VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982) C widescreen 134m dir: Blake Edwards
w/Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies, Peter Arne, Herb Tanney, Michael Robbins, Norman Chancer, David Gant, Maria Charles, Malcolm Jamieson, John Cassady, Mike Tezcan, Christopher Good, Matyelok Gibbs, Jay Benedict, Oliver Pierre, Martin Rayner, George Silver, Joanna Dickens, Terence Skelton, Ina Skriver, Stuart Turton, Geoffrey Beevers, Sam Williams, Simon Chandler, Neil Cunningham, Vivienne Chandler, Bill Monks, Perry Davey, Elizabeth Vaughn, Paddy Ward, Tim Stern
From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "Victor/Victoria is a sparkling, ultra-sophisticated entertainment from Blake Edwards. Based on a 1933 German film comedy [Viktor und Viktoria, written and directed by Rheinhold Schunzel] which was a big hit in its day, pic sees Edwards working in the [Ernst] Lubitsch-[Billy] Wilder vein of sly wit and delightful sexual innuendo.
"Set in Paris of 1934, gorgeously represented by Rodger Maus's studio-constructed settings, tale introduces Julie Andrews as a down-on-her-luck chanteuse. Also suffering a temporary career lapse is tres gai nightclub entertainer Robert Preston, who remakes her as a man who in short order becomes celebrated as Paris' foremost female impersonator. Enter Windy City gangster James Garner, with imposing bodyguard Alex Karras and dizzy sexpot Leslie Ann Warren in tow. Not knowing he's in one of 'those' clubs, the tough guy falls hard for Andrews, only to experience a severe blow to his macho ego when it becomes apparent she's a he.
"While the central thrust of the story rests in Andrews-Garner convergence, everyone in the cast is given the chance to shine. Most impressive of all is Preston, with a shimmering portrait of a slightly decadent 'old queen.' Andrews is able to reaffirm her musical talents.
"Garner is quizzically sober as the story's straight man, in more ways than one."
From the Criterion website (www.criterion.com), this 2022 essay about the film, "The Unabashedly Queer Musical That Turned the Genre on Its Head," by Michael Koresky:
"'Shame is an unhappy emotion invented by pietists in order to exploit the human race.' These are perhaps the most striking words of wisdom in the very wise and wonderfully warm Victor/Victoria, stated with a proper flip of the wrist by Robert Preston's character, Toddy. 'You don't believe in shame?' he's asked incredulously by bosom buddy Victoria. He responds, 'I believe in happiness,' indicating that the emotions are mutually exclusive.
"Eking out an existence as a second-rate cabaret entertainer in early-1930s Paris, Toddy is the narrative engine for Blake Edwards' 1982 musical comedy and, just as crucially, its philosophical drive. Despite describing himself at one point as an 'old queen,' Toddy avoids embodying hoary stereotypes. He may be middle-aged, queer, and catty, but he's never lonely, sad, or vicious, and he has little trouble finding romantic partners. Toddy's gayness, and the film's shameless embodiment of it, is established immediately: the opening shot pulls back from a window on a snowy morning cityscape to reveal him waking up in bed with another man. The intimation of casual gay sex feels doubly meaningful, as it's rare for eighties Hollywood filmmaking and, even to this day, an American musical.
"While the musical has long been taken and teased as the an inherently gay genre --- both by gay viewers and patronizing straights --- it has traditionally featured very little in terms of actual queer representation. Musicals, like so many of the most stylized American film genres (the western, the screwball comedy, the melodrama), were often conceived and constructed as a response to the mainstream social order, allowing their makers to interrogate the conventions of heterosexist culture. But because so much of this analysis happens subtextually, it's up to queer spectators to produce meaning. It's there in the emotionality of the form, which allows characters to, in essence, speak their hidden desires through song and occasionally dance. This quality gives musicals a singularly queer expressivity, an ability to make the invisible visible --- detectable in such below-the-surface queer spectacles as Vincente Minnelli's The Pirate, George Cukor's A Star Is Born, and Howard Hawks's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
"Victor/Victoria ... is in many ways a nontraditional musical, perhaps most evidently because the many rousing and vivid numbers, composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, are situated as performances within the narrative, always witnessed by other characters. The songs speak to the themes and situations of the story while keeping the film firmly within a vernacular of realism, unlike in more conventional musicals, where the musical sequences break from the real world and enter the realm of the fantastical. A groundbreaker in the genre, Victor/Victoria explodes the latent, underlying queerness of the form into the foreground.
