In the late 1960s 20th Century Fox were doing their best to cash in the spy craze created by the popular James Bond movies with such less than stellar entries as Modesty Blaise, and today we will be looking at another fun if unsuccessful attempt at capturing Bondmania, this one starring Raquel Welch as the title character Fathom.
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson, and based on Larry Forrester’s second Fathom novel, this 1960s spy comedy tells the story of Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch), a beautiful professional skydiver who gets embroiled in a plot to steal a top-secret device that could change the balance of power in the world. She is recruited by Colonel Douglas Campbell (Ronald Fraser) who convinces her that he is a British agent working for an organization called H.A.D.E.S – which is allied with NATO – and they want Fathom to help recover a nuclear-triggering device called the “Fire Dragon” which went missing somewhere in the Mediterranean. They believe the key to its recovery involves her “accidentally” parachuting into the villa of the suave and mysterious Peter Merriwether (Anthony Franciosa) and his exotic Chinese assistant, Jo-May Soon (Greta Chi), who they hope can lead them to the whereabouts of this missing weapon system.
The film’s humour is a mix of slapstick and witty one-liners, and while not all the jokes land the overall tone is light-hearted and playful and it also features a fantastic score by legendary composer John Barry, which adds to the film’s already impressive production values. But at its core, Fathom is a light-hearted and entertaining spy thriller that delivers plenty of action, humour, and suspense. Welch is perfectly cast as the charming and resourceful if a little obtuse Fathom, who gets in over her head but never loses her cool. Her adversaries are a nice collection of characters who help keep the silly plot moving along nicely, from a charming hotelier (Tom Adams) who clearly know more about the “Fire Dragon” than our dear Fathom does and an eccentric collector named Sergi Serapkin (Clive Revill) who could have stepped out of either a Matt Helm movie or an episode of the 1960s Batman series and is easily this film’s most colourful villain.
• Director Leslie H. Martinson and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. were no strangers to camp action comedy as both men worked on the Adam West Batman series and its feature film.
• The main title sequence was designed by the legendary Maurice Binder, who did the main title designs for 16 of the James Bond films, in another attempt by the studio to capture some of that Bond magic.
• Our heroine is told that H.A.D.E.S. stands for Headquarters Allied Defences, Espionage, and Security which makes one think of a SPECTRE and is a strange acronym for the supposed good guys to use.
• Fathom falls for the old classic trope of finding a dead body and immediately picking up the murder weapon so that she can be accused of the crime.
Throughout the film, Welch displays her athleticism and charisma, performing several daring stunts and fight scenes, and the movie also benefits from its exotic locations that include Spain and the Canary Islands, adding to the sense of adventure and intrigue. Despite its somewhat formulaic plot and predictable twists, Fathom remains a fun and engaging film that is a worthy entry in the genre. The movie is bolstered by its charismatic lead actress, strong supporting cast, and exciting action sequences, making it a solid addition to any spy movie aficionado’s collection. Raquel Welch may have caught the world’s attention with the science fiction classic Fantastic Voyage and then became an international sex symbol with her iconic role in One Million Years B.C. but it was in films like Fathom that showed her as a smart and intelligent actress and more than just a pretty face.
Leslie H. Martinson’s Fathom is a light-hearted romp that combines action, humour, and gorgeous scenery, making it a fun and entertaining watch. Raquel Welch is a standout in the lead role and the film’s action sequences are top-notch so if you’re in the mood for a classic spy adventure, this one is worth a watch.
Movie Rank - 6/10
Overall, Fathom is a delightful 1960s spy caper that offers plenty of thrills, laughs, and eye candy. It’s a perfect example of the era’s escapist entertainment and an entry that fans of classic spy films can truly enjoy.