Film Review: Victor/Victoria dir. Blake Edwards

In 1934 Paris, trained coloratura soprano Victoria Grant, a native Brit, can’t get a job as a singer and is having trouble making ends meet. She doesn’t even have enough money for the basics of food and shelter. Gay cabaret singer Carole ‘Toddy’ Todd may befall the same fate as Victoria as he was just fired from his singing gig at a second rate club named Chez Lui. To solve both their problems, Toddy comes up with what he considers an inspired idea: with Toddy as her manager, Victoria, pretending to be a man, get a job singing as a female impersonator. If they pull this scheme off, Toddy vows Victoria, as her male alter ego, will be the toast of Paris and as such be extremely wealthy…

Review by Erastes

I dare say there are few people reading this blog who haven’t already seen this film, but if you haven’t, get it on Netflix, rent a copy, or simply pop on over to Youtube and seek it out because you’ve missed out on a real treat.

I first saw this film years ago, after it had just been released on video, in about 1984. I didn’t have any interest (or so I thought) in gay fiction, gay history, at the time but I loved the film to pieces for its sheer ebullience and camposity.

It’s very cleverly filmed, to my mind. Blake Edwards, having just directed “10” and “S.O.B” could probably have filmed the entire thing on location but he chose instead to build a mini portion of Paris as a set on the odd occasions that the characters have to be outside and dealt with the rest in restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. The sets he does build, though are gorgeous, dripping with Art Deco style and fixtures and fittings which would make any Art Deco fan’s mouth drool. Particularly Victor’s hotel bathroom.

The casting is bizarre but utterly inspired. Julie Andrews was still attempting to shake off Maria Von Trapp and had done so with some success in S.O.B. but I think that it was this film that gave her the space between Maria and the real world. She’s no character actor, that’s for sure, and she’ll always have the unmistakable and unique cut-glass spoken voice but it’s quite uncanny the way she can have her hair slicked back, put on a serious face, and even with more eyeshadow than Boots she’s suddenly a very attractive and androgynous youth.

I didn’t much fancy James Garner as King Marchand (I’d like to get hold of a copy of the 1995 made-for-TV-version which stars Andrews reprising her role but with Michael Nouri as Marchand to see what he makes of it. Garner played the bumbling Maverick and Rockford for too many years for me to find him convincing as a smouldering male romantic lead, but he does pretty well, and the confusion he’s feeling is managed perfectly with those Droopy-style eyebrows.

I wish he hadn’t found out conclusively that Victor was a woman before he decided to kiss her, but I can understand that for 1982 film audiences that would have been a kiss too far. It would have had the weight of “Nobody’s Perfect” that famous last line in “Some Like It Hot” if the studio had been brave enough to have Marchand say “I don’t care if you are a man” before he kisses Victor, whilst still being unsure as to whether he was or not.

The star of the show for me is Robert Preston who hams, camps and queens it up like the proverbial good ‘un, never seeming out of place or embarrassed but gleefully milking every joke and double-entendre for what they are worth. His final performance as Victor is a gem of film history and the giggling and general guffawing that is going on during it is–I’m sure–in no way faked. It really comes over as being a really fun day on the set.

Credit is also due to Lesley-Ann Warren who plays the dizzy blonde bombshell to a tee and a wonderful understated performance by Alex Karras as Marchand’s heavy.

Historically? Well, you have to take much of it with large handfuls of salt. Of course stage types and artistic types were–and are–often gay, but how outre Paris was about this at the time is probably exaggerated. Yes, there would have been clubs where men could go and dance together, but Toddy’s song “Gay Paree” is a bit of a puff even though what he describes is very true for the time. Gay was a word around from the early 20s, although more used for prostitutes of both the gay and straight persuasion. However, it’s a great song and we can forgive it for that.

It garnered a lot of attention, critically at the time, too. It had seven Oscar nominations, Andrews, Preston and Warren all being nominated but it “only” won one, that of Best Music. It did pick up a few Golden Globes and many other awards in 1983, though.

It’s a real feel-good film, with enough gentle humour and understated farce to make you giggle. Some of the humour is very slapstick, but in a Pink Panther kind of way–unsurprising as Edwards was responsible for the show and the films, too. Add to that outstanding performances by all concerned.  Don’t miss it. And if you have seen it, give yourself a treat and watch it again.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084865/

6 Responses

  1. One of my favorite films! Thanks for posting the review.The only gay-themed film, which,oddly enough, I’ve never seen a viewer write a review of, is In and Out, which I enjoyed just as much. I can’t watch Julie Andrews with feeling sorrow over the loss of her wonderful singing voice. And for the record, I have never been able to watch Sound of Music more than about a third of the way through.

  2. Sorry for the errors — I meant “without” feeling sorrow…

  3. I enjoyed In and Out a lot too, but I don’t know that it handled the subject with a lot of sensitivity! If it was a historical I’d do a review here, of course! Apparently Andrews voice is recovering, and she’s been touring recently.

    • I didn’t know she was touring. I thought the loss of her voice was permanent. Good news. As to sensitivity in the film In and Out,that hadn’t occurred to me. It was just a funny, clever picture with several priceless scenes.

      I loved Robert Preston in V/V, but then I don’t think he could make a bad picture if he tried.I’ve never seen him in anything that I didn’t enjoy.I agree about James Garner.He did seem a little out of place.

  4. Delightful movie. Of course I love any musical with Julie Andrews. Add to that a gay theme and I’m in heaven. Incidentally, the “other” version of Victor/Victoria isn’t a TV movie but rather a taping of the Broadway play.

    And if your looking for more historical gay movies to review, here are a few suggestions:

    Stonewall (story set during events leading up to the riots)
    Bent (gays in the holocaust)
    A Love to Hide (another gay holocaust movie)
    Prick Up Your Ears (about Joe Orton, told in flashbacks to the 1960s)
    Wilde (about you-know-who)
    We Think the World of You (set in the 1950s)

    and a couple I’m sure you already know about:
    Maurice
    Brokeback Mountain

    • I reviewed Bent a year or so ago, but I’ll definitely have to make a start on some of the others, saw PUYE a couple of years ago and Wilde many times, and of course Maurice and BBM – although I have the DVD of BBM it upset me so much in the cinema I’ve not even taken the plastic off.

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