"The film's subversiveness begins with the casting of its headlining star, Julie Andrews, whose musical persona on stage and screen, established in the midsixties, was one of aggressive wholesomeness. Here, Edwards (at this point Andrews's husband of thirteen years) gifts the former Eliza Doolittle, Mary Poppins, ans Maria von Trapp the role of down-and-out soprano and lonely divorcee Victoria, whose crystalline, four-octave range is more of a liability than a draw in a grungy, depression-era Paris. In this setting, audiences are looking for more disreputable thrills: after auditioning for a singing spot at a gay nightclub called Chez Lui (a pronoun twist on 'Chez Louis,' where Marilyn Monroe sang 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend' in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Victoria is summarily rejected for being 'too legitimate.' After this moment, Victoria --- and Victor/Victoria as a whole --- will seek and discover the pleasure profitability of illegitimate queer culture. Toddy, who befriends Victoria after seeing her failed audition, hatches an inspired tautological scheme: Victoria will pose as Victor, a fictional Polish count and and cabaret drag queen whose stage persona is Victoria. Though she must learn to sing in a lower register (a fascinating, subtle shift for the ears of Andrews's legion of fans), she's an immediate sensation, dazzling crowds with her natural talent while appealing to the city's taste for queer shock and sizzle.
"Edwards based his film on Reinhold Schunzel's 1933 German comedy Victor and Victoria, which combines mannered humor with Busby Berkeley-inspired stage numbers. Though the film retains hints of the source material's Weimar-era Berlin permissiveness, Victor/Victoria is as much about the contemporary times in which it was made, drawing parallels between pre-World War II European sexual experimentation and the short-lived aspirational cosmopolitanism of the early 1980s. Between 1981 and 1982, there had been a proliferation of American films that challenged the hetero- and gender-normative status quo, which in addition to Edwards's film included Making Love; Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; Personal Best; Deathtrap; Tootsie; Only When I Laugh; and The World According to Garp. This isn't a retrospective revelation. In the autumn of 1982 issue of Film Quarterly, film scholar Ed Sikov wrote, '1982 is, as everyone knows, the year in which Hollywood "handled" the gay question.' Even the country's most popular critics, Siskel and Ebert, devoted an entire 1982 episode of their syndicated TV series to the topic, titled 'Changing Attitudes Toward Homosexuality.' In this lovably progressive conversation between the two hetero tastemakers, Siskel forcefully states, 'The treatment of homosexual characters has been pathetic in Hollywood,' and even namechecks Vito Russo's book The Celluloid Closet thirteen years before it was adapted into a more widely known documentary.
"Victor/Victoria is no mere trend piece, however, even if its main character is destined to be a flash in the pan. It's a joyous, exuberant comedy whose sparkle remains undimmed because it uses its slapstick premise to launch a surprisingly sophisticated inquiry into gender roles. Edwards's film is not overly concerned with whether Victoria will be found out and exposed as a fraud; it's more focused on a series of escalating, amorous complications that reveal the inadequacy of mainstream society's definitions of love and desire. Following Victoria's breakout first performance, the glitter-bedazzled 'Le Jazz Hot' (a metatextual song about musical appropriation, in this case the Parisian fascination with New Orleans jazz), she is tentatively romanced by the mob-adjacent Chicago nightclub impresario King Marchand (James Garner). He's been so beguiled by her act that he refuses to believe she's not a woman; his inability to accept that he might have fallen in love with a man leads the tuxedoed, hiar-slicked Victor to respond that he's 'preoccupied with stereotypes' and that he should just accept that 'you're one kind of man, I'm another ... one that doesn't have to prove it --- to myself or anyone.' Meanwhile, King's girlfriend, Norma, a Jean Harlow-esque bottle blonde, raging over his newfound crush, embodies an entirely different type of extreme gender conformity, hilariously played in a beautifully grotesque caricature of femininity by Lesley Ann Warren. Protecting King from Norma's increasingly violent jealousy, as well as from his own desperation to reveal Victor's 'truth,' football player turned bodyguard 'Squash' Bernstein (played by football player turned actor Alex Karras) adds the final element in the dizzying romantic roundelay and provides the film's most surprising subversion of traditional masculinity.
