Raquel! (TV special; 1970)
For quite a few years now I’ve been an advocate of the idea that the only vast untapped source remaining for the bad entertainment lover is TV programming of the ‘60s through the ‘80s. This intends a wide array of ludicrous TV movies, horrible series pilots and short-lived programs, and hundreds of inane specials. Raquel! is a prime example of the latter, being a showcase for pneumatic movie sexpot Raquel Welch.
We open with Raquel, in a field, hamming it up—oh, ain’t we having fun!!—over a reel-to-reel tape deck (presumably the one recording the sound for her special). She’s dressed in…well…. Hmm. A cleavage-baring white sleeved bathing suit, featuring long hanging fringe from the arms, a domino navel cut-out, and adorned with gold patterns, a gold metal headband and thigh high white boots. “Filmed on location,” an announcer booms, “in London, Paris, Acapulco, Mexico City, Big Sur, Sun Valley, Yucatan and Los Angeles!” Translation: ‘Well, folks, this special might lack mightily in all entertainment categories, but we sure spent a hell of a lot of money making it!’
We then have a montage of ‘behind the scene’ production shots—several of them obviously staged and strenuously wacky—as the reedy voice of Our Star herself is heard singing “The Games People Play.” As Ms. Welch strains to mug and camp it up for the camera, it’s clear that she was the earlier (and admittedly massively less vulgar) Jenny McCarthy. Soon the credits begin, and our saliva glands start working overtime as names like Tom Jones, John Wayne and Bob Hope cross the screen.
We then cut (presumably this was after a commercial break during the original telecast) to a shot up at the crown of a leafless tree, whereupon Ms. Welch’s thin rendition of California Dreaming begins. “All the leaves are brown,” she warbles, as we stare up at the almost entirely denuded branches. The sky we see is gray, though, I’ve got to give them that.
The fact that Ms. Welch is attempting to assay her second song in under two minutes can only fill the viewer with trepidation. This is especially true since she clearly can barely handle tunes clearly chosen for their easy singability. This is emphasized by the fact that the tempo of even “California Dreaming” has been slowed way down. This was quite apparently intended to allow Ms. Welch ample time to timidly shift from one note to another, in the manner of a quivering senior citizen gripping the safely rail as she timidly works her way down a flight of stairs.
Soon the scenery reveals that this is the portion of the show shot in “Paris!” We follow a finely coifed and elegantly attired Ms. Welch as she strolls mordantly past all the de rigueur tourist attractions whilst wistfully thinking of Ol’ Californee. It’s a tough job, I guess, but somebody’s got to do it.
The ear is struck (in several ways, actually), meanwhile, when we hear that the lyrics have been altered. For example, during the section of the song after the singer enters a church (the shot here has a magnificent cathedral in the background—get it?!) and the line is “And I got down on my knees, and I began to pray,” Ms. Welch instead inexplicably sings, “Oh, my mind was so at ease, and I recalled the day.” And it proceeds on like that from there. I can only assume that someone on the production staff harbored a terrible grudge against John and Michelle Phillips.
Oh, and did I mention the arrangement of his introspective song’s music is orchestral and features incessant, pounding horns? Yeah, it’s awesome. Then we get a brief, ostensibly groovy LSD trip-esque segue to Ms. Welch gyrating to a spacey bongo beat (!), wearing what appears to be a swimsuit converted into a costume for a community college production of the movie Barbarella. (In case you’re wondering, though, Ms. Welch does move her arms as she ‘dances.’)
The camera then pulls back to reveal a pair of male backup dancers so inept, and clad in costumes so bizarre—imagine an even gayer-looking hero from a ‘60s Japanese space opera like Invasion of the Neptune Men—that they call to remind nothing so much as the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers from SCTV. As for Our Star, let’s just say that Ms. Welch’s dancing reveals her to be a true triple threat, in that it is fully as skillful as her singing and acting.
Soon the three are cavorting around and atop a series of gigantic expressionistic statues, or whatever they call them. Lest this all not seem ‘trippy’ enough, several of the shots are filmed at a Dutch angle. Battlefield Earth, you are avenged!
