FORGOTTEN CLASSICS — VICTOR/VICTORIA

Published July 16, 2009

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: It’s been a little while since I wrote up an official post for the category The Best Damn Movies EVER — originally intended to highlight forgotten classics that younger film lovers may have overlooked — yet that category has been filling up with miscellanious entries anyway. Here, however, is a true forgotten classic, one of my favorites …

After the one-two punch of 1964’s Mary Poppins (Best Actress Oscar) and 1965’s The Sound of Music (Best Picture), British actress Julie Andrews’ career struggled a bit to find its footing. Even distinguished fare like Torn Curtain, Hawaii, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Star! did little to convince audiences that Julie was more than a prim and proper nanny … a point which those first two classic films drove home. But in the late 70s/early 80s, Julie’s husband, writer/director Blake Edwards, redfined her image in three remarkable films: 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981 – infamous for a brief flash of Julie’s bosoms), and Victor/Victoria (1982). That last is the one I want to highlight here.
Victor/Victoria
Victor/Victoria, based on a 1933 German film entitled Viktor und Viktoria, tells the tale of Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews), a struggling singer in 1930s Paris who is so broke she nearly compromises her virtue for a meatball. When she meets Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston), a gay singer who is, himself, inbetween gigs, the two eventually stumble upon an idea which could solve both of their financial problems and make Victoria the toast of Paris. Since “gay Paree” is home to many female impersonaters, why not jump on ze bandwagon? Toddy convinces Victoria to disguise herself as Count Victor Grezinski, a gay, polish, female impersonator. She will, in essence, be “a woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman.” To sell the ruse, Toddy will act as her (his) gay lover.

After landing an agent (John Rhys Davies) and a gig at a popular Paris nightclub, their opening night goes splendidly. In attendance for this show are a Chicago gangster named King Marchand (James Garner), his bodyguard “Squash” (Alex Karras), and King’s moll, Norma (Lesley Ann Warren), a feisty, jealous, New Yawk-voiced, peroxcide-blonde who damn near steals this movie. King is at first very attracted to the singer onstage, much to Norma’s chagrin, but after the conclusion of the opening number, where Victoria removes her wig and reveals herself to be a man, he is horrified and Norma is thrilled. (See the entire first clip below to see what I’m talking about … hilarious!)

To reveal more would be criminal.

JULIE ANDREWS
Julie Andrews
I first saw this film during its initial theatrical run in the spring of 1982, while working at a local Denver-area theater. This was one of my first jobs and, alas, did not last long … my breaktimes were spent watching movies and time would often slip away, go figure. But even at such a young age (16 going on 17, ironic huh?) I knew this was a remarkable piece of work. Great script, great Oscar-winning soundtrack by Henry Mancini, and great performances — as much as Julie Andrews and James Garner shine in this film, and they do, I cannot praise enough the work of Robert Preston (that erstwhile Music Man) and Lesley Ann Warren. Their brief scenes together are the stuff of Hollywood legend. Sadly, we lost Robert Preston in 1987 to lung cancer. Also, Lesley Ann Warren was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role — Jessica Lange (Tootsie) robbed her of the statue.

JAMES GARNER AND LESLEY ANN WARREN
James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren
In 1995, Victor/Victoria was transpalnted to Broadway as a return vehicle for Julie Andrews — however, though running for over 700 performances, the show was much changed from the original film and received mixed reviews. Julie was also forced to leave the show after a botched surgery on her vocal chords left her without a singing voice … one of the great tragedies of our time.

But we still have the film. If you’ve never seen it, seek it out — I envy your opportunity to experience it for the first time. If you have seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is classic moviemaking and only Blake Edwards and this exceptional cast could pull it off so well. To coin a cliché, they truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Victor/Victoria is a sure-cure for the doldrums, and one of the funniest, cheeriest, most well-constructed musical comedies ever made.