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Raquel Welch Collection DVD Review

Raquel Welch Collection

December 16, 2004

Director: Don Chaffey, Andrew V. McLaglen, Michael Sarne, Peter Yates, Leslie H. Martinson,
Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, James Stewart, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Mae West, John Huston, Rex Reed, Bill Cosby, Harvey Keitel, Tony Franciosa, ,

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DVD Review

Raquel Welch had a modest feature film debut with a bit part in A House is Not A Home in 1964 but quickly shot to fame with the one-two punch of Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. in 1966. Her drop-dead gorgeous looks transformed her from a beauty pageant champ to an international sex symbol. While her career is dominated by mostly forgettable films that did nothing more than show off her voluptuous figure, Welch has endured. She has become a force unto herself and a legend in the business. Fans of her films are in for a treat as 20th Century Fox has released a box set with five of the actress’ movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The set begins appropriately with the movie that launched her career: One Million Years B.C., a view of prehistoric life and primitive man’s daily struggle to survive. After a fight with his father and leader of the tribe, a young man (Richardson) sets out on his own. Eventually, he encounters another tribe and meets a beautiful cave girl (Welch). Between scavenging for food and killing the occasional dinosaur, they fall in love.

Two things distinguish this movie: Ray Harryhausen’s amazing stop motion animation effects and the more natural special effects of Raquel Welch’s stunning body clad in a fur bikini. She was a fresh-faced, buxom beauty and has a magnetic charisma that the camera picks up right from her first on-screen appearance. Fortunately, these two elements distract one from the laughably wooden acting and the fact that it takes 27 minutes for our first glimpse of Welch. If taken at face value as nothing more then silly, mindless fun, then One Million Years B.C. is a pretty entertaining film—so long as either Harryhausen’s dinosaurs or Welch is on-screen.

Welch gets to speak complete sentences in Bandolero! (1968), a pathetic attempt to copy the Sergio Leone-style spaghetti westerns (complete with a clunky Ennio Morricone-esque soundtrack by the late great Jerry Goldsmith of all people!). Dean Martin plays a bank robber in the old west, Jimmy Stewart is a grizzled, down-on-his-luck cowboy who is also Dino’s brother, and George Kennedy is the lawman hot on their trail. Welch plays the Claudia Cardinale role from Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) and gets to mix it up with the guys and shoot up bandits like a seasoned gunslinger.

It’s pretty easy to see what attracted Welch to this film—the chance to work with such big names as Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin and George Kennedy. Alas, she is also saddled with god-awful dialogue, like this memorable gem, “Mr. Carter, I was a whore at thirteen and my family of twelve never went hungry.” The fact that she is able to muster the conviction to say lines like this without laughing is the mark of a true professional. Needless to say, everyone involved seems to be having fun; it’s a shame that the audience can’t claim the same thing.

Adapted from Gore Vidal’s book of the same name, Myra Breckinridge (1970) is Welch’s most outrageous film that only could have only been made in the ‘70s. It’s an absurdist comedy in the same vein as Brewster McCloud (1970) and features the surreal misadventures Myron Breckinridge (Reed). One sex change later and he’s a she (Welch). The rest of the film plays out in a convoluted mess that only heavy doses of drugs could help discern.

Myra Breckinridge is an insane film filled with non-sequeter edits and jarring jump cuts a la the French New Wave. Director Michael Sarne raided the 20th Century Fox archives and samples from all sorts of films (including Welch’s own One Million Years B.C.) in comic and irreverent ways. Welch is quite good as she completely deconstructs her sex symbol image by playing a curiously complex character in a layered, experimental film. It is truly surreal to see the likes of John Huston, a young Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck (?!) in such a mondo bizarro movie.

Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) is a comedy about the exciting, competitive world of paramedics. Welch plays Jennifer (a.k.a. Jugs), the dispatcher, Bill Cosby is Mother, the veteran ambulance driver, and Harvey Keitel is Speed, a disgraced ex-cop. Throw in a pre-Dallas Larry Hagman and a dope smoking Bruce Davison and you have all the ingredients for the comedic equivalent of a hash brownie.

You gotta love a movie that has the balls to show a female wrestling match in the opening credits. As if to further reinforce the sexist vibe, the first shot we got of Welch is of her in a tight-fitting white shirt that leaves little to the imagination and reinforces her namesake. It doesn’t help that most of the men spend the entire movie hitting on Welch. Cosby is a trouper delivering his lines with perfect comic timing while Keitel looks like he’s slumming between Scorsese films. Say what you will about Mother, Jugs & Speed—it provided a “winning” formula that D.C. Cab (1983) would use for its raunchy comedy about taxi cab drivers and eerily echoes its more serious cousin, the somber paramedic opus, Bringing Out the Dead (1999). One has to wonder: is Scorsese actually a closet fan of this movie?

Rounding out the collection is Fathom (1967), a fun espionage thriller with Welch as an ace sky-diver enlisted by a secret spy agency (H.A.D.E.S.) to find and recover a hydrogen bomb (a.k.a. Firedragon) before it falls into the wrong hands.

Welch handles her role with enthusiasm, clearly jazzed at playing a James Bond type and getting to show off all sorts of fashionable ‘60s clothes. The show-stopping scene is when Welch parades around a beach in a skimpy lime green bikini. This moment is obviously meant to invoke the equally meager furry bikini she wore in One Million Years B.C. While Fathom does contain some laughably bad dialogue (Welch explains how she gets the nerve to sky dive, “When the big day comes, get someone to give you a big push!”) and a ludicrous plot but it is all harmless, kitschy fun.

Special Features:

All of the DVDs have two theatrical trailers of their respective film and trailers for the other Welch movies in the collection.

One Million Years B.C. also has a restoration comparison that shows an older, substandard print versus a newer, improved one.

Myra Breckinridge contains the most extras of any of the DVDs. In addition to theatrical and special edition versions of the movie, director Michael Sarne and Raquel Welch contribute separate audio commentaries. Sarne speaks over the special edition version with a wry sense of humour. He doesn’t hold back as he criticizes Rex Reed’s lack of acting ability and proves to be the master of understatement (“She’s got a nice figure,” he says of Welch.). Welch provides a commentary on the theatrical version and is clearly still embarrassed of the movie. She still can’t believe that she took the role and is completely candid, criticizing the screenplay numerous times during the commentary! Fans of the veteran actress will find this a hilarious track—well worth a listen. Rounding out the extras is an “AMC Backstory,” a fascinating 30-minute retrospective featurette on the cinematic train wreck that was the making of this movie. Everyone working on it thought that they were making their own movie and the end result was a weird, jumbled mess.

If you watch Mother, Jugs & Speed closely (and who, quite frankly, wouldn’t?) you’ll notice that some of the raunchier language has been dubbed over with clean dialogue in order to earn a PG rating, I suppose.

This collection demonstrates that popular to contrary belief, Raquel Welch actually as some range as an actress. She has appeared in a wide variety of genre films, appealed to multiple generations of fans and has become a gay icon. Welch has had a full career and is continuing to make movies, which is testament to her staying power. While this collection doesn’t feature too many extras (aside from the Myra Breckinridge DVD), each film is presented

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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