You know, as this goes on… I can’t even pretend I’m describing it properly. It’s one of those things so insane that you really begin wondering if it were the work of space aliens. Still, if you ever want a sure-fire party DVD, this should suffice. Just make sure there’s plenty of beer on hand.
And then—I swear!!!—we get another trippy segue and cut back to Paris for the climax of the “California Dreaming” number!! WTF?!!!! Then we cut to a montage of clips featuring Raquel speaking to varied hordes of reporters. This is accompanied by her rendition of “Everybody’s Talking at Me.” Get it? Oh wait, no I don’t, because she’s the one talking to them, you friggin’ morons!
It was at this point, by the way, that I realized there would be little or no respite between her musical ‘numbers.’ I think those numbers must all be pi, actually, because they seem to go on forever.
Under her rendition, we hear her answer press queries, with responses that range from the introspective (“I like to read [pause] and ride horses [pause] and to swim…”) to the, er, humorous. When one unctuous Brit newshawk tells her she looks stunning despite her recent arrival following a long journey, she quips, “Oh [pause] flattery will get you everywhere!” Ha-HA!! Anyway, you know those hilariously witty press conferences the young Beatles gave early in their career?
This isn’t like those.
Nor does Ms. Welch shun controversy, as when she fearlessly informs a gaggle of French reporters, “In Paris [pause] I feel somewhat attracted to it, because I was married here. I would like to make a picture here, so I can live here for a while, because I like it very much.” However, no matter how glorious, it seems, no one place could ever hope to hold her attention for long. “I really like to travel,” she reflects. “I’m really am glad that I have been able to visit different countries and see [pause] different people and places.”
Asked to describe her personality, Ms. Welch responds, “Sometimes I feel paradoxical, you know, I feel two-sided. I feel like an extrovert sometimes and an introvert other times.” Sadly, she doesn’t get into the whole issue of whether she sometimes feels like a nut, and sometimes she don’t. Of her acting career, she explains, “I came at a funny time. In films it was a [pause] nebulous period. And I don’t think they knew what to call me, so they, put, you know, ‘sex symbol.’” Well, yes, the ‘funny time’ thing, and the huge breasts.
During all this, they cut in footage of Ms. Welch walking down a beach and through fields and such in solitude as she seeks to escape all those people talkin’ at her. Or…that she’s talking at. Whatever. At one point she is shown walking down the beach in front of the setting sun [“I’m going where the sun keep shining…”, although, admittedly, not through any pouring rain], and in the foreground we see a large ‘X’ made up of two crossed logs. At this exact juncture I would have paid fifty bucks to see her stumble across the shattered remnants of the Statue of Liberty.
Now that we have gotten to know Ms. Welch as deeply, as intimately, as any of our own close, personal friends, it’s time to move on the guest stars. We thus cut to a medium shot of Ms. Welch, clad in a loose, white, vaguely hippyish dress and clasping a handful of flowers to her bosom as she addresses the camera. She notes that she had once been referred to as a “female John Wayne.” She explains, “At first I protested. But on second thought, I think it’s pretty difficult to fill his boots.” Here the camera pulls back, and under the now visibly crotch-high mini dress she’s wearing cowboy boots. (Cue obvious ‘laugh track’ guffaws.)
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, my sides.
This is all, naturally enough, a segue to meeting the man himself. As Raquel ‘comically’ clumps around in her boots, the Duke steps forward, clad in white slacks, a dress shirt open at the collar, and a blue blazer with some sort of crest on the breast. “I think every man in the United States would punch me in the nose if I didn’t say you had a nice leg for a boot,” he drawls. Well, yes, obviously.
Raquel requests his help, explaining that she can’t ride a horse. In response, Wayne notes he has a horse that has never been ridden. “Maybe you two could start together,” he quips. We cut to the pair approaching a corral, and both are now dressed in ‘Western’ clothes, complete with gun belts. Ms. Welch, it must be said, could certainly fill out a tight shirt. So could Wayne, for that matter—especially around the gut, at this stage of his life—but the effect is quite different. Still, it must be said that even in his ‘60s, Wayne was a big, imposing dude.
