**/**** Image A Sound B
starring James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, George Kennedy
screenplay by James Lee Barrett
directed by Andrew V. Mc Laglen
**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A+
starring Mae West, John Huston, Raquel Welch, Rex Reed
screenplay by Michael Sarne and David Giler
directed by Michael Sarne
MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED
***/**** Image B+ Sound B
starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Allen Garfield
screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz
directed by Peter Yates
by Walter Chaw Very much the product of its time, Andrew V. McLaglen's Bandolero!, the last of the three westerns the director made with Jimmy Stewart, appeared in 1968, the same year as the end of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western cycle (Once Upon a Time in the West) and alongside such seminal generational discomfort flicks as Rosemary's Baby and Night of the Living Dead. And while it's not nearly so good as McLaglen/Stewart's devastating Civil War idyll Shenandoah, Bandolero! is still better than it probably should be, saved by its above-the-line talent. With Raquel Welch as a freshly widowed Mexican woman ("I was a whore when I was 12--my family never went hungry"--and so it went in Welch's career) and a good, if woefully miscast Dean Martin as Stewart's no-account, bank-robbin' outlaw brother, the picture is a border film, the basis in many ways for Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and one that contents itself with tepid character melodrama unfolding at a snail's pace along the road to Ensenada.
The violence is surprising (though nothing compared to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, which would redefine the standard of bloodshed in American cinema a few months later), with the body count uncompromisingly high even as the death scenes retain that old-school tradition of rank ham. Stewart is excellent as a man haunted by war, a role he played repeatedly in various incarnations post-service, but the film never seems able to discover the right rhythm for his intensity. Martin is morose, Welch is steely, and George Kennedy as a determined sheriff and jilted paramour is downright scary. While Jerry Goldsmith's score is jaunty, setting the film up to be something like a Cat Ballou, the events of the film (opening with a double-homicide and ending with a massacre) are disquieting to say the least. No less so is the fate of Welch's heroine, who, her husband pumped full of lead in the first five minutes, is almost raped three or four times before finally getting carted off unhappily in what looks, for all the world, like the life of white slavery she escaped years previous. Both thornier than it intends to be and less interesting than it threatens to be, Bandolero! is a middle-of-the-road piece that impresses occasionally and feels moderately at home in its cultural context, yet manages to be one of those movies you can't remember if you've seen until well into its first hour.
Next up for Welch, forever claiming to want to shed her cheesecake image, was the titular role in Michael Sarne's disastrous Gore Vidal adaptation Myra Breckinridge, another picture clearly the product of its time--with the chief difference being that the time in question was that brief window where Hollywood decided to try to give the Flower Power generation exactly what the studio bosses, ensconced in their culverts, thought the hippies wanted. (Welch's long reign at the top of the American sex symbol pantheon was due at least in part to her ability to choose projects that rode the crest of the zeitgeist--she was arguably her generation's Madonna, finding the pulse of the moment and being canny enough to embrace it, making me question her devotion to "maturing" her craft.). Disjointed in the way of a bad acid trip, self-indulgent in any case, Myra Breckinridge finds itself in the company of camp schlock like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls rather than 1970's best psychedelic sexploitation flicks: the Maysles' seminal documentary Gimme Shelter and Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock (with honourable mention going to Andy Warhol's difficult Trash).
The picture has a lot to say about homosexuality, none of it particularly flattering, and more pithily, it has a lot to say about the cult of image that dominates the Hollywood mindset. The casting couch politics of sex and stardom remain topical, if shrug-worthy, addressed in Myra Breckinridge in a way that also tackles the trickier existential issues of identity and reality or, as it relates to film, performance and behaviour. That Welch's career is fertile ground for any discussion of monumentalism and celluloid, the real problem with the picture is that it doesn't seem to have its head around the topics that it raises, succumbing more than once to maudlin ego-plays by an embalmed Mae West (76 at time of filming), still doing her man-eater schtick while engaging in a legendary behind-the-curtain battle with then-rising diva Welch. Throw in a young Farrah Fawcett in a key supporting role and the potential to look at the picture as a genealogy of the big screen bombshell surfaces as well. But at least the sins of Myra Breckinridge make sense in the context of the sacred cows it seems to want to explode; there's a good movie in all this garbage, in other words--you just have to squint a little too hard to see it.
