Forgotten Classic: Myra Breckinridge

Each week we're going to cover a Forgotten Classic - a movie that deserves a far more attention than it gets, and seems to have been forgotten by many. This week is the turn of...

Based on Gore Vidal's allegedly unfilmable novel, about a transexual (Myra) who travels to her uncle's (a former cowboy acting star) acting ranch to claim her inheritance. Although her real desire is "the destruction of the American male in all particulars". On this journey Myra encounters the man devouring talent agent - Leticia Van Allen (Mae West).

Originally hoped as a hip, young movie that would heal 20th Century Fox's massive decline after flops such as Cleopatra, and meet the eye of the youth of the 1960s. However, this was not the case. Paying $900,000 for the rights to Vidal's novel, Fox also got Vidal to write a screenplay for the film - this did not go down well. Vidal's script was said to be too political and well, just not funny enough. Fox also recruited talented English director Mike Sarne (who really did not want to work in Hollywood, yet could not turn down the $75k director's fee). Raquel Welch jumped on board to star as Myra, tired of playing mere romantic objects - she wanted a role to challenge her, Myra seemed perfect. Mae West was also recruited after it was discovered she still owed Fox one movie - she accepted on the conditions of top billing, a $350k pay packet and being allowed to write her own dialogue.

The talk then shifted from Welch to West, with this being her first film since 1943 - making Welch extremely jealous. On the casting of Buck Loner (Myra's Uncle), Fox went with John Huston, against Sarne's wishes (Possibly directing the critically acclaimed Huston would be too much pressure for Sarne?) With a patched up script (with the help of writer David Giler) - featuring a 'comedic rape scene' and a crew that hated him (Producer Bobby Fryer had written a list of grievances about director, Sarne - "I hate him, he stinks, he's a dirty hippie") and pressure from the studio to film or to axe the project - tensions were mounting.

The film eventually went into production in September 1969 with ridiculous demands from West - she needed to have a huge irrelevant musical number and arguments from West and Welch over costumes. After filming his final scene John Huston left with the words "Goodbye everybody. You'll never cut it together." Meanwhile the studio were having doubts that the audience would click with the adult rated nature of the film, but after a test screening in San Francisco, audience reaction (to a largely gay audience) was good and the studio was convinced they had a hit. Scenes such as Myra felating her past self in a dream, then cutting to an archive shot of Shirley Temple being squirted in the eye by a goat, got huge laughs. However upon it's release it was described as 'Sleazy' and 'Outrageously vulgar' (The Times) and only made back $3 million of it's $5 million budget.

Despite, this it has become a cult classic. Mae West's performance alone is worth it's weight in gold - her lines are some of the best bits of the film. It's certainly an eye opening film - dated and nonsensical. But little moments with the archive footage and musical numbers really add to it's charm, and it's definitely a must for any fan of camp cinema.

Raquel Welch 5331329375515214879

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