Seeing a (patently stock footage) wildly bucking bronco, Raquel gasps, “Is that the horse?!” (Cue Laugh Track.) A jocular Wayne instead leads her towards a more timid animal. However, with this bit of hilarity accomplished–the thing where she sees the wild horse–she suddenly decides to forget the whole riding lesson*. Instead, she mentions her unfamiliarity with a six shooter. This leads to further ‘comedy’ as Wayne demonstrates his proficiency with a revolver, followed by a clip from the famous showdown scene from True Grit.[*Making the joke even more pointless, Ms. Welch did, in fact, know how to ride a horse. Just a few year prior to this she had starred in Bandolero!, a Western with James Stewart and Dean Martin. Moreover, she’s seen riding a horse later in this very show.]
Raquel, who apparently suffers from ADD, now shifts gears again and reveals that she knows about Wayne’s soft side, too. And yes, this is all as choppy as it sounds here. So we segue to some footage shot at a Mexican orphanage that apparently Wayne had something to do with. Wayne and Raquel meet and interact with the hundreds of kids (as an instrumental version of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” [!!] plays in the background!).
I have to say, this must have been a thrill to the children. I’m not sure the world currently has a star was universally well-known and revered as Wayne was back in 1970, and this was also the end of an era in which movie stars like Wayne were still seen as being larger than life. Anyway, the kids are adorable, and maybe the scene is a trifle exploitative, but given the smiles on the kids’ faces, it’s hard to take much offense. Wayne and Raquel narrate the footage, and it must be said, Ms. Welch’s commentary doesn’t exactly burnish her reputation as a deep, introspective thinker.
That done, the two say their goodbyes to each other and Raquel rides off on a horse. As we’ll see, Wayne comes off the best of the guest stars, probably because he wisely avoided more than a token scene of interaction with Our Raquel.
We cut to a helicopter shot of a skier going down a snow-covered mountain, as Ms. Welch’s rendition of Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful.” This accompanies footage of Raquel riding a T-bar and skiing and such, with some of the footage shot in slow-motion, perhaps in an attempt to make her look more proficient at the sport than she really was. In fact, as things progress, I notice that she is often shot in silhouette against the sun and in other such fashions that we generally can’t see her face as she executes various skiing maneuvers. I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying. After a few minutes of this—just scintillating stuff—we get a montage of professional skiers falling and crashing and such. Why? I guess because it’s ‘funny’? I mean, it’s not, but I can’t figure out any other justification for it.
Well, that was an exciting five minutes.
Then we cut to Raquel, dressed vaguely like Yentil-in-boy’s-guise with her hair pinned up under a cap, singing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” whilst ‘dancing’ in front of a series of huge, spectacular fountains. Seriously, twenty minutes in and she’s ‘sung’ half a dozen tunes already. Who decided Ms. Welch’s strongest suit would be performing a wide selection of the day’s hottest pop hits? I mean, you know things have gone awry when instead of the busty movie star headlining the special, the viewer is going, “Hey, show us more of the fountains! Those things are amazing!”
We cut to a castle or something. Dressed in an outfit that vaguely looks like something from a very bad Sinbad movie—followed by a montage of her in a dozen other costumes–Ms. Welch is now performing “Here Comes the Sun.” Really? Maybe I can stare into it, be blinded and spare myself the remaining half hour of this thing. That particular short number finished, we immediately go into a rendition of “Good Morning, Starshine.” Wow, it’s a theme!
I should stipulate that Ms. Welch, aside from occasionally straining a bit here or there to hit a certain note, is not a bad singer. The thing is, though, that’s she’s just…adequate. (Even having said that, one must assume her vocals were given a good bit of electronic scrubbing in the mixing booth.) So why base an entire special on her singing one song after another, especially when she’s not in any way known for her singing?* Obviously they thought flying around the world for spectacular setting to put behind her songs would help distract us from noticing all this. However, that just serves, ultimately, to show how weird the whole thing is.[*As Proofreader Bill Leary suggests, “I’m not sure how you’d have capitalized on her actual talents. I suppose a series of quick costume changes and leaping into and climbing out of swimming pools might have worked. And for a real change up, she could have climbed in and jumped out!” And he’s right. Ms. Welch was never really known for any particular talent other than that of looking spectacular.]
