Temporarily setting aside things like acting ability, intelligence, or even beauty in the intrinsic sense, purely in terms of raw physical lust the three actresses I might have sold my soul for the proverbial roll in the hay would probably have to be Françoise Dorléac, Edwige Fenech, and last but hardly least, Raquel Welch.
Welch's career as a leading actress in films had a good ten-year run, from roughly 1966-76. She's best remembered as the sex goddess appearing in movies like Fantastic Voyage, One Million Years B.C. (both 1966), and for a few infamous disasters like Myra Breckinridge (1970). But some of her movies and/or performances were genuinely good, as in Bandolero! (1968), or as Hannie Caulder (1971) and the Kansas City Bomber (1972; she was good, though the movie wasn't). She was fine in The Last of Shelia (1973), and she proved adept in physical comedy in The Three and Four Musketeers (1973-74).
Nevertheless, Welch was so distractingly sexy in those days it was difficult to watch her in anything without falling under her spell, burning one's eyeballs on her while forgetting the name of the movie you were watching. Tellingly, her acting was taken most seriously in those movies where, for the most part, she was covered up, as in Richard Lester's Musketeers films.
Dorléac died in a horrific car accident at the age of 25, but her equally beautiful (if less lust-inducing) sister Catherine Deneuve along with Edwige Fenech and Welch have something else in common. Each defied their years far beyond the laws of the physical universe the rest of us are bound by. Welch, now 71, in the right light could still reasonably pass for a woman in her late-40s, and just a few years ago astounded her fans with a swimsuit layout showing off her remarkably well-preserved body.
Nonetheless, I hope at this point she begins moving more in the direction of, say, Deneuve or the Japanese actresses Keiko Matsuzaka and Sayuri Yoshinaga, who still look great but also don't try to look 35 anymore. Welch has enjoyed an almost unprecedented five-decade run as a sex goddess and to see her segue into graceful maturity would preserve her reputation a lot better than if she keeps trying to look decades younger than she is.
All of the movies mentioned above as well as many others she made during this period are still frequently shown on TV and are available on home video. Flareup (1969), however, is virtually forgotten, though its anonymity is something of a mystery. Welch's role as a stripper on the run from the madman who blames her for the disintegration of his marriage (to another woman) is a decent star vehicle. She's good in the part and notably sexy throughout. The movie is often quite campy by today's standards, but it also offers some incredible exterior footage of Las Vegas and Los Angeles as they existed back then.
A Warner Archive Collection manufactured-on-demand release, Flareup (no hyphen) is presented in its original 1.75:1 theatrical aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement, and the disc is region-free. The elements are a little worn but look okay, and a trailer, which sells Welch's assets the way a car salesman might sell whitewall tires, is tossed in as a extra.
In Las Vegas, three exotic dancers meet for a poolside lunch at the Riviera. Michelle (Welch) and Iris (Pat Delaney) greet Nikki (Sandra Giles) as she arrives, but seconds later her estranged husband, Alan Morris (Luke Askew), shows up, and in the heat of the moment fatally shoots her. Further, he begins taking pot shots at Michelle and Iris, whom he blames for their break-up. Chaos ensues and Alan gets away. That evening, as Michelle and Iris are leaving the hospital where Nikki died, Alan turns up again, shooting dead Iris along with the police officer assigned to protect her.
In a state of panic, Michelle drives through the night, arriving in Los Angeles that morning. She intends to lay low until Alan is captured even though the Las Vegas police want to question her about the second shooting. She finds a job at The Losers, a famous real-life strip-club where, reportedly, director Russ Meyer discovered many of his buxom leading ladies. However, back at the Pussycat a' Go-Go where Michelle used to work, Alan threatens to expose Sailor (Ron Rifkin, impossibly young) as a "faggot junkie" unless he reveals Michelle's whereabouts, and soon Alan is on Interstate 15 bound for L.A.
Where to begin? If the movie wasn't overlong at 99 minutes and had it largely dispensed with the sluggish romantic subplot involving Michelle and L.A. boyfriend Joe (James Stacy, second-billed) Flareup would probably be better-remembered than it is. Certainly there's a lot that's memorable. To begin with, Don Record's main title design is like Maurice Binder's 007 titles on acid, a double-vision of Raquel go-go dancing.
The movie opens with Nikki, in a white macramé mini-dress, taking a cab from Caesar's Palace (where Celeste Holm is starring as Mame) to the Riviera's poolside, exactly where Japan's Crazy Cats sat in the comedy Las Vegas Free-for-All (1967). That drive offers viewers an incredible view of the long-gone Vegas casinos and marquees touting their headliners (on that day including Ann-Margret, Waylon Jennings, Phil Harris, Harry James, and many more), while the footage in Los Angeles is nearly as captivating.
Camp runs rampant. Joe's apartment is decorated with purple paisley wallpaper and posters of Humphrey Bogart and Emiliano Zapata. Luke Askew, who died this March a few days after his 80th birthday, specialized playing psychotic villains like this, but in Flareup he's got a goofy haircut nearly identical to Jim Carrey's in Dumb and Dumber. One keeps expecting to see a chipped front tooth. The end of the film is equally absurd, but as it contains a major spoiler I offer it as a footnote.*
Raquel Welch is actually quite good, very natural most of the time, and the supporting cast seems to bring out the best in her. That said, in one scene she's seen riding a horse along the beach, and perhaps wanting to show off her impressive mane of golden brown hair she thrashes her head about as if having a seizure. She never gets naked alas, her "specialty" featuring an outfit that looks like something out of Hair, or maybe that great cinematic triumph Stayin' Alive. (The film does have a lengthy, topless dance sequence, however, and one scene has a lesbian co-worker trying to seduce Michelle. The film was originally rated "M" but since rerated PG-13.)
Video & Audio
As noted above, Flareup's transfer isn't pristine but it's certainly serviceable, in 1.75:1 widescreen with 16:9 enhancement. Dirt and wear is present here and there but the colors are strong and the image is reasonably sharp. The region-free disc's Dolby Digital mono audio (English only), with no alternate language or subtitle options, is likewise fine.
Supplements include a full-frame trailer.
For fans and admirers of Raquel Welch and lovers of camp, Flareup is alternately pretty good and awfully silly, but as she often did Welch weathers it all with remarkable grace and earnestness. However silly the movie may get she herself never is, really, and delivers a decent, appealing performance. And she's sexy. Boy howdy, is she sexy.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.
* In the end, Michelle douses Alan with gasoline and sets him ablaze, which might have been dramatic were it not for a) the Jason-from-Friday the 13th-like mask and thick asbestos gloves the stuntman clearly wears; and b) had a fire extinguisher, brandished about by an overzealous stagehand, not suddenly peered into view at the height of the blaze.