Genre: Romantic Comedy and Musical Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.
Release Date: March 19th, 1982 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Blake Edwards Actors: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies, Graham Stark, Peter Arne
ictoria Grant (Julie Andrews) has a legitimate voice, but the lounge where she auditions is looking for something more “illegitimate.” It hardly matters that her exquisite D-flat can shatter a wine glass perched on the table. In 1934 gay Paris, times are tough; Victoria desperately needs a job, especially if she’s going to eat – something she hasn’t done in so long that the sight of a fat man inhaling a pastry in a diner is enough to make her pass out.
“I’ll sleep with you for a meatball.” Grant’s living situation is just as dire; she’s weeks behind on rent, prompting the manager to remove her suitcases to prevent her from fleeing without payment. Meanwhile, veteran singer Toddy (Robert Preston) performs once again at bar Chez Lui, causing a ruckus when his jokes insult an older woman who swings her fists. The result is the joint being temporarily shut down and Toddy getting unceremoniously thrown out. While walking away from his former job, he spies Victoria at a restaurant, where she hopes to use the insect-in-her-salad routine to avoid paying the check.
A friendship blossoms, leading to a harebrained scheme to pass Victoria off as a man (“Victor”) to get gigs through Paris’ most revered talent agent, Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies). And sure enough, the ruse of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman promises big money. A convincing female impersonator is rare – especially one with Victoria’s voice.
Despite Victoria’s extreme destitution, the film is brimming with humor and levity. There’s even opportunities for slapstick and Pink Panther-like slinking around and snooping. Andrews and Preston do wonders with this material, summoning staggering performances that feel natural and lighthearted. It also helps that full musical numbers showcase Andrews’ vocal prowess (and impressive range), even if it’s more in the jazzy style of “Cabaret” than the classical “The Sound of Music.”
“It’s a guy!” Although many of the venues exploit the unconventional interest in drag queens, the character of King Marchand (James Garner) – the most successful nightclub owner in Chicago – represents the more traditional, chauvinistic viewpoint, disappointed by the deception and unaware of the prevalence of gays. His bigoted beliefs and manliness are challenged, putting him on edge; it’s something of a shame that he’s right in assuming Victor isn’t a man, coupled with the suggestion that he’s a potential love interest (for both Grant and Toddy). It’s also unsatisfying that their obsession with King is based solely on his looks. Although the film is set in the ’30s (which perhaps heightens commentary about present-day inequalities), it’s a little uncomfortable that Victoria can only achieve success by playing a man – even though she doesn’t alter or distort any of the skills that bring her acclaim.
“I just love Frenchmen.” “So do I.” The dialogue remains a strong point, keeping the scenarios perky even when the artifice is threatened with disastrous exposure. One of the highlights is Lesley Ann Warren as Norma, King’s girlfriend, who channels Judy Holliday’s strikingly skittish Billie from “Born Yesterday.” Curiously, however, the running time goes overlong, particularly as it tries to flesh out the supporting roles – namely with King’s bodyguard (Alex Karras), a cynical waiter (Graham Stark, who is hilarious even in an unnamed bit part), and when Norma gets her own full stage sequence.
The more than two-hour picture is simply too stretched out for a comedy (it doesn’t really intend to tackle the weightier dramas of gender discrimination or stereotypes, considering that Marchand’s change of heart only occurs after he discovers the truth about Victoria, and the fact that many of the sincerer interactions are eventually brushed with giddiness) – and there are several too many singing-and-dancing routines, as if “Victor Victoria” is a variety show on top of a role-reversal farce. The mix of comedy and romance is also intermittently unfitting, as comic asides feel as if set in another reality (like a cartoon), while genuine consternations attract darker actions. Still, Andrews is delightful, even as the gimmick approaches its inevitable, calamitous yet contrived and irresolute final revelation. “I feel like I spent the night in a cement mixer.”
– Mike Massie