September 23, 2011

Queer Review: Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge
Director: Michael Sarne
Writers: Michael Sarne and David Giler. Based upon the novel by Gore Vidal.
Cast: Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, John Huston, Mae West, Tom Selleck, Roger C. Carmel, Roger Herren

Based upon the controversial novel by Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge is widely considered to be one of the worse films of all times. However, this appears to be due primarily to bad publicity combined with conservative standards at the time regarding human sexuality, as the final product is more of a muddled mess than an outright disaster. I am not going to defend Myra Breckinridge by any means, but Michael Sarne's film is nowhere near as bad as it's reputation suggests.

Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed) has just undergone a sex change operation to become Myra Breckinridge (Raquel Welch). Her next course of action is to approach Buck Loner (John Huston), who heads the acting school that Myron owns half of. Pretending to be Myron's widow, Myra attempts to persuade Buck to buy the half of the school that she now technically owns while Buck attempts to prove her claims wrong. Meanwhile, now a professor at the school, Myra falls madly in love with one of the students, Rusty Godowski (Roger Herren) and makes every attempt to destroy his masculinity.

The Queering
Myra Breckinridge is not only listed on Wikipedia's List of films considered the worst but it is also the only film from the 70's on the list. Furthermore, Myra Breckinridge was also included in Harry Medved's book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way). Gore Vidal also distanced himself from the movie adaptation of his book.

By no means am I going to defend Myra Breckinridge but I will say that it is nowhere's near being among the worst films of all time. I can think of plenty of films that are a million times worse, such as Another Gay Movie or Half Baked where the experience of watching becomes so intolerable that one will very quickly wish to be doing something more pleasant, such as undergoing Chinese water torture. In fact, if forced at gunpoint I would not hesitate to choose Myra Breckinridge over watching any lame rom com such as Latter Days or Imagine Me and You.

This is not to say that Myra Breckinridge is flawless. On the whole, it would be charitable to label Michael Sarne's direction and writing as "muddled". This is backed up by reports that Sarne would spend up to 7 hours at time alone "thinking" while the production crew was forced to wait around. Too bad that given the evidence at hand that "thinking" does not appear to be among Sarne's strengths.

The one thing that makes Myra Breckinridge enjoyable or at least watchable, was the frequent use of clips from old movies, inserted at appropriate moments, often to provide an exclamation point to the humour. This sort of creativity is something I would like to see a lot more of in films. Also, Raquel Welch's performance is worth a look, as is Mae West as a talent scout who only wants studs due to the fact that she sleeps with all her clients. John Huston also manages to generate a few sparks as the fake macho buck who spars with Breckinridge. All of the other performances are mostly forgettable.

In the end, Myra Breckinridge was doomed by bad press and the conservative standards of the day turned the explicit sex related humour into the films albatross. Toss in the fact that the final product was not all that great and it is easy to see why this universally panned by critics.

While not even remotely close to being a candidate for one of the worst movies of all time, this is still pretty much only for those with a tolerance for experimental films or a very strong interest in the history of queer cinema.

The Rating


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