Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: FATHOM

Several years ago, right around the time that Mike Myers unleashed/inflicted his third Austin Powers parody on the public, Fox Home Entertainment dug four Sixties spy-fi romps out of their vaults and released them on DVD. These four titles included the two Derek Flint flix – Our Man Flint and In Like Flint – the eccentric 1966 Modesty Blaise film, and this one, 1967's Fathom, starring Raquel Welch.

I bought the first three, but for reasons now forgotten, I passed on picking up Fathom at the time.

Recently, I decided to rectify that oversight – it's not as if there are a whole lot of 60s spy movies available commercially on disc, after all – and ordered a used copy from an online dealer. It showed up this morning, and I watched it this afternoon.

For those who haven't seen it, the story revolves around a lovely young dental hygienist from California named Fathom Hargill (in an amusing touch, whenever anyone inquires about her unique moniker, she always gives a different explanation for it), who also happens to be part of a U.S. skydiving team touring Europe. In Spain, she is recruited by operatives of an international espionage agency called H.A.D.E.S. who happen to need an experienced skydiver. They're seeking a nuclear trigger codenamed "The Fire Dragon" and need her help. With the safety of the free world at stake, the patriotic parachutist agrees, and soon finds herself deeply embroiled in a duplicitous caper of full of double crosses and double identities.

I call it a caper, because that's what it is – a good-natured play on the Hitchcockian spy formula (innocent abroad caught up in international intrigue) with plenty of Bondian touches. At one point, Fathom is provided with explosive earrings, and heavy Sergi Serapkin (Clive Revill) resembles an Ian Fleming villain with his unusually low body temperature and craving for warmth. It's never boring, the plot – even with all its twists – is easy to follow (not a claim most Eurospy flicks of the era can make), and the Spanish scenery is attractive.

I'd read a lot of reviews of the movie slamming Welch's performance, but really, she's not that bad. I like that while she's a bit of an innocent, she's not naive or a pushover. She may be a little gullible, but that's part and parcel of her character's good and trusting nature. It's actually an appealing trait, especially when contrasted against all the cynical, mercenary characters surrounding her.

And, of course, the 27 year-old Welch is utterly stunning to behold, a truly glorious vision in the brief, neon-green bikini that she sports during most of the second act. Sheer feminine physical perfection.

The overall tone of the film is light, with pretty much everyone working hard – and in Revill's case, maybe a bit too hard – to keep it that way. It's fluff, but it's fun.

Fox's DVD is currently out of print. It contains a nice, if slightly faded 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby stereo sound. The only extras on the disc are the theatrical trailer and the trailers for the other three spy-fi films that were released on disc at the same time.

Fathom has a lot of ties with other spy-fi flicks. The screenplay is by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who also scripted 1983's Never Say Never Again. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the same film. The opening titles (see previous post) were designed by Maurice Binder, who performed the same duties for all of the 007 films from Thunderball to Licence to Kill. Handsome supporting player Tom Adams had previously starred as secret agent Charles Vine in several spy-fi spoofs (Where The Bullets Fly, Licensed to Kill) and appeared on The Avengers and other British spy shows. Clive Revill played in several spy-fi productions, including the aforementioned Modesty Blaise, and A Man Called Sloane/Death Ray 2000.


JoeKinski said...

Oddly enough ... Fathom was the only one I bought... go figure..

Tanner said...

I'm glad you corrected that oversight and finally watched Fathom--and evidently enjoyed it! It's one of my favorites. (I LOVE Clive Revill as Serapkin!) And one of several spy films (along with Deadlier Than the Male, Hot Enough For June and Crossplot) that I've sought out every poster from all around the world for. The artwork is generally stunning. (Well, when it all showcases Raquel in her bikini or little dress with the hole in the middle, that's hardly surprising!) I keep hoping that Fox will reissue this as a special edition each time another Bond film comes out. Also, Harkit once announced they'd be releasing Johnny Dankworth's excellent score (there's another spy connection for you--he did the music for the pre-Rigg seasons of The Avengers) on CD, but that was years ago and it never came to fruition, which is incredibly frustrating.

Another interesting thing about Fathom is how different the film is from the book on which it's based. It's like the Matt Helm discrepency. In the book, which is light on humor and really quite brutal, Fathom is a trained assassin, not an innocent dental hygienist! Personally, I prefer the light-hearted tone of the film.