Let’s be upfront: Raquel Welch has a lot of front. And Fathom is a love letter to her considerable assets, clad as they are in a variety of eye-catching outfits. Does it need to be anything more? No, not really. What’s great about Fathom, and Raquel Welch herself, is an obvious awareness of her curves and frothy, ditzy, onscreen persona.
In the opening sequence, the camera moves up and down the length of her body, follows her bum as she walks away from us, and dances around her in a way that today we might consider pervy. But thanks to Raquel’s charisma, and the final moment when she stretches her arms in the air with a big smile on her face, it comes across more as bright, breezy, and charming.
Here, she plays an unusually named skydiver, Fathom Harvill — there’s a running joke where people she’s just met, question the strange forename, and her explanation is always different. After a successful sky diving display in Spain, Fathom is approached by a very young-looking Richard Briers (before he became a household name in the UK with nineteen-seventies sitcom, The Good Life), and introduces her to a Colonel Campbell, an agent of a covert government operation which is trying to retrieve the trigger for a nuclear device.
There’s a very flimsy reason they need Fathom, and that’s because of her sky diving skills and good looks. Once that part of the story is out of the way, Fathom finds herself sinking ever deeper into the film’s mysteries, not knowing from one minute to the next the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.
Like a lot of spy spoof movies of the era, eager to capitalize on the success of James Bond, Fathom is a light soufflé in terms of plot and character. Ironic perhaps, that a film called Fathom has very little depth. Then again, Fathom herself is nearly always out of her depth with whatever the story throws at her, as she dashes from one calamity to another. So there’s an irony there too. I imagine Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the screenplay (based on a novel by Larry Forrester), bashed the script out on his typewriter with one raised eyebrow, styled after Roger Moore.
The lack of depth is no bad thing really. Raquel Welch carries the movie with effortless charm: she has a knack for not taking herself too seriously, despite her sex symbol status. She knows she’s sexy, but she finds it funny too. She’s the true star here, so much so, that it’s a mystery why she didn’t receive top billing. Anthony Franciosa (Remember him? No, me neither!), bafflingly, gets that honour instead.