Myra Breckinridge (1970) (part 2 of 12)
With that hilarity under its belt, we now get our first exposure to the movie’s major gimmick, which will also prove to be a major source of irritation. I’m referring to how clips from older movies in the 20th Century Fox library will be arbitrarily spliced into the movie. Occasionally, these clips will actually relate to what’s happening in the story, but more often than not, they’ll be chosen completely at random.
Like right here, for instance, where we get a clip from the Shirley Temple film Stowaway. A white guy made up to look Asian asks Shirley if she knows an “Amelican song”. This prompts Shirley to break out into “You Gotta S-M-I-L-E to be H-A-Double-P-Y”. The song continues in the background as a pair of white loafers stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I was having seriously unwelcome flashbacks to Moment by Moment, until I realized there’s no sign of Perry Como’s star. Instead, the feet stop when they get to Ann Miller’s star.
Mae West’s credit appears as an animated signature, and the white loafers do a little soft shoe over Ann Miller’s star and continue on. John Huston’s signature appears over Veronica Lake’s star, and the pair of loafers angrily kick a cigarette butt off Ms. Lake’s star.
We finally pull back and see the feet belong to Myron, and he’s dressed in a white suit, white pants, and white tie. He turns to a window and his reflection is that of Raquel Welch in the role of Myra Breckinridge. You know, for all the overtly implied incompetence of John Carradine and his surgical team, I have to admit, if you can turn Rex Reed into Raquel Welch, you’re a miracle worker.
Myra’s wearing a frilly white dress as she does a little dance of her own. The camera pans over from the window to the actual, flesh-and-blood Myra doing a twirling, Sound of Music-esque dance routine. Well, The Sound of Music with a lot more cleavage and gay guys, anyway.
She spins around support columns, and standing against each one is a different “male” archetype. There’s a guy in a Savino cap and tweed jacket smoking a pipe, and another guy in a fedora with an overcoat slung over his shoulder. Myron catches up to Myra and flaps his arms and hops up and down and has some type of seizure…. Oh, wait, I guess he’s supposed to be dancing. If you saw this scene, you’d understand my confusion. And not to sound bigoted, but I think we may have just found the only gay man in the known universe who can’t dance.
Myron follows along as Myra dances down the sidewalk. Myron finds a cane [?] and the two link arms to do a lame kick-line down some stairs. Meanwhile, the old guy who made the mistake of setting his cane down for a second is now falling down and breaking his hip. Myron does a feeble soft-shoe routine, which is accompanied by an Insta-Desecration clip of Shirley Temple dancing with a marionette. Myra and Myron shuffle off arm in arm, and then Myra hops in a cab and drives off. End opening credits.
Suddenly, there’s a flash of yellow, and we cut to atomic test footage. Yes, atomic test footage. I’m pretty sure this is the same atomic blast seen in almost every other movie on this site, from Terror from the Year 5000 to Godzilla, so its appearance here shouldn’t come as a surprise.
We hear Myra in voiceover. “I am Myra Breckinridge, whom no man will ever possess!” As she talks, we get a clip of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. [!!!], wearing her famous animal skin bikini. So, it’s a clip of a Raquel Welch movie… in a Raquel Welch movie? I really don’t get what this is supposed to be saying, so let’s just label it a case of typical 60’s overly self-referential humor and move on.
Myra’s VO continues, calling herself “the new woman!” Technically, she’s absolutely right. “Whose astonishing history started with a surgeon’s scalpel! And will end who knows where!” The completely random and pointless clip from One Million Years B.C. finally ends, and we see a rotating mannequin in front of a billboard. The billboard is painted with a cloud pattern (much like the startup screen for Windows 95), and the mannequin is a cowgirl in a skimpy Stars and Stripes bikini. (Welch herself would later wear a similar outfit and strike the same pose in the movie’s poster.)
A white-clad Myron enters the frame, standing on a balcony and looking at the mannequin. Myra’s VO declares, “Just as Eve was born from Adam’s rib, so Myron died to give birth to Myra! Did Myron take his own life, you will ask?” No, but after watching this movie, he probably wished he had. “Yes… and no is my answer. Beyond that, my lips are sealed!” In more ways than one, I’m sure. We cut to another angle to see Myra in her frilly white dress, also standing on the balcony.
As it turns out, both Myra and Myron are standing together [?] on the balcony. The character of Myron is the prime example of how the film insists on being confusing and inscrutable. Myron will be seen throughout the movie, mostly as a hallucinatory-type character that only Myra can see, but other times… Well, you’ll see soon enough. Of course, none of this will ever be explained. But hey, if you don’t get it, you’re not “with it”, man! I mean, aren’t you hip? Don’t you dig?
Myra explains in VO, “Let it suffice for me to say that Myron is… with me. And I am the fulfillment of all his dreams!” There’s another pointless shot of the rotating mannequin as Myra asks, “Who is Myra Breckinridge? What is she?” Trust me, none of these questions will be answered, either.
