Dir: Michael Sarne, 1970
The few cinematic adaptations of his literary works, have been met with scorn and derision from critics. Vidal, himself, had a dislike for the film industry, feeling that anything he put his heart into was decimated by producers and directors. Looking at the box office takings, the public were of the same opinion.
It won’t come as any surprise, that his quirky and off beat comedy novel, Myra Breckinridge, didn’t make a successful transition from page to screen. Hated by critics and distanced from Vidal, the film is often regarded as a failure, bereft of any value.
But, is that a fair evaluation?
Rex Reed is Myron Breckinridge. A gay man, Myron has a sex change and becomes Myra (Raquel Welch).
Now Myra, she poses as Myron’s widow in order to fleece some money off of her rich uncle, Buck (John Huston).
Unaware that Myra was Myron, Buck sets her to work in an acting school, where she sets off a catalyst of sexual awakenings.
For 1970, the film was pretty controversial. With its liberal attitude towards sex, the movie was a little too much. By today’s standards, it’s difficult to see what the fuss was about, but there are still one surprises to be had (Raquel Welch wearing a strap-on and pegging/raping a guy is probably the most well known).
Acclaimed actors John Huston and Mae West appear, but both give an expression of “what am I doing in this?”.
At its heart, Myra Breckinridge is a surreal comedy, but director Michael Sarne is unable to make much of it work.
Before turning his hand to movie making, Sarne was a singer-songwriter in his native England. Scoring his only number one with Come Outside (featuring the vocal talents of Wendy Richard), Sarne entered music history as another member of the One Hit Wonder club. This, his debut directorial effort, isn’t exactly much better than his number one song, but there is a likeable charm to it all.
It’s clear from the get-go, that Sarne doesn’t really know what he’s doing. The film has the occasional aside to the audience, which doesn’t further the plot nor push the movie as a whole.
The dialogue and special effects (or lack of them), give the movie a trippy feel. There are definitely echoes of Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, released the same year.
Myra Breckinridge is no masterpiece. Not by a long shot. It’s never dull. But, labelling it as one of the worst films ever made is grossly unfair. The reports about how bad it is, are over-exaggerated and hyperbole.
Not great, it’ll keep you entertained for its duration but won’t remember much once it’s finished.
A curiosity time filler.