Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch), dental hygienist by day, is in Spain to take part in a skydiving contest. There she’s recruited by government organisation HADES to keep tabs on millionaire Peter Merriwether (Tony Franciosa) who is believed to possess an H-bomb detonator known as the Fire Dragon. But in actual fact Merriwether is hoping to obtain the Fire Dragon from a Russian defector called Serapkin (Clive Revill). And as Fathom is to find out, the good guys and the bad guys aren’t easy to tell apart.
The success of the James Bond films led to many imitators, all played for laughs to some extent or another. There was Dean Martin as Matt Helm in four films, James Coburn as Derek Flint in two…and now Raquel Welch as Fathom Harvill. Fathom didn’t lead to a franchise, but as unashamed fluff goes it still stands up well. Director Leslie H. Martinson made the first Batman film the previous year, but Fathom doesn’t have the deliberate camp of that film. In fact, conflicting intentions are detectable here. Lorenzo Semple Jr’s script has many twists and turns, and the action scenes are played more or less straight, albeit with some jokes such as the running one about the origin of Fathom’s name and a few Bond-like gadgets such as exploding earrings. Yet with a female lead (Franciosa gets top billing for some reason, but it’s Raquel’s show all the way), Martinson and his DP can’t resist zooming in to various parts of their star’s anatomy. The film’s money shot is the one where Fathom makes her appearance in the lime-green bikini displayed on the DVD cover. (The bikini even gets its own credit: from Vog of Paris.) It’s easy to see why Welch was THE female sex symbol of the 1960s and early 1970s and as she never did a nude scene this was as hot as it got in mainstream American cinema. Unlike certain of her present-day counterparts, Welch had a sense of humour and a lightness of touch that does this kind of unabashed tosh no end of good. All the cast seem to be enjoying themselves, and Clive Revill comes close to stealing it. It’s also a surprise to see a very young-looking Richard Briers doing the sort of silly-ass-Englishman turn that Hugh Grant would perfect three decades later.
Some films have no higher goal than to entertain. Presuming they succeed, they can last longer than films with higher ambitions. Fathom doesn’t aspire to be more than a colourful romp and it does well enough in that respect.
Fox’s DVD of Fathom, which is encoded for Region 1 only, is available singly and as part of a five-disc box set with Bandolero!, Mother, Jugs & Speed and One Million Years B.C.. Don’t read anything into the fact that this DVD is Not Rated. All that means is that the film predates the MPAA’s ratings system, which began in 1968. Before then, the MPAA simply gave out (or withheld) Seals of Approval. In the UK, Fathom was cut to earn a U certificate, but in its uncut form it’s well within PG levels.
The film was shot in Scope (no process specified in the credits) and the DVD has an anamorphic transfer in the correct ratio of 2.35:1. Fathom has a very mid-Sixties widescreen look: bright colours, rather flat depth of field (due to a combination of telephoto and anamorphic lenses). This DVD transfer conveys that well enough, though it would seem that the original materials have faded. The colours aren’t really as vibrant as they could have been, and some sections – particularly in the final twenty minutes – have turned pink. Given the known problems with fading colour film stock, I suspect this DVD is as good a job as could be done without a full-scale digital restoration.
There are two English soundtracks on this disc. Both are Dolby Digital 2.0 but one is stereo and one mono. What’s the difference? Very little, in fact: only some separation in the music in the stereo version. I didn’t detect any surround activity. The film was made in mono, shown in cinemas and mono, and I don’t see why a remix was necessary, especially not one as minor as this. The soundtrack has some limitations in dynamic range which are undoubtedly due to its age, but it’s acceptable. There are dubbed versions in French and Spanish, both mono. Subtitles are provided in both English and Spanish but oddly not French. There are thirty-two chapter stops.
The main extra is the theatrical trailer. This is less than subtle – "feast your eyes on Raquel 39-22-33 Welch". The trailer is clearly in a far worse condition than the feature, being grainy, contrasty and scratched. It’s in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 and runs 2:24. The only other extras are trailers for other 60s spy spoofs available on DVD via Fox: In Like Flint (non-anamorphic 2.35:1, 0:55), Modesty Blaise (anamorphic 1.85:1, 3:35) and Our Man Flint (non-anamorphic 2.35:1, 3:16), none of which are in much better condition than the Fathom trailer.
Fathom will appeal mostly to those with a taste for 60s kitsch and/or fans of the statuesque Ms Welch. As such it will easily pass an hour and a half. The DVD isn’t the best presentation of a film this old that I’ve ever seen but it’s satisfactory for the most part.