Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge (1970) movie poster

director Michael Sarne
viewed: 03/04/2018

Myra Breckinridge is a hot mess, maybe the original hot mess.  Hot, however,  like an unevenly microwaved potash might be.

In its day, it was a spectacular car wreck of a movie, a big budget adaptation of a touted novel by Gore Vidal, called at the time a novel that could never be filmed. This no doubt had more to do with its story about a man who undergoes a sex change operation and then comes back to Hollywood to upend the traditional male identity in as many ways possible.

In the film, Rex Reed becomes Raquel Welch (a scenario that if medicine to actually perform, a lot more folks would be up for sex changes). It plays out as knowing modernist comedy, arch, though not really camp, or maybe it’s more of an imitation of camp?

More than anything, it’s a mess. I don’t know how the novel plays out but in the film, Myra’s politicized and erudite criticism of the movie industry, patriarchy, sexism, a whole spectrum of topics, culminates in her raping a bland, good-looking actor with a strap-on. That scene is pretty horrific and played for laughs?

Most people wound up blaming director/co-writer Michael Sarne for the box office bomb. Sarne was thrown into the deep end on the picture, a cavalcade of drama and craziness on set. But he manages some interesting stuff as well, using classic movie images and sequences to comment comically on the story.

To my mind, Myra Breckinridge is indeed a mess, but an interesting one. For one, I thought Raquel Welch was great. Mae West’s rendition of “Hard to Handle” might be second place in the nadir race next to the rape scene.

An interesting spectacle and a hot mess.

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