A- Sound B
starring Tony Franciosa, Raquel Welch, Ronald Fraser, Greta Chi
screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
directed by Leslie H. Martinson
by Walter Chaw There's something desperately wrong with veteran television director Leslie H. Martinson's spy spoof Fathom, and it took me the whole movie to figure it out: Raquel Welch, as the titular va-va-va-voom dental hygienist cum parachutist cum superspy spends the entire film running from symbols of aggressive virility. Clad fetchingly in a variety of swimsuits and tight shirts (but never pants), our Fathom is pursued by a man with a speargun, by a Russian paramour mistaking our heroine for a prostitute, through various tunnels, and through a train. In its barest form, Fathom appears to be a rape fantasy involving a helpless, screaming, occasionally castrating Welch (though, tellingly, the only person she kills is another woman), who plays a variation on her standard cocktease and--naturally--deserves getting prodded about by a bull while a collection of bad guys poke at her with phallic shunts.
Opening with a silent five-minute sequence in which Welch writhes around wearing a bikini while the camera plays up and down her in that unabashedly exploitive way I so love, Fathom, with its cocktail-lounge soundtrack and mentality, sets itself up as something of a Casino Royale (also released in 1967). It apes the James Bond series with its gadgets, "The Prisoner" television show with its remote island locale and gallery of grotesques, and "The Avengers" with its tits-and-ass while demonstrating all the sleek cool of, say, The Love Bug.
Fathom is recruited by shady government agency HADES to find "The Fire Dragon" (which is either a hydrogen bomb or a gaudy bejeweled bauble) because of her ability to parachute. The question of why the government is incapable of enlisting a parachutist from its own ranks who also happens to be trained in espionage is never asked. That Fathom is an amateur spook, however, is vital, in that there'd be no film if Welch wasn't constantly imperilled, propositioned, jiggling, and howling.
There's a certain degree of kitsch value in films like this, Modesty Blaise, and James Coburn's Flint series--a value explored by "Get Smart" and Mike Myers' Austin Powers series, which is essentially the Flints updated with a more inept protagonist. But the level of misogyny in Fathom goes a little beyond the usual contemporary slack afforded films from this period. It isn't an exploitation of empowered femininity (the blondes with machine guns favoured by Russ Meyer and Roger Corman, or the Stepford femme-bots of the abovementioned Flint films) so much as an opportunity to leer at near-nude Welch--completely helpless and offering lines like, "I'm the kind of girl that likes to be surrounded by men. Lots of men," and, "Thanks, Merriwether, it's been gruesome"--while men (and large mammals) try to penetrate her in various sundry ways. The highlight of the film, however, has nothing to do with Welch so much as it does Welch's male stunt double, who gets thrown a couple of times by that bull while tufts of chest hair stick out of his red bombshell dress.
Fox DVD presents Fathom in a brilliant 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer long on vibrancy and short on edge enhancement. Save the rare line in the print, the picture is surprisingly pristine--save also the occasional muting of colours and incidents of low detail. For people obsessed with Welch, the image on this DVD is all good news. The Dolby 2.0 stereo track reproduces the film's super-mod score (by John Dankworth, veteran already of Modesty Blaise and "The Avengers") and faux-hipster dialogue with equal fidelity, though there is a hint of tinniness. Special Features include a hilariously inappropriate (and terrible-looking) trailer for Fathom as well as spots for Modesty Blaise and the two Flint flicks, Our Man Flint and In Like Flint. Originally published: July 11, 2002.