[box cover]

Myra Breckinridge

Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) is just another wild sexual odyssey that couldn't make the transition from page to screen. So, like Terry Southern's Candy before it, the filmmakers — in this case the horribly overmatched Michael Sarne and co-scripter David Giler — go overboard on the Dionysian spectacle to compensate for their lack of a cohesive vision. What results is a rather toothless Hollywood satire that, despite its initial "X" rating, seems rather tame in this day and age of breast-baring Super Bowl halftimes. Ostensibly the tale of Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed), who, after a sex change operation, becomes Myra Breckinridge and heads to Hollywood to bilk his/her uncle Buck Loner (John Huston) out of his fortune, Sarne adopts a distractingly smug, wink/nudge approach that undercuts any potentially incisive satire. Passing through the film's fractured narrative are any number of aging movie stars, including a haggard John Carradine as the surgeon who transforms Myron into Myra, Andy Devine as Cowboy Bill, and Mae West, who tips the whole endeavor hopelessly into camp whenever she appears as casting agent Leticia Van Allen. A harbinger of her ghastly performance eight years later in Sextette, West, in the best Norma Desmond tradition, seems to be laboring under the notion that she's still "got it," which is woefully disproved when she desecrates the memory of Otis Redding by butchering his classic "Hard to Handle." One could argue that her unsightly vanity is in perfect harmony with Vidal's full-frontal assault on Hollywood, but that doesn't make her work here any more bearable. Most of the performances are just a little less painful than West's, though Welch, coming off an equally dubious, star-studded adaptation of The Magic Christian, is actually quite good. As the reigning sex goddess of cinema in 1970, Sarne couldn't have picked a better actress with which to upend gender roles and god knows what else in Hollywood, but he's simply not up to her game performance. No one is, which renders the film watchable only for Welch's myriad costume changes (the famous stars-and-stripes one-piece is still a stunner), and Sarne's occasionally amusing use of vintage film clips to comment on the ribald proceedings. It should be noted that a young Farrah Fawcett has a key supporting role as Mary Ann, the woman who drives Myra back to being Myron, while Tom Selleck makes his feature film debut as a nameless stud getting pawed by Mae West. Whatever would Higgins think? Fox presents Myra Breckinridge in a nicely restored anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with pretty good Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include a decidedly rambling commentary from Sarne and, somewhat surprisingly, a mostly good-humored track from Ms. Welch, who toughs out the film while dishing dirt about her diva-ish battles with the stubbornly vain West. Also on board is an entertaining "AMC Backstory" documentary on the turbulent making of the movie, featuring reminiscences from most of the surviving principals, as well as noted feminist Camile Paglia. Rounding out the two-sided disc are numerous theatrical trailers for this and other Welch pictures, and a television spot. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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