Myra Breckinridge (movie 1970) review: Michael Sarne’s adaptation of Gore Vidal’s transgender satirical comedy is made to order for bad-movie lovers
Has anybody ever said anything good about this movie?
Not that it’s a cinematic masterpiece or even one of the must-see “worst cult movies ever made,” but this 1970 critical and box office dud does have a certain allure for bad-movie lovers.
Now, before we proceed let’s make it clear that director Michael Sarne (instead of the originally assigned Bud Yorkin) must take the blame for the film’s disjointed unevenness. From all I’ve read, it was his baby all the way – Sarne also co-wrote the screenplay with future Alien & sequels producer David Giler – though, admittedly, distributor 20th Century Fox later re-edited some of the movie.
Gore Vidal, for his part, has distanced himself from this disaster based on his 1968 satirical novel. Even so, his name remains in the title, as in: Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge.
West v Welch
So, what sold Myra Breckinridge in the first place?
The answer is: The pairing of Mae West and Raquel Welch.
But just try finding the two of them together in the same scene. They speak to one another only in over-the-shoulder shots where you can see only the back of the other actress’ head.
Unsurprisingly, the story goes that they hated each other.
Standout John Huston
As far as the acting goes, John Huston – whose credits as a director include The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – gives the movie’s best performance.
His portrayal of acting studio head Buck Loner is both believable and comical, as the Hollywood veteran seems to be one of the few to actually get the story’s inherent humor.
Raquel Welch, in all fairness, isn’t bad either. The 1960s sex symbol tries hard to be loyal to the Myron-to-Myra of Vidal’s novel, a transgender woman out to challenge the whole sexual infrastructure of American society by attempting to emasculate men and turn women into lesbians.
Big Mae West comeback, and yet…
Then there’s Mae West in her big movie comeback after some 27 years.
But unfortunately, the former Paramount star (She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel) was added to Myra Breckinridge as window dressing.
Although West is given terrific costumes and very good lighting in her few scenes, it’s shocking to see the camera cutting away from her while she sings “You Gotta Taste All the Fruit.”
It’s almost as if her number was not important enough to be in the film.
On the other hand, some of the scenes of Myra and Myron together should definitely have been left on the cutting-room floor. Besides, the spliced-in old film clips are often unnecessary and not at all related to the storyline.
Not helping matters, the narrative – filled with topical humor and political references – seems a bit dated. As for the ending, it’s as ambiguous in the Myra Breckinridge movie version as it is in the book.
And here’s the but … it’s always fun to see Mae West in anything. And there is some gruesome pleasure in watching a disaster in the making unfold before your eyes.
Myra Breckinridge (movie 1970) cast & crew
Director: Michael Sarne.
Screenplay: David Giler & Michael Sarne.
From Gore Vidal’s 1968 novel.
Cast: Raquel Welch, Mae West, John Huston, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett, Roger C. Carmel, Roger Herren, Calvin Lockhart, George Furth, Jim Backus, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Kathleen Freeman, Grady Sutton, Skip Ward, Tom Selleck, William Hopper, Michael Stearns.
Cameos: Geneviève Waïte, Michael Sarne.
Cinematography: Richard Moore.
Film Editing: Danford B. Greene.
Art Direction: Fred Harpman & Jack Martin Smith.
Producer: Robert Fryer.
Production Company | Distributor: 20th Century Fox.
Running Time: 94 min.
Country: United States.
“Myra Breckinridge (Movie 1970): Transgender Satire for Bad Movie Lovers” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.
“Myra Breckinridge (Movie 1970): Transgender Satire for Bad Movie Lovers” notes
Myra Breckinridge and another 1970 release, Russ Meyers’ Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, are reportedly the only two (initially) X-rated features distributed by 20th Century Fox.
Former Fox star Loretta Young (Ladies in Love, Suez) successfully sued to have her movie clips removed from Myra Breckinridge.
Myra Breckinridge movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
Raquel Welch Myra Breckinridge movie image: 20th Century Fox.
“Myra Breckinridge (Movie 1970): Transgender Satire for Bad Movie Lovers” last updated in April 2023.