Flare Up - 1969

Raquel Welch on the run from maniac Luke Askew

Flare Up - Released November 10, 1969. Directed by James Neilson

Is Flare Up supposed to somehow be reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up? Besides the title, Flare Up co-star James Stacy (as Joe Brodnek) holds a camera in the movie, shooting film of super-model movie star Raquel Welch (as Michele) once or twice, and then there's murder.

But it's a superficial similarity. Flare Up borrows lightly from a few other places, too. The film begins with a credit sequence which takes off in a James Bond style montage with Raquel (and multiple duplicate Raquels) gyrating go-go style while being superimposed within and over silhouettes of a pistol that vanishes, shrinks and enlarges. But this, too, is a superficial item compared to the main tale in Flare Up which is like a better-budgeted episode of any number of TV detective programs. Go-go dancer Raquel is on the run from Vegas to Los Angeles after the jealous Alan Morris (played by Luke Askew) kills his ex-wife Nikki (Sandra Giles) and then blames Michele for "making him do it." Morris is convinced all of his dead ex-wife's female associates (they're all dancers) had been poisoning her mind against him, which hardly seems necessary since he comes across as utterly unlikable.

After the first murder, Morris attempts to shoot Michele and his dead wife's other friend, Iris (Pat Delaney) but fails, though is determined to try again later. When the police offer protection to Michele, she scoffs that it would not be of any value: "Nikki had a restraining order and you see what good it did her!" Michele then escapes town incognito and eventually travels to Los Angeles, and gets a job at a "topless and bottomless" club, and is befriended by the car valet (James Stacy). A whirlwind romance commences and soon the two characters share an intimate horse ride on a sunny California beach, splashing about with the wind kicking their hair up, a sequence that goes on for too long and seems more like a shampoo TV commercial.

Meanwhile Morris has figured out where Michele has gone and is in Los Angeles to finish his cock-eyed revenge plot.

The film is at its best when Welch and Stacey are alone together and awkwardly getting to know each other, and that is where the often stiff acting in Flare Up works to their advantage. But too many scenes contain a lot of people shuffling in and out of rooms and the prosaic dialogue moving the plot forward until we get a final confrontation between Luke and Raquel (which isn't bad, but like a lot of Flare Up, is too long).

The script (by Mark Rogers) is wobbly and seems patched together. At times the story is pretending to be about the subculture of topless dancers, drugs, thugs, and true love amid the dirt, but wrapped around it all are scenes of Vegas casino palaces and show business, as if that shiny veneer is shared by the other, grittier world, but it's all too incongruous to make any kind of point about either. Instead it seems like an artificial springboard for regular interjections of the loose-limbed Miss Welch to dance (which is impressively athletic, but those scenes are, like other parts of Flare Up, too long, as if the director is running out the clock because we just don't have enough story).

Flare Up has some high points. Luke Askew's very first scene has a long monologue where he gives us all the backstory, and it's nicely compact and Askew presents a portrait of a dangerous but pathetic loser, like a menacing Jack Palance character that is only half as repellent but twice as dumb. Askew makes the most of this miniature biographical scene but this is about as demonstrative as Flare Up will allow him to be before mechanically sending him on his obsessive chase to kill Raquel.

Raquel Welch improves parts of Flare Up by just walking across the room and smiling. She has a great wardrobe ensemble in scene after scene. The dialogue in Flare Up doesn't serve anyone very well, particularly Welch, who has to carry a lot of the movie by herself. Too many scenes sound like they've had the audio re-recorded and Welch's breathy line readings do not really match the physical activity on the screen itself.

Flare Up does contain a lot of great location shots of Los Angeles. There is much driving around in the movie and a nice display of 1960s automobiles are on the screen, especially Welch's character's Fiat Spider. The stunt work, especially at the end which features a man on fire, is impressive, and turns the film title into a pun.

Flare Up is currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.

Original Page October 2017

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