We then cut to a far more elaborate dance number taking place at an Aztec pyramid. If I’m not mistaken, this is set at the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacan. Surrounded by dancers in hilariously elaborate costumes representing the signs of the Zodiac, this is the setting for Ms. Welch to sign and frug her way through a particularly unctuous rendition of “Age of Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine.” Given the Aztec ruins, I’d have said “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” would have been more appropriate, but anyway.
During the latter half of the song, we see folks in authentic Aztec priest garb and such performing ceremonial dances (albeit no human sacrifices). As a background to Ms. Welch singing “Let the Sun Shine.” Blech. It’s here, by the way, that Ms. Welch is again seen in the fringed white bathing suit & boots combo we saw at the beginning of the show.
It’s also here that we notice the director’s penchant for shooting stuff as framed through a pair of spread legs in the foreground. Gee, that’s original. In any case, this is by far the show’s most elaborate production number, and hence clearly the funniest. Meanwhile, being surrounded by several dozen strenuously dancing performers in colorful native garb does little to divert our awareness that the star at the center of the entire fandango is going little more than the Mashed Potato.
When this is eventually over, we cut from an Aztec pyramid directly to an Olde English Castle. Here we see Ms. Welch attired like a cast member of the musical Camelot, complete with a long train trailing behind her dress. Hilariously, as we see her walk before this edifice in long shot, she begins her next number by speaking the first several lines in a hysterically bad ‘English’ accent. Indeed, I guess it’s not a song, it’s a reading of the opening portion of Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott. (!!) In the manner of this very special, let me reword Lord Tennyson’s poem to reveal my own thinking on the matter:
And up and down my eyebrows go, List’ning as Ms. Welch does blow and besmirth Tennyson’s prose, So please lady, Shad’up.
Her reading ends with her, still in her princess dress, sitting on a park bench with London Bridge behind her. At her side is a young Tom Jones, attired in a trench coat. Hilarity ensues as Raquel finishes her reading and snaps shut the book she was supposedly reading from.
>Tom: “Beautiful, Raquel, beautiful.” Raquel: “Thank you, Tom.” Tom: “And the poetry wasn’t bad, either!”
Raquel says that if she really were the Queen, she’d request a performance from her guest star. Sure enough, we cut to a tuxedoed Mr. Jones singing something called, “I, Who Have Nothing” in a gorgeous old cathedral. I guess he didn’t want to waste one of his popular songs on this stupid special, and I can’t really blame him. This is shot with him looking up at Princess Raquel up on a balcony, and Tom doesn’t spare the overwrought facial expressions as he toils his way through the song. Eventually the action accompanying this, as Tom and Raquel circle each other in various ways (including while seated on a rotating loveseat) becomes pretty comical.
Mr. Jones ends his song and Queen Raquel, up in her balcony, applauds her minstrel. Her clapping hands then segue to those of an enthusiastically clapping crowd at a nightclub. (Bravo! Auteur! Auteur!) This leads into a sequence of Mr. Jones and Ms. Welch performing a medley of ‘50s soul and rock ‘n’ roll songs, including “Lucille,” “Slipin ‘n Slidin,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and others besides.
Presumably they chose songs somewhat inappropriate for Mr. Jones so that Ms. Welch’s deficiencies would seem less pronounced. If so, this gambit fails miserably. Ms. Welch’s brief vocals on Tutti Frutti are especially wince-inducing, and putting her up alongside an actual, professional singer proves a predictably disastrous idea.
Cut to another montage, as we hear Ms. Welch burble her way through “The Sounds of Silence.” This is probably her worst solo number in the special. Meanwhile, the visuals of her waking along on a beach in a voluminous silk gown are less than edifying. Moreover, if the earlier tendency to be overly concrete in visualizing whatever song lyrics Ms. Welch was singing, here they go to the other extreme, and the results are downright mystifying. As Paul Simon’s lyrics describe seeing a huge crowd (“ten thousand people, maybe more”) in a soulless urban setting, we see extended footage of a half dozen of horses grazing in a bucolic pasture. Hilariously, this ends when a madly grinning Ms. Welch, her gown spread open like huge batwings as she spreads her arms wide, chases the horses off by running at them. She then is seen chasing after them astride a white stallion.