She states, “Myra Breckinridge is a dish. [?]” Best served cold? Abruptly, we cut to Myra walking towards a window, looking directly into the camera. She says, “And don’t you ever forget it, you m*bleep*rfuckers! …As the children say nowadays!” Nope, that’s not me censoring the line. They actually did bleep out [!] the word “motherfuckers”. I’m guessing these are changes the studio made in an attempt to garner an “R” rating. (Which were all for nothing, because the film ended up with an “X” anyway.) Still, why did they bleep out the “mother” part and not the “fuckers” part? Regardless, this is probably the first instance of an established actress using the F-word in a major motion picture. Fast forward 30 years, and a major actress uses it as every other word in Gigli.
Then there’s a clip of a random black and white movie where a game of cricket is being played. Somebody sends a ball flying through the air and a stuffy guy with a monocle says, “It seems to be coming this way!” Amusingly, he’s dressed just like Homer in that one episode of The Simpsons where he pretends to be Mr. Burns. Monocle Guy ducks out of the way, just in time for a guy wearing a graduation cap [?] to get clocked in the face with the cricket ball. If this has anything to do with what’s going on in the movie, either before or after, then I’m at a loss as to what that might be.
With that utterly pointless filler complete, we cut to a “ranch” type sign reading “Buck Loner Academy”. There’s an emblem in the middle of the sign with the typical “dramatic” happy/sad masks, so I’m guessing this is a drama school. Also, there’s a pair of bull horns above the emblem.
Myra drives under the sign in a vintage convertible as her VO says, “My purpose of coming to Hollywood is the destruction of the American Male in all its particulars!” Hey, don’t be touching my particulars. She’ll start with her “late husband’s uncle”, namely the “notorious” Buck Loner, who’s “head of a dramatic school” in “fashionable Westwood”.
Cut to a guy who’s either another film school reject, or someone who really likes to dress like Dieter from Sprockets. He turns out to be, literally, a tree hugger, because he wraps himself around a great oak and cries out in a stereotypical “thespian” voice, “The trrrrreeee!” He (I’m only guessing here) is teaching a class, and he lectures to his students that an actor can learn from anything, “including a tree!” Actually, judging by some of the performances in this movie, a lot of these actors learned everything from a tree.
Tree Hugger tells his students that they must learn to “experience the truth of a tree!” He smacks the tree and cries, “This tree! Goddammit!” He then bows [?] and people applaud. Sadly, from experience I can say that there actually are a lot of acting classes that are really like this.
Myra’s VO continues as she walks the grounds of the Buck Loner Academy. “Ah, Myra baby, I say to myself, half of all this will soon be yours!” Which, given what we’ve seen so far, isn’t really something to be that cheery about. We cut to Buck Loner, unfortunately played by the great actor and Oscar-nominated director John Huston. Nope, I do not lie. The very same John Huston who directed The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen. I choose not to think too much about this, because otherwise you might just see a grown man cry. Actually, Huston appeared in the very similar film Candy just one year prior, which you think he’d have learned his lesson from.
Buck wears a cowboy hat as he sits on a fake horse in front of a fake “Old West” backdrop. He tosses out some Wild West slang and tells the camera, “So, you wanna be a star?” It turns out he’s giving Myra his pitch. At first, he acts discouraged about her potential to make it, but like a polished salesman, he eventually comes around and emphatically changes his tune. “Somethin’ tells me I oughta give you a chance!”
He says Myra reminds him of a younger version of Killer Bees star Gloria Swanson, boasting that old Gloria was a former pupil of his. If not for him, he says, Swanson would still be “warmin’ that seat back at Schwab’s drugstore!” Or as fans of this website will know it, the locale of the opening scene of Moment by Moment. Myra points out it was Lana Turner who was discovered at Schwab’s, not Gloria Swanson. Buck says, “Her too! Her too!” Nice save, dude.
Buck insists that Lana Turner’s “sweet little fanny” was sitting in the same chair that Myra’s in now. When he learns her name is “Myra Breckinridge”, he starts to say, “That’s mighty long for—” but just trails off.
We instantly cut to more random atomic test footage, wherein an old army barracks is blown apart. (For no real reason, the footage is given a deep red tint.) Yep, this is officially the most overused piece of stock footage in movie history. Thanks for doing your part, movie. We cut back to Buck with his jaw hanging open, and cut to Myron, who’s also in the room in his white suit. Buck asks, “Breckinridge?” And then we get another [!] go-round on the atomic test footage. Wow, it’s such a skillful, understated depiction of Buck’s inner thought process, they used it twice!
Myra says she’s the widow of his nephew Myron, and that she’s come to collect half a million dollars. At this, we get a random clip from Jesse James starring Tyrone Power. (I’m guessing this was another failed bit of self-referential humor, because John Carradine was in Jesse James.) A gunman creeps up behind Tyrone and we cut to Myron covering his eyes, like he just can’t watch (which, to tell you the truth, most people in the audience are already doing). Tyrone gets shot and collapses to the floor, and we cut to Myra while the camera shakes [!], much like when the Enterprise gets hit by enemy fire.
