while telling its story in the most absurd and drug-inducing manner
But what adds even more to the meaning of the film is how it destroyed the career of not just its director (who probably deserved it) but also ruined any chance of a career for Roger Herren solely because he played a character who was raped by a woman. Men can play rapists and women can be raped and gang raped and even play lesbians, and they receive Oscars for their performances and no one thinks the worst of them. But let a man get sodomized and suddenly everyone questions his masculinity and ability to relate to the opposite sex. And THAT is where MYRA BRECKINRIDGE stands tall.
Yes, the movie is a smash-up of styles and insane casting choices and baldly ludicrous dialogue and unintentionally funny acting, but so were more recent idiot movies like THE ROCK and TITANIC and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and look how successful they became...and how quickly they will be forgotten. At least MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, the movie (maybe even moreso than the book), worked as a slap in the face of America's sexual dysfunction and hypocrisy...and I believe THAT is what bothers so many people about it. And that is why it remains a movie worth watching,
I awoke with the TV still on. A woman dressed curiously like Wonder Woman is strapping a hunk to an examination table as well as something around her waste. What happens next is unbelievable, disturbing, and hilarious. I quickly pop up the menu and select future showings for reviewing. I want to see this flick from the beginning. And I have again and again since. To see criticism of this film saddens me. I am reminded that I still live in a world where minds are half-opened and fearful, if not slammed shut. I disregard the book, the movie is it's own entity. To be a great movie doesn't require perfect segues and outstanding acting (though I have tauted that Herren should get an Oscar solely for the look on his face after the rape scene). A great movie is great for invoking pleasant thought and responses. I totally got this film on first viewing, laughing until tears pooled up in my eyes. The vintage film clips were fabulous, and had to be the model used by HBO's hit series "Dream On" from the '80's. I appreciate the sexual revolution, but only today does this movie make sense to a broader audience - we live this stuff. After leaving this film running in a side room at one of my parties, it was much requested and is now part of a staple rotation. My friends have adopted many lines from the film and hearing them always spawns laughter from those of us in the know. If you have a sense of humor about your humanity, this film is a must see. "Thank GOD I didn't slip her the old 'Buck Loner special!'"
The widow of a gay movie critic hopes to collect on her husband's inheritance, which includes a drama school in Hollywood run by her in-law, Buck Loner, a faded cowboy star. Despite 20th Century-Fox keeping this thing under-wraps for years, the notorious "Myra Breckinridge" is finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves. This Hollywood satire is indeed a misfire, but it isn't a boring one. Based on Gore Vidal's acidic book, it's an amusingly trashy, wicked and low-down look at Hollywood's loss of morals; it isn't meant to be high-brow, and Raquel Welch is ballsy and bitchy as the gal who takes on Tinsel Town. Rex Reed is her alter-ego, John Huston is perfect as Uncle Buck, Mae West is dazed but ribald as a man-hungry talent agent, and Farrah Fawcett is a sweetly stoned ingénue. Vidal (who penned one of the first screenplay drafts himself before being kicked off the project) chastised the picture but, despite some choppy editing and an uncertain direction, it's a movie perfectly in-tune with the source material. After some 30 years, the times have finally caught up with "Myra Breckinridge". **1/2 from ****
and Tom Selleck. (Oh, and Shirley Temple if you're seeing a complete
print which is not often the case anymore.) This is an amazing
culmination of Hollywood evolution. This film was not long in theatres
in the United States.
Mae West in her last 'successful' performance (in my opinion) and well worth the making of the film if only just for her - Mae has everything we ever wanted her to have.
With John Huston as a proper Hollywood creep - we love his candor, Raquel Welch is splendid as Gore Vidal's vision of her true self - Myron Breckinridge (played by Rex Reed) sex-changed into Myra Breckinridge.
This gem features a very early Farrah Fawcett in her second ever film, and Tom Selleck in his first film.
Myra Breckinridge (1970) was effectively banned by litigation carried out by Shirley Black (Shirley Temple) herself who is invoked often in the film's complete original version.
When I found a video copy of Myra Breckinridge at a video shop in Seattle in 1991, I was flabbergasted; I had no idea a film had been made from the book. I had found the Gore Vidal novel in my parents' library when I was thirteen. In fact, I had read it over and over. I could not imagine that Hollywood could have produced a film of this amazing and bizarre novel; it's no wonder its screen life was cut short.
I was already trying to imagine the quintessential scene with Rusty in the infirmary and the famous West Hollywood billboard which puts Wonder Woman to shame.
I was lucky enough to have rented one of the few 'unabridged' versions which was 20 minutes longer than many other abridged versions I've seen since that have cut the flashes of Shirley Temple among other things.
I find this film to be a fine example of all the things toward which Hollywood might ACTUALLY aspire which includes a sense of humour and poking fun at one's self.
View with GUSTO! True Hollywood aficionados will appreciate this one.
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