In its surprising darkness and even more surprising sharpness, Peter Yates's Mother, Jugs & Speed distinguishes itself as a genuine child of Seventies cinema, reminding in its best moments of Ivan Passer's Law and Disorder and in its worst of nothing more than a good idea gone slightly sour. It speaks of inner-city turmoil with good humour and well-wrought pathos, of gender politics with an actress (Raquel Welch) who spent a good portion of her career getting prodded by phallic shunts (see: Fathom and The Four Musketeers), and of the kind of intimate body-function slapstick the Farrelly Brothers would later franchise. (Male nards stuck in a zipper appear for one of the first times here.) Yates is a relentlessly flat, prosaic director who's made a few films I like for their earnest badness (Krull, Breaking Away, Eyewitness), marking him as an artist who chooses quirky projects and then proceeds to render them as ordinary as possible. With Mother, Jugs & Speed, his particular brand of ho-hum is the perfect pitch and yaw for a surreal, episodic opera set at the frontlines of the ambulance business (just as Altman was right for MASH and Scorsese not quite for Bringing Out the Dead). Blasé mendacity is the only tone keeping the picture from careening off into awkward ugliness.
Mother (Bill Cosby), Jugs (you guess), and Speed (Harvey Keitel) comprise an unlikely ambulance team, with Mother the driver, Jugs the apprentice, and Speed the ex-cop moonlighting until he gets his badge back. Episodic and threatening, the picture reminds of MASH, complete with its irreverent, stiletto sharp racism, unflinching approach to the ugly double-edged sword of misogyny, and protagonists more than half-mad from endless Heller-ian circumstance. The picture plays out like an Albert Camus parable in a way, reducing the endless circling of its narrative to some kind of comment on the foundations from which our cultural pillars grow. Pitch black and wise, Mother, Jugs & Speed benefits most from its timing, appearing in a cinematic environment where Keitel and Welch can be lovers, Cosby can be an effective dramatic actor, and the nightly travails of an ambulance crew can stand in for the bigotry, fear, and paranoia of a nation in flux.
Fox presents Bandolero!, Myra Breckinridge, and Mother, Jugs & Speed as part of their terrifying campaign to honour Ms. Welch and her library in as complete a way as possible. Bandolero!'s 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer is speck-less and free, too, of a preponderance of grain--it seems a verity that for cinephiles there remain few pleasures the equal of a Panavision negative reproduced with filmic fidelity on the DVD format. The DD 2.0 stereo audio sounds warm and full. Extras include trailers in English and Spanish, and trailers for Myra Breckinridge, Fantastic Voyage, Mother, Jugs & Speed, Fathom, and One Million Years B.C..
Meanwhile, Fox gives Myra Breckinridge an exceptionally satisfying home video presentation, offering both the Special Edition and theatrical cuts of the film (the difference a matter of seconds and uncommented-upon), with two separate commentary tracks and a 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer that looks just amazing. (A DD 2.0 stereo mix is likewise fulsome and satisfying.) The first commentary on side A of the flipper (that is, paired with the Special Edition) comes from director Michael Sarne, who seems certain that he's filmed a powerful Fellini-esque discursion on the nature of art and the place of the artist. His aimless rambling covers an amazing amount of ground, most of it relevant to the film--though he lost me was when he began talking at around the 101st minute about how he believes that "gay" should actually be called "sad" because gay people are so sad. An interesting thing to talk about when Myra Breckinridge's infamous anal rape scene is unfolding beneath it.
