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Savant Review:


1982 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic enhanced / 132 min. / Street date May 24, 2002 / $19.95
Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies
Cinematography Dick Bush
Production Designer Rodger Maus
Art Direction Tim Hutchinson, William Craig Smith
Film Editor Ralph E. Winters
Original Music Leslie Bricusse, Henry Mancini
Written by Blake Edwards, Hans Hoemburg from a 1933 script by Reinhold Schünzel
Produced by Tony Adams, Blake Edwards
Directed by Blake Edwards

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Learning the lessons of S.O.B., Blake Edwards followed it up with two more semi-sophisticated comedies. Victor/Victoria was a solid hit, and was eventually adapted for Broadway. From the same German source writer as Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot, this gender-bending musical comedy presents homosexuality as a normal state of affairs (at least in show biz), perhaps following the lead of the French farce La cage aux folles from a few years before. Once again, the mighty Julie Andrews proves herself the equal of edgy subject matter that puts her way beyond the reach of the Mary Poppins persona. Edwards has concocted such a beautiful production, Victor/Victoria is impossible to dislike.


Classically trained singer Victoria Grant, abandoned by an opera company in Paris, can break glasses with her high E-flat, but is starving for lack of work. After succeeding in a scam to eat free in a restaurant with gay cabaret singer Carroll Todd (Robert Preston), they team up to to pull off an even bigger con: Victoria will pose as a fictitous Polish Count Victor Grezhinski, a fantastic female impersonator. They sell the idea to nightclub owner Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies) and the act is a smash, with Victoria fooling people into thinking she's a man pretending to be a woman, instead of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. But complications pile up when Chicago Gangster King Marchand (James Garner) becomes smitten with Victor/Victoria, refusing to believe he's really a he. All this causes consternation with Marchand's moll Norma Cassady (Lesley Ann Warren) and his bodyguard Squash Bernstein (Alex Karras) ... both of whom also have surprises for King!

A class production all the way, Victor/Victoria has some smart music and great playing by Julie Andrews, and an especially fine turn by Robert Preston, whose comic timing and delivery makes everyone else in the film look like an amateur. There are a couple of excellent setpieces right off the top, as Victoria flops trying out for a singing role because she's too refined, and then uses a cockroach in her salad to skip out on her restaurant bill. When the restaurant breaks out into pandemonium, Blake Edwards uses a restraint not normally associated with his comedies: he cuts to the view from across the street and we watch the patrons go nuts from a discreet and quiet distance.

Julie plays her twisted role with the appropriate finesse. She never completely convinces us that she could be mistaken for a man. As Blake Edwards explains on the commentary track, we accept the deception because the Victor's audiences in the movie do. Julie as Victor has her short hair slicked back and wears a tuxedo. In many shots, particularly with her perky upturned nose in profile, she's the unintentional spittin' image of Michael Redgrave's evil ventriloquist's dummy Hugo, from 1945's Dead of Night.

Robert Preston is fascinating as the queen bee performer who causes riots and can't resist a good joke. He's practical, wise, romantic and masculine. The 'Music Man' voice is still there, only with still more warmth - when he makes with the wisecracks in this film, it's more like Lubitsch than a sticom.

Victor/Victoria looks terrific, with a classy sheen few films were attempting in 1982. It has a studio look that's tastefully stylized. Even the exterior streets are sets, and they never look cheap - or too expensive either, if you can understand the distinction. The comedy in the hotel room is greatly enhanced by the set design. King Marchand's Peeping Tom behavior, when he sneeks a peek at the naked Victoria to prove his theory, comes off as less sick than it should, because of the glistening set.

Blake Edwards' very successful comedies don't always play well now, and Victor/Victoria has some examples of what works for him and what doesn't. All the character comedy is successful because he does indeed write good 'movie' dialogue, and there are so many likeable types to enjoy. He succeeds at making some of his slapstick work here, but there are a number of completely flat gags too. At one point, a private detective does a pratfall from a barstool, after being informed that it's broken. The gag just sits there, as unfunny as a forced joke in a Pink Panther movie.

The movie does run out of steam at the conclusion. Once everyone's come out of their various closets and Victoria's disguise dilemma is resolved, the show has nowhere to go and ends on a reprise of the (not all that snappy) Matador number, only with Robert Preston taking Julie's place and doing the skit in sloppy, drunken drag. He really looks plastered, and his flushed face and wild expressions make us feel like he really was put up to it at the last moment. But it's also garish, tasteless, and has the effect of blowing away the character Preston's built up, just for some cheap laughs. Usually movies like this resort to a pointless slapstick chase to wrap things up. It really isn't an ending, and it leaves Victor/Victoria sort of hanging.

Warner/Turner's DVD of Victor/Victoria is slick and colorful in anamorphic widescreen, and the remastered 5.1 sound is bright and snappy. The accompanying commentary has Ms. Andrews mostly carrying the ball (Mr. Edwards sounds rather weak) but together they relate their personal memories of the production very pleasantly. The seem very devoted to one another, and individually charming as well, a double class act.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Victor/Victoria rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary with Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: June 11, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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