Fathom (1967)

Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Raquel Welch, Ronald Fraser, Clive Revill, Greta Chi, Richard Briers, Tom Adams
Music: John Dankworth
Based on a novel by Larry Forrest

The film opens with a stylish title sequence, courtesy of Maurice Binder (Binder did the title sequences to many of the Bond films, as well as Charade, Arabesque and many other films). Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch) is carefully packing a parachute, while John Dankworth’s theme song and chorus drift over the top. ‘Drift’ is the right word, as the whole title and opening sequence have a dream like quality to them. After the parachute is packed we cut to Fathom floating through the clouds. You see, Fathom is part of the American sky-diving team and on this day she is competing in Spain.

After making a perfect jump she is collected by Timothy Webb (Richard Briers) and driven to meet Colonel Douglas Campbell (Ronald Fraser). At first Fathom is suspicious, after all she is a beautiful girl in a strange land, and wonders why she has been dragged off the beaten path. But she needn’t have worried. It seems Campbell is a good guy, and works for H.A.D.E.S. (Headquarters Allied Defences, Espionage & Security). To prove how good he is, he flashes his credentials which state: ‘Extend all diplomatic priorities to the barer’, and it is signed by Lindon B. Johnson (President of the USA) and Harold Wilson (British Prime Minister). You can’t get much better than that. Golly good!

But what do Campbell and Webb want with Fathom? It seems there has been a calamity in the air. A Hydrogen Bomb has been lost at sea. The bomb was recovered but the fail safe device, called The Fire Dragon, that triggers the weapon by means of an electronic signal was not found. They believe a shady character named Peter Merriweather (Tony Franciosa) is about to sell it to a Red Chinese Agent, Jo May Soon (Greta Chi). But before H.A.D.E.S. can act they need evidence. They had planted a listening device in Merriweather’s villa in Malaga, but it is malfunctioning. Now what they would like Fathom to do is pose as a sky diver who has drifted of course, over Merriweather’s villa naturally, Inside her sky-diving helmet is another little transmitter which should bring the first listening device back to life.

Fathom reluctantly agrees and is soon crash landing at Merriweather’s villa. And so begins her life of espionage. Now you know Fathom’s mission, I’ll leave the synopsis at this point, but will mention a few highlights. The first features Fathom, dressed in red, trapped in a bull ring with an angry bull. The sequence is great fun as she sprints around, avoiding the horns of the enraged animal. The sequence builds an amount of tension, even though her stunt double is clearly a man (who should have shaved his legs).

Another chase, because that is what this film is – a chase film; features friendly hotelier, Mike – owner of Casa Miguel (Tom Adams – the square jawed hero from Where The Bullets Fly and The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World). Mike pursues Fathom in a speedboat, armed with a speargun. In fact there are a few good speedboat sequences throughout this film. And the action is not just restricted to bulls and speedboats, Fathom gets chased inside a train and in a plane too.

Also a mention should go to Clive Revill, as the villainous Sergei Serapkin who is also after the Fire Dragon. Revill is one of my favourite sixties spy actors having appeared in The Double Man, Modesty Blaise, The High Commissioner and Kaleidoscope. Here he is clearly enjoying his chance to ham it up as the gigolo millionaire who posses a lethal bladed pocket watch. Although Revill enjoys himself, the performance is so over the top (how many mannerisms can one character have), that it becomes rather annoying and the Serapkin over stays his welcome.

At one point during the film, Franciosa says to Welch: “You jump well, you ride well, and you lie well.” Unfortunately Welch doesn’t act well. Her delivery is rather wooden and stilted. But Raquel Welch does have other assets (anyone who has seen the trailer will remember that the film is sold on her measurements 36, 28, 36), which are all on display here. The lime green bikini that she wears in this movie has almost passed into cinematic folklore.

So the film is a good perv. Not much more than lightweight frothy fun in the late sixties spy tradition. It is much better than it’s stable mate, Modesty Blaise, but a few rungs under Our Man Flint.

This review is based on the 20th Century Fox USA DVD

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