The notorious X-rated bomb that nearly sank Twentieth Century Fox in 1970, Myra Breckinridge is a special brand of awful. In the 34 years since it opened to universally scathing reviews, hippie director Michael Sarne’s incoherent adaptation of Vidal’s biting satirical novel has developed enough of a following to warrant a DVD edition with “he said/she said” commentary tracks from Sarne and the film’s star Raquel Welch. Whether or not you agree with the clearly delusional Sarne that Myra Breckinridge was “ahead of its time,” one thing is certain: you won’t forget this bizarre film, which also stars Mae West, looking positively mummified as she reels off double-entendres to a bevy of hunky extras.
Speaking in an affected, finishing-school accent, Welch stars as Myra, the world’s most improbable transsexual. In the film’s Fellini-esque opening, a sulky Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed in his first and thankfully last film role) undergoes a quickie sex-change and becomes Myra. Dressed to the nines in costume designer Theodora Van Runkle’s retro fashions (one of the few good things in the movie), Myra descends on the Hollywood acting school run by her lecherous uncle, Buck Loner (John Huston). When she’s not teaching a class on empathy and posture to Hollywood hopefuls at Buck’s school, Myra presses Uncle Buck for the fortune he owes Myron. Meanwhile, legendary talent agent Leticia Van Allen (West) periodically totters through the story in search of hot young studs (one of whom is played by Tom Selleck). As Buck schemes to thwart Myra’s plans to collect her money, she embarks on her ultimate goal of seducing and destroying those All-American ideals, the macho Rusty (Roger Herren) and his dumb Blonde girlfriend Mary Ann (Farrah Fawcett!) while Myron looks on from the sidelines.
When it was published in 1968, Vidal’s novel was praised for its daring and witty critique of gender stereotypes and pop culture in sixties-era America. The novel’s subversive and sharp-eyed humor is largely absent in the arch, cartoonish film version of Myra Breckinridge. The movie is nothing more than a big-screen dirty joke—except that it’s not funny. The whole sorry enterprise reeks of desperation, from West’s two musical numbers (it was in her contract) to Sarne’s liberal use of old film clips to comment on the story. At times, the narrative simply wanders off into parts unknown, such as a pointless dream sequence featuring Reed, Fawcett, and a banana. Myra Breckinridge tries hard to be hip and groovy, but it’s ultimately nonsensical, like so many of the “counter-culture” movies the studios made in the late ’60s to woo the youth market.
Running Time: 94 minutes
Genres: Comedy, Cult, Drama, Gay/Lesbian
Director: Michael Sarne