Starring: Raquel Welch, Mae West, John Huston
Director: Michael Searne
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Like a freakish time capsule from planet Hollywood, Myra Breckinridge is one of those notorious cinematic bombs that has to be seen to be believed. Based on Gore Vidal’s 1968 bestseller, this kooky film follows the warpath of its Amazonian leading lady as she sets about realigning the sexes and “preparing humanity for its next stage” – whatever that may mean.
In the most audacious performance of her career, Raquel Welch stars as Myra. Formerly known as the film critic Myron (Rex Reed), she morphed into her jaw-dropping new incarnation after going under a knife wielded by John Carridine. Post op, Myra blazes a trail to her Uncle Buck (a crusty John Huston) and, in the guise of the late Myron’s wife, lays claim to half of his lucrative acting academy.
While he mulls it over, she installs herself as a teacher of ‘Empathy and Posture’, a role that sees her strap a young stud to a surgical table, strap on a dildo and sodomize him in a stars and stripes bikini. She then goes about seducing his doe-eyed girlfriend (Farrrah Fawcett). Rivalling Myra as a man eater is none other than Mae West who, at the ripe old age of 77, took on the role of Letitia Van Allen, ‘Queen of the Casting Couch’ and occasional cabaret artist (her two musical contributions are bizarre highlights as are her kinky one-liners).
And as if all this wasn’t perplexing enough, the film is peppered with classic snippets from the Fox archive including footage of Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. In a strange way, Myra seems to be an evolution of the screen siren, a voracious woman hell bent on the destruction of the American male. Whether Vidal created her in response to the rise of feminism it’s hard to say but he firmly denounced the film upon its release. With it’s curious exploration of gender identification and musings on the nature of acting, the film comes across today as rather radical if greatly flawed. Maybe enough time has passed for it to be reassessed as a piece of cult kitsch?