Ms. Welch herself provides the second commentary on the flipside (the Theatrical Edition), and while seeming to be a nice person, she spends most of her mike-time sniping at West and Sarne. She loves John Huston, though, and John Carradine, both of whom make inexplicable and broad cameos in the picture (Huston's is more a supporting role, truth be told). Also home to Welch's infamous description of West as a "dockworker in drag," the yakker is funny, but it can get tiring listening to Welch sigh deeply and wonder aloud for the umpteenth time what she was thinking accepting this part. The disc also includes a fast-fashion "AMC Backstory" documentary about the making of the film (21 mins.) that rehashes the West vs. Welch unpleasantness, features new interviews with Welch and Sarne, and adds some typically impenetrable commentary by my favourite scholar I'm embarrassed to cop to, Camille Paglia. Topping the disc off: a TV spot; three trailers; and trailers for Bandolero!, Fantastic Voyage, Fathom, Lady in Cement, Mother, Jugs & Speed, and One Million Years B.C..
Like its companions, Mother, Jugs & Speed comes to DVD courtesy a 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer. Likewise preserving its original filmic quality, a comparison between this picture's picture and, say, Bandolero! functions as great shorthand for the differences in style and philosophy that separate different epochs in film. The DD 2.0 stereo remix is a little worn around the edges--it's less intimate than I would have expected, even as its peculiar hollowness seems endemic to films from the Seventies. The film's trailer plus trailers for the other abovementioned Fox/Welch releases round out the platter.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.
*½/**** Image B- Sound B
starring John Richardson, Raquel Welch
screenplay by Michael Carreras, adapted from the original screenplay by Mickell Novak, George Baker, Joseph Frickert
directed by Don Chaffey
by Bill Chambers Right up there with Shatner saying "Beam me up, Scotty" or Bogey uttering "Play it again, Sam" is the popular misnomer that Raquel Welch wears a fur bikini in One Million Years B.C.: in actuality, it's a crisscross bathing suit of torn leather that makes her look like a ragamuffin extra in some naughty production of Oliver Twist. Not that it matters much, except that a film with a fur bikini would have a sense of irony and, whether or not its pinup legacy runs counter, One Million Years B.C. is too pretentious to stoop to camp. A remake of Hal Roach's b&w One Million B.C. and the clearer precursor of the two to Jean-Jacques Annaud's fabulous Quest for Fire, what with its characterization of nascent classism now colour-coded, the Hammer production also takes a page from Bert I. Gordon in unleashing prehistoric monsters on civilization and yet manages even less credibility than your average Gordon concoction by turning his freak-of-nature beasties into a mere anachronism: "The Flintstones" be damned, cavemen and dinosaurs never got the chance to interact. And where Gordon's atrocious movies at least aim for timeliness in preying upon all the terrors associated with atomic power (it's no coincidence that Gordon, who's still alive, started making movies at the beginning of the Cold War and retired at the end of it), only a Hammer devotee would attempt to qualify One Million Years B.C., representing as the picture does the studio's concerted effort to pull itself out of a pseudo-Victorian rut. Mission accomplished as far as mise-en-scène is concerned (even Welch is a far cry from the archetypally doughy Hammer starlet), but a leopard can't change its spots, and the film is as deadly earnest as most Hammer outings. If Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects are hardly a career pinnacle (director Don Chaffey extracted more personality from the work of Harryhausen in Jason and the Argonauts), a moment in which a pterodactyl snatches up Loana (Welch) in its claws only to drop her in a lake handily encapsulates Harryhausen's not-isolated ability to lift the film out of tedium--and the tendency for every time his creatures disappear to be a rude awakening indeed.
Fox presents One Million Years B.C. on a DVD that, quite controversially, reverts to the American bowdlerization of the film after the same studio's LaserDisc introduced viewers to the longer, superior British cut. Nor does the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation represent much of a technical upgrade, whatever the miracles exalted by the included "restoration comparison"--the harsh-contrast image appears to have been sprinkled in gold dust besides. Faring little better, the stereo remix of the original mono soundtrack (additionally on board) is a mite reedy, while supps are limited to trailers for One Million Years B.C. (in English and subtitled Spanish), The Abyss, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Enemy Mine, Independence Day, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Fathom, Planet of the Apes (1968 and 2001), Wing Commander, and Zardoz. Originally published: June 20, 2004.