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Sony has repackaged what look to be discs identical in content to their previous releases of these two Barbra Streisand musicals. Funny Girl is covered here; those seeking a breakdown on the sequel Funny Lady will want to look here for Savant's previous review coverage.
1968 / 151, 155 min.
Starring Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Allen, Mae Questel
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Production Designer Gene Callahan
Art Direction Robert Luthardt
Film Editor William Sands, Maury Winetrobe
Musical numbers directed by Herbert Ross
Written by Isobel Lennart from her play
Produced by Ray Stark
Directed by William Wyler
Barbra's first and probably still greatest performance is in this extremely well-judged biopic musical that gently shapes the story of Fanny Brice to the needs of a Broadway musical and Ms. Streisand's special talents. The immensely popular film won its young star a best Actress Oscar in 1968. It was a double Oscar that year; Katharine Hepburn won as well.
Pauline Kael used her review of Funny Girl to point out how wonderful a comedienne Streisand is, how she rattles off all those complicated lines with such good timing - as if the actress hadn't had many stage performances to learn, alter and hone the material! Streisand is a great Funny Girl and there's something entertaining in every scene, but I always think of it as a watershed movie, from the time when the definitions of success and talent and getting ahead in show business were changing. Not Streisand - she's a doll with a remarkable voice, especially in the final number which is actually shot live and not to recorded playback. I'm talking about the swift rise of the fictional Fanny Brice seen here, who hopefully was not like the character in the movie.
In a brief opening before Funny Girl slides into the flashback of Fanny Brice's story, it tells us three things about Brice. She looks in a mirror and says, "Hey gorgeous," emphasizing that her life's focus is on herself. Confronted with an empty auditorium, she pretends she's shooting an invisible audience with an invisible machine gun. While sitting alone in the orchestra seats, she marvels at the fact that Flo Ziegfeld is patiently waiting for her in her dressing room, for as long as she wants him to. This is the way Brice likes things, and none of it aligns with the philosopy of her later smash song: "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." Other people are the last thing this woman needs.
Fanny Brice is completely "centered," which means selfishly obsessed, and her cutes allow her to pull off tricks that would get any other showgirl, talented or not, strung up by her own garters. She pretends that she can't rollerskate, which allows her to usurp the role of comic star in what's supposed to be a group number. She seizes the day, which basically means taking it away from somebody else. Everything's about her, always. She's a regular Tom Cruise character.
Streisand's charm and little Jewish pixie schtick wins the day - she is adorable and her line deliveries are inspired. She makes good use of broader comic shenanigans, like crossing her eyes.
The movie is laid out like a flower arrangement with Streisand in dead center. Smooth-smiling Omar Sharif is like reverse arm candy, someone for her to swoon over. The first half of the film with its rise-to-fame and courtship scenes is the best because we are never quite prepared to accept this pair as doomed lovers. The second half skips through the marrital problems and Sharif's prison term, in a big hurry to get to the end number. It turns out to be so satisfying, the other complaints dissolve.
The supporting cast is charming, although a lot of good actors are reduced to spear carriers. Walter Pidgeon is fine as Florenz Ziegfeld and actually credible; he does a good job of being exasperated by Brice but not enough to toss her out of his show. The next strongest impression is made by Mae Questel, simply for her voice. She was the vocal talent for the original Max Fleischer Betty Boop cartoons, and followed it up by doing Olive Oyl's voice as well. Kay Medford is solid but underused as Brice's mom Rose. The biggest casualty is the beautiful Anne Francis as Brice's showgirl buddy Georgia James. She hints at some interesting personality traits in her first couple of appearances, but ends up being used to hold telephones and act surprised at Brice's erratic behavior, with little more emphasis than any of the other chorus girls. Francis and Pidgeon had of course played father and daughter in Forbidden Planet ten years previously.
Speaking of chorus girls, producer Ray Stark recreated a Florenz Ziegfeld "meat parade" pageant for the movie that's almost intoxicating. With the swooning music of the opening to the Beautiful Reflection song, the glittering staircase of bejewelled women is really something to see. The poised, serene faces of the women are almost surreal; looked at in a certain way, they're almost as sinister as the emotionless masks in movies by Jean Cocteau. It's an extreme statement of the worship of a certain kind of idealized beauty.
Director William Wyler had a lot of help from Herbert Ross, who did the dance numbers and later graduated to director for the sequel. The movie's dramatic and comedic content are kept in a fine balance, with visual touches that haven't dated. That's not an empty observation when one thinks of how most of the musicals between The Sound of Music ('65) and Cabaret ('72) turned out - the majority are difficult to watch. The assurance required to pull off ambitious ideas like spreading Don't Rain on My Parade over a journey back to catch a boat in the New York harbor, is not to be sniffed at. The sequence is almost perfect, right down to the timing in the helicopter shot over the tugboat. A new movie would simply iron out any flaws with CGI work. Here we know that Barbara thought enough of her film to go to the trouble of hanging on to the rail of a tugboat churning through the waves ... it's not faked. 1
Sony's DVD of Funny Girl appears to be the same encoding with the same extras as the 2001 restoration disc, the one with the bright pink cover. The two featurettes from that release are repeated along with the text talent files and a menu allowing one to jump to several of the songs. That's kind of an odd extra when the normal chapters don't have a marker for the actual film's beginning. One has to scan through the Overture, because Chapter two jumps to the beginning of the flashback.
One more reminder; this is a double feature DVD Boxed set with both Funny Girl and its 1975 sequel packed in thin-cases inside an attractive card sleeve. Savant has already reviewed Funny Lady, which appears to be the same disc as the one released previously. That review is here.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Funny Girl rates:
1. Streisand apparently liked
that tugboat image a lot, because she adapted it for the end of her directorial debut Yentl.