Thursday, February 2, 2012

Myra Breckenridge (1970)

          The notorious flop Myra Breckenridge tries so hard to be outrageous that, after a while, it’s just boring to watch even though the storyline is a sensationalistic farce about a scheming transsexual. Based on a satirical novel by Gore Vidal, the picture follows Myron Breckenridge (Rex Reed) as he undergoes sex-change surgery to become Myra Breckenridge (Raquel Welch) in order to get revenge on his skeevy uncle, Buck Loner (John Huston), who swindled Myron’s inheritance.
          Throughout the picture, Welch interacts with other performers while Reed lurks on the sidelines, visible only to Welch as his/her character’s inner voice. (This device allows Reed to issue caustic commentary and to guide Welch through her underhanded machinations.) As if more weirdness was necessary, director Michael Sarne regularly cuts from the action to snippets from old Twentieth Century-Fox movies (think Laurel & Hardy, Shirley Temple, and so on), providing “ironic” counterpoints to the main story.
          Putting the whole thing way over the top is the casting of onetime sex symbol Mae West as a talent agent who gets embroiled in the story; ancient and overweight but glamorized as if her former sex appeal is still intact, West floats through the movie in outlandish costumes, dropping rude one-liners and singing a pair of horrible show tunes. Huston’s contribution to the strangeness is performing in cartoonish cowboy costumes (his ten-gallon hat features a brim that must be four feet across) and barking every line in a lascivious growl. Reed, the flamboyant film critic whose claim to fame in the ’60s and ’70s was jaded bitchiness, contributes absolutely nothing except jaded bitchiness. As for Welch, the allure of her spectacular beauty wears thin once she starts acting, since she delivers dialogue with a vapid breathiness that makes her sound like a posturing twit.
          Still, Myra Breckenridge is among the most brazen X-rated movies from the brief moment when studios actually made X-rated movies. The raunchiest scene is undoubtedly Myra’s sexual conquest of a young stud (Roger Herren), because she ties him to a table, straps on a dildo, and anally rapes him while hooting and hollering like she’s riding in a rodeo. (The scene is shot discreetly, but the content is nonetheless startling.) In another transgressive moment, Myron (who is actually Myra imagining that he/she is still Myron) pleasures himself while imagining a pretty girl (Farrah Fawcett) tempting him with ice cream and baked goods.
          Myra Breckenridge had a dour effect on the professional lives of nearly everyone involved, destroying Carne’s Hollywood career, dissuading Reed from acting again until his cameo in Superman (1978), and dashing Welch’s hopes of being taken seriously as an actress. Some many find this movie’s mannered excesses amusing in a campy sort of way, and Myra Breckenridge is a must-see for anyone cataloging the worst cinematic train wrecks of the ’70s, but the picture doesn’t come close to being the scandalous farce its makers obviously envisioned.

Myra Breckenridge: FREAKY

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