Wednesday, May 31st, 2023

Not even camp: the movie of Gore Vidal’s satire Myra Breckinridge

myrabreckenridge2Myra Breckenridge

Directed by Michael Sarne

Written by Gore Vidal and Michael Sarne 

Released June 22, 1970
Drama (comedy)
94 min.

Amazon • trailerimdb

Review by Stephen O. Murray

May 14, 2002.

Bad as it is, I don’t think that the 1970 screen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s transsexual revenge satire Myra Breckinridge (published in 1968) is a real contender for the distinction “worst movie ever made” 1 even with the abysmally bad performance of John Huston as Buck Loner, the former star of B- (or C-) westerns turned owner of an acting school, though perhaps Gore Vidal’s oft-stated contempt for creative writing programs extends to acting academies and that Huston was supposed to be so absurd.

Huston is worse even than the embalmed Mae West playing a randy agent named Leticia Van Allen. She is more or less playing herself and delivering some of her classic lines in a recognizable Mae West voice. Her face was immobile, but beyond leering, her repertoire of facial expressions forty years earlier was not extensive.

Farrah Fawcett is a nonentity in the movie universe, but so is the part she plays (Mary Ann), though it takes up more time than Tom Selleck’s chorus boy.Myra Breckenridge

Raquel Welch was/is not a great actress, either. She is able to wear the fashion designs she is given. The script makes no sense, so her motivations are unclear, but she delivers the lines she was given valiantly. Her face could move, and did. Although I realize that it is faint praise, her Myra was probably the best performance of a career in which she was rarely given opportunities to do more than look sexy (for instance, as Lust in Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled). She is that here, and a costume designer’s dream, but there is actually a discernible performance from her.

If there was a performance by Rex Reed as Myron, it was cut. Someone unfamiliar with the book could easily miss how he is connected to the story—the very badly told story.

Calvin Lockhart, Andy Devine, and Jim Backus are mildly amusing in stereotypical roles for maybe 4–5 of the movie’s 94 minutes.

By far the best part of the movie is the set of clips (totaling about 3 minutes) from Laurel and Hardy movies. It’s not clear why these clips are included, but in the shambles of the screenplay, there are so many things to question that the mouth of this gift horse should be left unscrutinized. The other clips from what Vidal and Myra regard as a time when everything Hollywood released was estimable, 1935–45, are sometimes more relevant but are very brief and clichéd (of course, Carmen Miranda is prominent in them).

The one point of the plot that is clear is that Myra is avenging herself not just on Uncle Buck but on masculinity. The unlucky (and very stupid) embodiment of masculinity is an acting student named Rusty (Roger Herren). Myra is not content to wreak havoc on his conventional romance with Mary Ann but breaks him in for Leticia by anally raping him. To me, rape is rape is rape, and even if boys like a younger Rusty made Myron’s life hellish, raping someone as a member of a category is not amusing. It is way too familiar a practice from recent ethnic cleansing to be available for alleged “satire” (and this applies to the novel, as well).

In sum, though not totally bad, Myra Beckenridge is a mess, much of which I don’t think is enjoyable as camp (though some may find Mae West’s numbers enjoyable that way)—let alone as cultural commentary or satire. (“Camp” cannot be intentionally bad, as “kitsch” can, though usually is not.)

published by epinions 14 May 2002
©2002, 2016, Stephen O. Murray



  1. My current pick for this is Girl on a Motorcycle (aka Naked Under Leather) with Marianne Faithful in the title “role.” But I’ve missed Leonard: Part 6, Howard, the Duck, and some other recurrent choices for this anti-accolade.

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.