Thursday, May 3, 2018

Raquel Welch Skydives and Spies in "Fathom"

Like many males from my generation, I was smitten with Raquel Welch during my teenage years. Yes, I had a poster of her on my bedroom wall (well, technically the back of the door). However, it wasn't the famous one showing her as the world's sexiest cave woman in One Million Years, B.C. Instead, my poster (a gift from my thoughtful sister) featured Raquel in a yellow bikini.

Despite Ms. Welch's early acting challenges, I sought out her movies and suffered through mediocre efforts like The Biggest Bundle of Them All and the Italian-made Shoot Loud, Louder...I Don't Understand. Incidentally, both films were shown on broadcast television in the U.S., which just proves how popular Raquel was during the late 1960s and early 1970s. My favorite of her films during this period was a bit of entertaining fluff called Fathom (1967).

Raquel Welch and Tony Franciosa.
It featured a second-billed Raquel as Fathom Harvill, a skydiver who is recruited by British intelligence (or so she thinks) to help recover a stolen nuclear bomb remote control device (or so she thinks). All Fathom has to do is land in the courtyard of a Spanish villa occupied by a handsome playboy (top-billed Tony Franciosa) and reactivate a listening device on the roof. The plan works to perfection until Fathom finds a dead body in the house and, as film characters often do, picks up the murder weapon.
Raquel front of a bad rear-screen.
She soon finds herself immersed in a plot to obtain what turns out to be a stolen, jewel-encrusted, Chinese artifact called the Fire Dragon. Her biggest challenge, though, is figuring out who to trust. The playboy claims to be a detective trying to recover the artifact for the Chinese government. An eccentric millionaire (Clive Revill) wants to buy the Fire Dragon for his private collection. The British spies eventually admit they aren't spies. And an ultra-cool bartender (Tom Adams), who seems like the most normal of the bunch, tries to kill Fathom with a spear-gun.

Sounds a lot like Charade (1963), doesn't it? Of course, Raquel can't act as well as Audrey Hepburn and, even with blonde hair, Tony Franciosa can't out-suave Cary Grant. Still, Fathom is an agreeable excursion that saves its best scenes--a train sequence followed by an aerial pursuit--for the climax. It certainly won't disappoint Raquel's fans, as her famous figure is showcased in a variety of colorful outfits (most notably a lime bikini). Even the title sequence focuses on her anatomy, presenting Ms. Welch from every possible angle. (I noticed it was designed by Maurice Binder, who gained fame for his James Bond title designs.)

Really, I only have two quibbles with Fathom. The first is the film's irritating, redundant music score, which unnecessarily emphasizes the film's lighthearted tone. My second beef is with Franciosa's character constantly addressing Fathom (see the IMDb for an explanation of her name) as Poppet. After the end credits rolled, I had to look up the definition of "poppet." It's a term of endearment, often used with children.

Wow, who said that Raquel Welch films weren't educational?


  1. I can't say I've ever heard of this movie. It sounds like it put the female lead through her paces and then some. It doesn't seem to take itself too seriously and that is always a plus in a colourful 1960s - dare I use the phrase? - romp.

  2. It has been years since I've seen Fanthom, but catching clips of it yesterday ( it just played on television ) and your review here, makes me want to re-visit it. I love all those fluffy 1960s espionage/heist films.