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November 3, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #96 - Fathom

After an October that was basically all horror, all the time (except for that time we won't mention when I went to see Real Steel, because robots fighting robots can't be bad, right?) I figured we'd start November with a lighter and fluffier kind of Midnight Movie of the Week.  The kind of movie that's got spies and comedy and cheeky '60s pastel colors and mysterious statues that are nukes.  The kind of movie that's got skydiving and bullfighting and comes from the dudes who created the infamous '60s version of Batman, shark-repellent bat spray and all.

Oh, and the kind of movie that's pretty much all about Raquel Welch's breasts.
If you can't fathom such a film, you clearly never met Fathom Harvill, the title character of Fathom.  (Geez, Mike, could you say fathom one more time? FATHOM.) She's played by the woman Ellis Boyd Redding once described as "the lovely Raquel"; the same she who aided in the escape of Andrew Dufresne from Shawshank Prison.  It's not one of Ms. Welch's most dramatic roles - it certainly pales in comparison to the fantastic roller derby drama of Kansas City Bomber - but it doesn't need to be.  The comic adventure puts Raquel in all of the tricky situations listed above, and is about one shark and one dude in gorilla suit away from being the perfect cheesy adventure of goodness.  It's kind of a tragedy that dudes in gorilla suits went out of style by the time the film was released in 1967, because who wouldn't want to see Raquel try to evade one? I know I would.
In the interest of fairness, I should add that the movie's occasionally about her legs and thighs too.
Aside from the obvious reasons for a red blooded dude like The Mike to love a film that's primarily about Raquel's stunning figure, Fathom is one of those good old fashioned '60s comedies that's dripping with hip.  It's this kind of spy flick - a second cousin to James Coburn's Our Man/In Like Flint spy spoofs, also made by Fox during that decade - that was pillaged when Austin Powers became a hit in the late '90s, but Fathom works by setting up the improbably spy formula for a female lead.  However, any other comparisons to the Powers films would be misguided, because Fathom intends to point out how intelligent and resourceful our hero is.  Fathom probably has more in common with North by Northwest's leading man Roger Thornhill than Powers, especially when she falls for that old "get photographed with a murder weapon whilst hovering over a murderee" trick.
The film's plot - yes, there actually is one, even if The Mike sometimes gets distracted by Raquel in saucy outfits - revolves around a bunch of dudes who are hunting for a quasi-nuclear statue called "The Firedragon" (which is clearly not a euphemism for the redheaded starlet).  Leading the charge (and top-billed above Welch!) is Acadamy Award Nominee Tony Franciosa as a charming fella with ties to the Chinese Secret Service and the KGB, who is the obvious favorite in the game to become Fathom's love interest, but he's not alone. There's a veritable quadrangle-of-love going on here, as Fathom encounters a cold-blooded eccentric fella (basically this film's version of Batman's The Penguin) played by future Legend of Hell House star Clive Revill and a trustworthy "handler" of sorts played by Ronald Fraser.  Each of the men play in to the chase for The Firedragon in different ways, accompanying Fathom by land, sea, and air as she moves from one crisis to the next.
I like to think this is when Fathom chose her outfit to rep' my alma mater, Iowa State University.
Despite the obvious appeal of Welch, Fathom does a good job of building her up as a credible female character as the film proceeds.  Unlike director Leslie H. Martinson's version of Batman, the hero here is not a tongue-in-cheek kind of girl.  The film lets its female lead control the men around her with her beauty and brains, though it also takes care not to stray too far into "she is woman, hear her roar" territory.  There's a delicate balance between the Fathom character and the smart male characters, particularly Franciosa's that surround her, which builds to a twisty finale that tries its best to trick the viewer.  Neither side is presented as inferior or ignorant, making it a rare sexified '60s flick that doesn't fall into genre stereotyping or sexism.
Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. - who would write former MMOTW Pretty Poison a year later and would eventually scribe the all-time classic Flash Gordon - was also a graduate of the Batman series and film - does a good job of keeping everything balanced in Fathom.  There are very few actual jokes in the comic adventure, but the lighthearted nature of the film keeps a smile on the viewer's face even when Fathom is facing an angry bull or a loaded gun.  There's little suspense to the mysterious plot - the minor twists lead to the expected Hollywood ending - but the story lets Welch, Franciosa, and the rest of the gang loose in exotic European locations, leaving us with a light-hearted mixture of Bond movie tricks and Hitchcock movie traps.  With boobs.
Yessir, I'm for that.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to perform every sex-act in the known universe on Raquel Welch (as the bird was in 1958 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).