This segues to what appears to be Ms. Welch arriving in a fake Western town upon the same horse, still in her gown. However, as she gallops past the camera, behind her are revealed to be Ms. Welch and guest star Bob Hope. Both are again dressed in cowboy togs. In Hope’s case this includes a gigantic cowboy hat. It’s funny, because it’s bigger than a normal hat. See?
I should note that fans of Mr. Hope’s movie work of particularly the ‘40s always cringe a bit when we see his TV work of this period. His countless TV specials and guest appearances have not…aged well, to put it mildly. Hopefully his tremendously funny early film acting, including the first half dozen Road pictures, will not be forgotten in lieu of his generally painful television work in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Ms. Welch begins what will obviously be a very painful ‘comic’ interlude by adopting a very bad ‘western’ accent. “If I were you,” she informs Cowboy Hope, “I wouldn’t come messing around these here parts.” We cut to the predictable Bob Hope Severe Punch Line Close-Up (Hope obviously being a big enough star to dictate how he was shot), as featured in his dozens of TV specials. “That’s because you ain’t haven’t seen them there parts from this here angle,” he leers, ogling her chest. Cue Patent Laugh Track Guffaws. This punch line is so lame that I can only assume it was originally meant to read “them there hills” rather than “them there parts,” but it got toned down because it was so racy.
This goes on for a while, but I’ll spare you. It’s says something, though, that the comedy featured here is so bad that it almost has you wishing for another song. On the other hand, that’s sort of like a guy being eaten by army ants wishing a hungry lion would show up instead. In this case, of course, the fact is that we can expect both the army ants and the lion.
And sure enough, we soon segue to a montage of purportedly humorous gags accompanying the stars’ duet performance of the Beatles’ “Rocky Racoon.” This features Hope in the guise of a number of cowboys, including a villain in (what else) black clothes and a big black mustache.
The heroic cowboy, meanwhile, is Mr. Hope dressed in a Daniel Boone buckskin jacket and raccoon cap. The hijinx here include Buckskin Bob blowing into his powder horn and then lying down in the dirt street and playing marbles. Because, you know, it’s funny. It must be, from the conniptions of the laugh track. For my part, however, it seemed like something from the worst episode of The Monkees ever.
Meanwhile, an appropriately costumed Ms. Welch does a simply excruciating Mae West impression. Presumably this was an homage to Ms. Welch’s co-star in the legendarily calamitous Myra Breckenridge, which had come out this same year. If so, she wasn’t doing Ms. West any favors.
The sets for the ‘story’ that accompanies the song are all abstract (and thus cheap, to boot), and the whole thing is awful beyond my humble ability to delineate. It’s a jaw-dropper, that’s for sure, and the fact that the whole thing runs quite nearly five interminable minutes doesn’t help much. There is an interesting contrast between the slyly satiric intent of the Beatles’ lyrics, however, being coupled with such hoary vaudeville shtick. Like Otto Preminger’s Skidoo, it’s a fascinating display of some old-timers desperately trying to seem ‘hip’ without having the vaguest idea of what ‘hip’ is.
Thankfully, this proves the show’s last act, and so we cut to Ms. Welch thanking us for watching. Then we get more ‘candid’ and wacky behind the scene footage, again accompanied by Ms. Welch’s performance of “The Games People Play.” The best thing here is seeing clips from stuff that didn’t make it into the show. Heaven knows what this ‘not good enough’ material could have possibly been like.
‘Raquel!’ is available on DVD at a too pricey $20, so anyone wishing to seek it out may just wish to rent it from Netflix. I love this type of material, but there’s a lot of it sitting around in the various network vaults. I’d prefer to see a box set of assorted specials with the price per pop a little more reasonable. When Warners is offering scads of movie box sets featuring nine or ten movies and a profusion of extra features for around $40, twenty dollars for 45 minutes of even prime camp is a tad too dear.
Eventually, I expect that a lack of sales on this item will see the price drop to under $10, at which time I’ll probably pick it up.