It turns out Buck fell off his fake horse. Which is funny. I think. There’s more random cuts to Jesse James while Myra helps Buck back up. He’s stunned to hear Myron is dead. He stares directly down her cleavage, saying he never knew Myron had such “an eye for feminine pulchritude!” See, it’s funny because she used to be a man. Get it? Get it?
Myra turns on the fake waterworks. She does a little spin [?] and says she has no one left to turn to. She kneels at Buck’s feet, explaining that Myron didn’t leave her a penny. She wipes away crocodile tears and explains that Aunt Gertrude (Myron’s mother, Buck’s sister) told her on her deathbed that if Myra ever ran into trouble, to just “go see Uncle Buck”. Unfortunately, Myra merely misunderstood her aunt’s request to go see the much funnier John Candy movie.
As she speaks, Myron the non-character dons a giant foam cowboy hat [!] and lights a cigar. Because, as we learned from Superman III, nothing is funnier than a huge foam cowboy hat, right? Buck abruptly puts his hand on Myra’s knee and run his hand up her thigh [!]. Wow, there’s no stronger aphrodisiac than grief, is there?
Myra goes into a lengthy tirade about how Gertrude’s share of the school should now go to Myron, and by extension, to Myra. Buck quickly lies, claiming that his school’s not doing well. Myra insists that as “partners”, they can fix that. For no reason, this is accompanied by lots of jarring, split-second cuts to random parts of the school. I guess this in case we were unclear by mentions of “this school” that they were, in fact, talking about this school.
Buck is up in arms when Myra calls the two of them “partners”. Even though “blood’s thicker than sarsaparilla”, he “don’t need no partners!” Myra indignantly says she expected more from the star of Wild Bill’s Last Roundup and Cuckoo Calls in the Everglades. She’s decided that the price of her share of the estate has gone up $100,000 and promises that her lawyers will be in touch.
Buck makes a completely unintelligible statement about a “spit-lickin’ horny toad”, then asks Myra to “make a contribution to the family pork and beans.” Sorry, Buck, but according to the opening scene, Myra no longer has pork or beans to contribute to anyone. Buck says he’d be “overjoyed if you would share my vittles and break bread with my wife Bobby Dean and me!” The only problem, though, is that Bobby Dean has “poisoned herself on some homemade guacamole [?]” and is “laid up for a month or two”. As you might expect, this will end up not have anything to do with anything.
After more general incoherence from Buck, Myra finally says she’s willing to compromise and accept a “position here on the faculty”, specifically teaching “posture and empathy”. She demands a monthly salary of $1000. Buck tries to talk her down to $800, and this is followed by another quick clip of the guy who shot Tyrone Power in the back. Which is… appropriate? Look, I didn’t make this movie, people, I’m just describing what I see. We immediately cut back to Buck, who agrees to $1000 a month as long as she doesn’t tell the other teachers.
Just then, a black guy walks in. And he’s quite, shall we say, sparkly? He’s got a beaded necklace wrapped around his afro, which should lay all doubts about his sexual orientation to rest. His name is Irving, and in a fey voice, he asks if Myra is “your new massahs”? I think he’s trying to say “masseuse”, but who the hell knows?
Buck says it’s his niece who’ll be teaching posture and empathy, prompting Irving to cry out “Delicious!” He asks how much Myra will be making and she immediately reveals she’ll be getting a thousand a month. See, this is funny because it’s what Buck just told her not to do. Get it? Get it? Irving calls this “shocking! Still, we all love it here, don’t we, Uncle?” Irving claims to have been with the school for 14 years. Not as a teacher, mind you, but as a student. Hey, I knew a lot of guys at USC like that.
Irving says teachers here “last as long as Brillo pads”, but students stay forever. Buck claims this is because the school builds up their confidence so much “they don’t want to leave”. He instantly grows confused at his own words. “That don’t sound right!” Shiny Happy Irving asks, “Who’d want to leave where they’re happy?”
Raquel Welch loudly overacts when she cries, “That’s terrible!” What, her performance? Or is she referring to the world that allowed a movie like this to be made? Either way, Buck explains to Irving that Myra just lost her husband. Irving cattily says, “Caaalouuuss…” in the same tone as In Living Color‘s “Men on Film” used to say “Haaaated it!” Only much, much less funny.
Buck asks Irving to show Myra around the school. Buck says he’d love to come along, but his chiropractor’s coming to take care of a problem with his back. Myra asks, “Is it fatal?” Hah hah. See, she doesn’t like him. Get it? Buck gets a good hearty laugh out of this, telling Myra that there are “lots of openin’s for your style of humor!” And all of those openings are on the writing staff responsible for this screenplay.