"Having grown up watching Victor/Victoria, I have been delighted --- and not altogether unsurprised --- to discover how well the film has aged as the culture has evolved, while scads of sex-preoccupied comedies of its era reek of closed-minded reactionary politics. In its own light way (for surely the film is a work of mainstream entertainment), Victor/Victoria has a radical spirit, and little interest in mining marginalized people for its considerable laughs. The wisecracks are almost always about the presumptions of heterosexist patriarchy; King's obsession with masculinity is seen as patently absurd, as he intentionally gets into fistfights and puts himself in the path of danger to prove his manhood. Meanwhile, the film's queer characters are never the butt of the joke. Edwards's trademark widescreen slapstick --- honed over years of following Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau through exquisitely composed backgrounds and foregrounds in the Pink Panther films --- is here deployed in deep-focus frames in which people hide under beds, emerge from closets, and try to creep undetected through hotel hallways, allowing the director to indulge in his bread and butter while constantly underlining his film's themes of furtive sexuality.
"Presiding confidently over all this mishigas is Toddy, who refuses to be kept in the shadows. In a role originally tailored for Sellers before he died in 1980 at age fifty-four, Preston plays Toddy with a consistent balance of pugnacity and sweetness. The poignant center of the film, his friendship with Victoria is one of American cinema's most winsome depictions of the bone-deep bond between women and gay men; the only truly mutually supportive relationship in the film, it's the real love story here. 'How long have you been a homosexual?' she asks. 'How long have you been a soprano?' he retorts, while the two soak their feet in a warm bath following a thunderstorm. Later, the two will perform at Chez Lui the laidback soft-shoe 'You and Me,' a song about unbreakable friendship, and you've never seen a pair more relaxed in front of an audience. 'I taught him everything he knows,' Toddy boasts. Victor banters back: 'That's why he has so little left.' Toddy and Victoria's scam is never depicted as anything other than the daring gambit of two down-on-their-luck creatives. At one point, Toddy schools Victoria on how to transform into Victor --- to be both more masculine and more flamboyant --- and his lessons come across as the affectionate goofing off of two buddies in complete simpatico. Walk like a man --- but not that kind of man. As the critic Caden Mark Gardner observes, the scene is like 'Pygmalion meets Tea and Sympathy.'
"Much like Andrews, Preston was a musical-theater icon with an established, unblemished persona. He was known best for inhabiting on both stage and screen another lovable scam artist: Harold Hill in The Music Man, a thick slice of American cheese that Toddy's cosmopolitan, nonconformist spirit couldn't be further from. In one scene, Norma, swept away by Toddy's debonair charm and feathered hair but disappointed by his avowed gayness, shakes her head and says, 'I think it's a terrible waste!'
"Toddy's response is shameless: 'If it's any consolation, I assure you it is not wasted.'"
VICTOR/VICTORIA won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score (Leslie Bricusse and Henry Mancini). It was also nominated for Best Actress (Andrews), Supporting Actor (Preston), Supporting Actress (Warren), Adapted Screenplay (Edwards), Art Direction (Maus, Tim Hutchinson, William Craig Smith, Harry Cordwell), and Costume Design (Patricia Norris).