Lost and Found: Kansas City Bomber

The recent passing of legendary bombshell Raquel Welch hit hard for many fans. She was 82, which is nothing to sniff at, but she was such a huge cultural icon, and for so long, that it can’t help but feel like there’s a big hole left in her place now that she’s gone.

Like many kids my age, I was first introduced to Raquel Welch through early 1980s reruns of her hilarious guest appearance on a couple of 1979 episodes of Mork & Mindy, plus her late 1970s visit to The Muppet Show. I soon discovered she’d had a long movie career already by that point, although as a kid I didn’t see many of them. Many years later, when I discovered her passion project Kansas City Bomber (1972), I was floored. Most of the roles I knew Welch from fell into the “sex symbol” category. In Kansas City Bomber, Welch was still absurdly sexy—the woman had no off switch when it came to sex appeal—but also more real than she’d ever been on film before, or at least from what I’d seen.

The story of roller derby player and single mother K.C. Carr (Welch), Kansas City Bomber is in the vein of similar 1970s female-driven journeys of self-exploration like Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). K.C. Leaves the Kansas City Bombers for Portland and a new roller derby team, the Loggers, in search of a better life for herself and her children (look for a ten year old Jodie Foster as her daughter). The film explores how ruthless the game can be, both on and off the track, with ownership treating players as pawns for profit.

At a time when her career had been almost entirely defined by her sex symbol status, this film provided Welch with a substantial lead role that allowed her to really showcase more than just her looks. It was meant to be: screenwriter Barry Sandler, still in film school when he wrote it, hand-delivered the script to Welch’s house because he wrote the role with her in mind. She trained for months to make the roller derby scenes convincing (she did most of her own stunts), and put acting chops that she’d rarely been asked to use before to good use here. The Los Angeles Times said that it “marks Raquel Welch’s coming of age as an actress and is a personal triumph for her after surviving more rotten movies than anyone would care to remember.”

Kansas City Bomber would ultimately prove to be an anomaly in Welch’s filmography: a character-driven piece that revolved almost entirely around her lead performance. Sometimes I’m saddened she didn’t parlay this into a stronger movie career thereafter—she would shift to television more and more as the seventies came to a close—but mostly I’m just grateful the film and her excellent performance exist. That’s enough.

Kansas City Bomber has long been a bit of a cult film; those who love it, really love it. It’s always the first Raquel Welch film I think of when I think of her, which is what happened news broke that she had died. I dug out my old Warner Archives DVD (please, someone put it out on Blu-ray soon, pretty please) and marveled at how cool Welch looked on the cover. Her roller derby skills in the film are extremely cool, after all. So is her acting as K.C. It’s Raquel Welch’s film, all the way. I can’t think of a better, more fitting film to watch in honor of her life than this one.

Kansas City Bomber is streaming for rental or purchase fees on various platforms. I believe the Warner Archives DVD is OOP, but you can find copies on eBay and elsewhere.

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