Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Fathom (dir by Leslie H. Martinson)

(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s going to take her forever but, with the help of Dexedrine and energy drinks, she is determined to get it done!  She recorded 1967’s Fathom off of FXM on April 3rd of this year!)

Fathom is a spy spoof, one that was made the height of the initial James Bond craze.  It’s very much a late 60s film, in everything from the way the film looks to the overly complicated storyline to the film’s cultural attitudes.  This is one of those films that you know was probably considered to be “naughty” when it was released but, seen today, it’s all rather quaint.  There’s no nudity, there’s no cursing, and there’s very little violence.  However, it does feature in Raquel Welch in a lime green bikini and you just know that, when this film came out, there were probably people bemoaning it as the end of civilization.  “What happened to the movies that you could take the entire family too!?” they probably wailed.  That’s the way history works.  What was once daring now seems remarkably innocent.

I watched the film last night but I’d be lying if I said I could follow the plot.  I think that was intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  Fathom satirizes the spy films of the late 60s by taking all of their familiar elements to their logical extreme.  Spy thrillers feature unexpected twists and turns.  Fathom has a new twist every 10 minutes or so.  Spy thrillers feature sudden betrayal and double agents.  With the exception of Raquel Welch, literally no one in Fathom is who they initially claim to be.  It becomes exhausting to try to keep up.  In many ways, Fathom plays out like an old serial.  Every few minutes or so, there’s another cliffhanger.  Oh no, Raquel Welch is on an out-of-control motorboat!  Oh no, the bad guys have got Raquel Welch on an airplane!  Oh no, Raquel Welch is being chased by a bull and she’s wearing a red dress!  ¡Olé!

Raquel plays Fathom Harvill, who works as a dental hygienist except for when she’s touring Europe as a member of the U.S. parachute team.  She’s recruited by some spies to help track down a nuclear triggering mechanism, one that is being hidden somewhere in Spain.  The Scottish secret service just wants her to parachute into a villa owned by a mysterious American named Peter Meriweather (Anthony Franciosa) and plant a recording device.  Things don’t go quite as smoothly as they should and soon, Fathom’s going from one extreme situation to another.

(Even though Peter is supposed to be a suave, James Bond-type, Franciosa gives such an oddly intense performance that it feels like a dry run for his later work in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.  Interestingly enough, in Argento’s film, Franciosa’s character is named Peter Neal.  Is it possible that Peter Meriweather changed his last name?)

But really, the entire plot is just an excuse to get Raquel into that lime green bikini and she totally owns the moment.  Raquel Welch is one of my favorite of the old film stars because she never apologized for who she was.  She had the body, she was sexy, she knew it, and she used it to her advantage.  Of course, when seen today, it’s disappointing that Fathom spends the entire movie being rescued by men but then again, I imagine that just the idea of a woman being a secret agent was revolutionary in 1967.  Actually allowing her to get out of situations on her own might have made heads explode.  If Fathom were made today, Fathom would at least get one scene where she gets to kick some ass, Angelina Jolie-style.

Anyway, Fathom is an enjoyably silly spy film.  Don’t worry about trying to follow the plot and, instead, just enjoy it as an over-the-top time capsule.  It doesn’t get more 1967 than Fathom.

A Movie A Day #28: Scandal (1989, directed by Michael Caton-Jones)

scandal-posterLondon.  1961.  Doctor Stephen Ward (played by John Hurt) is an artist and an osteopath.  He counts among his patients some of the most distinguished men and women in British society, including the Minister of War, John Profumo (Ian McKellen).  After meeting two young dancers, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley) and Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), Stephen becomes their mentor, the Henry Higgins to their Eliza Doolittle.

Under Stephen’s watchful eye, both Christine and Mandy are soon having affairs with some  of the most powerful members of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.  Christine becomes the mistress of both Profumo and KGB agent, Yevgeny Ivanov (Jeroen Krabbe), along with maintaining off-and-on relationships with drug dealer Johnny Edgecombe (played by singer Roland Gift) and musician Lucky Gordon (Leon Herbert).

When a disagreement leads to Johnny slashing Lucky’s face and then getting arrested for firing a gun at Stephen’s flat, the public learns the details of Christine’s affair with Profumo.  With the scandal rocking the British government, Stephen is a convenient scapegoat and soon finds himself on trial, charged with making a living off of “immoral earnings.”

Based on the real life scandal that led to the eventual fall of Harold Macmillan’s government, Scandal is remarkably faithful to the facts of the Profumo Affair, even if it did leave out some of the more interesting allegations.  (For instance, no mention is made of an alleged encounter between Mandy Rice-Davies and President Kennedy.)  Though it may seem tame by today’s standards, when Scandal was first released in 1989, it was considered to be something of a scandal itself and it initially got an X rating when it was released in the United States.  (The scandal over Scandal is one of the things that led to the MPAA adopting the NC-17 rating to distinguish between films for adults and “adult” films.  Of course, it didn’t work as a potential NC-17 still carries the same stigma as the X rating did.)


Scandal holds up well as both a recreation of London on the verge of the sexual revolution and a look at contrast between private and public mores.  Both Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda are excellent in the roles of Christine and Mandy.  Fonda gets to deliver the most famous line of the whole Profumo Affair when Mandy is told that Lord Astor has denied having had an affair with her.  “He would, wouldn’t he?” she says.  After I watched Scandal last night, I did some checking and I discovered that Bridget Fonda has not made a film since 2002.  She is missed.

Not surprisingly, Scandal‘s best performance comes from John Hurt, who plays Stephen Ward as a naive and well-meaning social butterfly who ultimately gets in over his head and pays a steep price for trusting that his friends would remain his friends.  Scandal is just one of many movies that proves what a great talent was lost when the world lost John Hurt.


SCANDAL, John Hurt, 1989