Monday, November 3, 2008
The success of the Bond films, starting with 1962's Dr. No, caused a craze for spy movies. Studios across the globe wanted to cash in with their own imitators. Many of these films were not always serious fare, but played up for laughs. While many of these movies featured male spies, including Dean Martin as Matt Helm and James Coburn as Derek Flint, there were spy capers starring female leads. Actresses got a chance to play more than just another notch in the bedpost of a male secret agent. Two such examples are Raquel Welchc Fathom Harvill and Monica Vitti as Modesty Blaise (which I'm sure to cover at a later date).
Fathom was released in 1967. It was directed by Leslie H. Martinson (he had directed the Batman feature film the previous year. The script was by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (he wrote the screenplay for the Batman film, plus he was also a writer and script consultant on the Batman series). Raquel Welch was cast as dental hygienist and skydiver Fathom Harvill. Raquel's credits at this point included Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C., both which were released in 1966.
Fathom is participating in a skydiving tour throughout Spain. The opening sequence of the film features a sexy Raquel packing up her parachute. The camera lovingly moves over her body. This should give you a good idea of what this film is going to be focused on. When she's finishing jumping out of a plane, she takes a ride from a young British chap. He ends up driving her to meet a Colonel Campbell (Ronald Fraser) at an old trailer out at the beach. She discovers that her driver is Lieutenant Timothy Webb (Richard Briers) of the Royal Air Force. They inform her that they work for a covert spy agency called H.A.D.E.S. (Headquarters Allied Defenses Espionage and Security). They want to recruit her to perform one simple task for them. They are trying to locate the Fire Dragon, which is a fail safe device that can detonate a hydrogen bomb by electronic signal. It seems that a hydrogen bomb was lost in the Mediterranean. They were able to find the bomb, but not the triggering device. Campbell asks her to parachute down into the villa of Peter Merriweather (Anthony Franciosa) and Jo-May Soon, Mongolian KGB (Greta Chi), both are enemy agents working for the Chinese and are after the Fire Dragon. H.A.D.E.S. is having trouble with a listening device at the villa so they can snoop on what the two Red Chinese agents are up to. They just need her to turn the bug on. It sounds easy enough.
She agrees to help them just this one time. What she thinks will turn out to be an easy and quick task turns out to be more than she bargained for. Her landing at the villa goes off without a hitch. When she enters the house, however, she stumbles upon the body of a murdered man. That's when Peter Merriweather and Jo-May Soon walk in to discover Fathom holding the murder weapon. He snaps incriminating photos of Fathom. There's some witty banter here between Fathom and Merriweather. Half the time he's grilling her and half the time he's flirting with her. He blackmails her into helping him dispose of the body.
Merriweather tells Fathom that she's been lied to. He did not defect to the East during the Korean War. The war defector is actually Col. Campbell, who is not actually the head of H.A.D.E.S. The Fire Dragon is actually a priceless treasure from the Ming Dynasty. Col. Campbell is a thief. Merriweather is the detective hired to get back the statue. Fathom isn't sure who to believe. There are so many twists and turns that it's not always easy to figure out who to trust and what people's real motives are concerning the Fire Dragon. The only person you know from the outset is a villain is the Russian Sergi Serapkin (played fabulously by Clive Revill, who was also great in Modesty Blaise), who has the disability of never being warm enough. When Fathom first encounters Serapkin, she believes that he might have the Fire Dragon or know where to get it from. He actually thinks that she's a prostitute come to service him. There's quite an interesting scene on his yacht.
I don't want to go into too much more detail about the plot of the film. Suffice it to say, Fathom is pulled in all different directions. She's never quite sure who to trust or what their true intentions are. There are several action packed scenes in which Fathom finds herself in trouble, including a boat chase, having to elude a spear gun attack underwater, being run around a stadium by a bull, danger up in a plane, etc. The movie is light on gadgets, except for some exploding earrings. The movie's main focus much on the time is on the incredibly sexy body of Raquel Welch. The camera tends to zoom in often on her body. The highlight of the movie is Fathom walking around the streets of a Spanish town in a lime green bikini. All eyes are on her as she struts through town. You can't hardly blame them. She is a knockout.
Raquel Welch could never be accused of being a great actress. She does the best she can here with her talents. Honestly you know she's playing Fathom because of her gorgeous looks and body. She wasn't exactly hired for her acting abilities. She avails herself quite nicely here. The other two best actors in this film have got to be Tony Franciosa (who for some reason is top billed in this movie) and Clive Revill. They both play their respective roles perfectly. I never quite understood why Franciosa never became a bigger star. There is a lot of chemistry in this film between him and Raquel. They make a good looking couple. Their scenes together always brought a smile to my face. There's a running gag throughout this film about Fathom's name. She's got a different line every time for why she was given such a moniker.
Fathom has a really jazzy cocktail lounge soundtrack. I had it in my head for days after. It also takes advantage of the beautiful scenery in Spain. It's a stunning locale to have set this film in. The cinematography really captures the beauty and atmosphere quite nicely. The movie has all this, as well as sex appeal, laughs, action, etc. It doesn't try to be something it's not. It's not pretending to be high art. It knows that it's a kitschy spy romp. Fathom embraces and relishes in that. It's not great cinema, but it is pure escapist fun. Give Raquel Welch in her role as Fathom Harvill a shot. I'm sure you won't be sorry.
Here's that opening sequence I mentioned earlier. Wow!