Victor Victoria (1982)
Starring: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras and John Rhys-Davies
Directed by: Blake Edwards
Released by: Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Synopsis: Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano trying to find a job in 1930s France, spending many of her days starving herself to death while living in a shady hotel room. During an audition she meets Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston), a gay performer who sees great potential in her. Together, they come up with a brilliant plan that turns the nightclub scene on its head: Victoria becomes Count Victor Grazinki, the greatest drag performer in France!
Review: When I first heard about this movie I was more than surprised. I learned that it was directed by one of my current favorite directors, Blake Edwards, starred the amazing Julie Andrews, was scored by Henry Mancini and dealt with topics of homosexuality and sexual identity. Hearing this, my curiosity peaked and decided to see the film. I was more than surprised by how great this film way despite its risqué subject.
I’ll be honest here. Reading about how the movie is about a woman posing as a gay man that performs in drag I was expecting something extremely comedic. While the movie does have an incredible sense of humor, it doesn’t mock its own concepts and instead treats it very seriously. The love story in this film is one that is rather complex. You have Victoria who is trying to masquerade as a man; she then falls in love with a man that expresses similar feelings thanks to her presence on-stage. This leads him to question his own sexuality as he poses to be the most suave man in town. Then there’s the character of Toddy, a gay man that decides to help a woman and become very close friends. Despite his own sexuality he comes off as a man that is very lively and quick to help a fellow performer. This is just a taste of how complex these character relations are. It knows that the plot deals with a touchy subject that people either ignore completely or mock very harshly. It’s more than just a “gay” story: it’s a deep story about how complicated human relations can get due to pride or society’s prejudice.
And best of all, it doesn’t lose any of its sense of fun. It gets to be serious about the characters’ sexual desires, but it still manages to have a lively spirit about it. This is pulled off thanks to Blake Edwards’s style for great comedy as well as Mancini’s talent for musical scores. You have these hilarious fight scenes where everything truly goes and are easily my favorite scenes in the whole movie. They remind me a lot of the party scene in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; they both emphasize on very classy and elegant people being thrown at a very insane situation, creating a great comedic effect.
Victor Victoria is also a musical, with both the score and the songs being handled by Henry Mancini. Admittedly, Mancini doesn’t create a memorable theme here like he did with “Breakfast and Tiffany’s” and the Pink Panther films. Granted, the score is really good and manages to pull off 1930s France very well, but it doesn’t truly stand out as well as previous efforts. The songs, however, fare a little better thanks to some great performers. Once more, it’s presence as a full blown musical is somewhat lacking, especially when compared to other film musicals, but it is very good and do add a theatrical atmosphere to the whole film.
It should be noted that the songs actually tie in to the events in the story. “Le Jazz Hot” and “The Shady Dame from Seville”, for example, are songs that talk about Victoria’s stint as a man playing a woman at a nightclub, while “You and Me” talks about the relationship between Toddy and Victoria. The connection is very subtle, and can be missed watching it the first time, but it’s a great touch how songs are used to present the story.
Julie Andrews as both Victor and Victoria is amazing. She takes on a very daring role after making herself a household name playing “clean” characters like Maria Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” and Mary Poppins in the film of the same name. She is clearly a character that is doing this because she is desperate, constantly hungry and struggling to find a stable home and career in show business. Never does she mock the character she is playing, thus she delivers a performance where she does an amazing job playing a man, who at the same time is playing a woman. Only an actress of the same caliber as Andrews could have made this role possible.
Robert Preston as Toddy is magnificent as well. While clearly an openly gay man he is far from the stereotype. He is very elegant in all of his affairs, yet has an edgy side that he uses to both his advantage as well as Victoria’s. In the end, he is a good guy at heart and just wants to get ahead in life regardless of the struggles he has to face. He has good chemistry with Julie Andrews as partners in crime, playing off each other very well, especially during the grand comedic scenes. James Garner as King Marchand is also great. He gives the film a lot of complexity when it comes to straight and gay sexual relations. He is a straight man, a gangster who is supposed to be a tough guy. And yet, he finds this appeal in Victor that drives him crazy and wonders who he truly is as a man. This could have been a great vehicle for gay jokes, but Blake Edwards instead plays is very smoothly and treats his characters as human being first, stereotypes last.
Other highlights in the performances include Lesley Ann Warren, who plays Norma, Marchand’s frustrated girlfriend, and Alex Karras as Marchand’s burly bodyguard that comes out of the closet during a scene in the movie. Blake Edwards knows how to get the most out of his actors regardless of what film genre he is taking on and Victor Victoria is definitely no exception.
In conclusion, I honestly do see Victor Victoria as a guilty pleasure for many. The film itself is far from bad. It does have many a campy moment thanks to its exuberance in gay and nightclub culture, but it is well written and well presented. But the idea of Julie Andrews playing a man who performs in drag and the gay tendencies of the plot may be a potential turn off for fans who find the subject a bit too touchy for their tastes. All I can say is that don’t judge the movie based on its premise alone. Blake Edwards is a really good film director, and Victor Victoria is a really fun film with a great cast and outrageous comedic sequences. If you can look beyond the story Victor Victoria is trying to tell you might be surprised, much like Marchand was when he saw Victoria for the first time.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5