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Everyone will know he's a phony
on February 14, 2006
Blake Edwards had a unique style of film; all the films seemed to have a certain atmosphere while each maintaining an individual character. Of course, Julie Andrews was a frequent actress in his films - Edwards and Andrews are married, and have been since 1969, an astonishing longevity for Hollywood.
In 'Victor/Victoria', Edwards returns to a Parisian settings familiar to fans of his work in the Pink Panther series - there is some minor elements of slapstick (the clutzy waiter, the bumbling detective, perhaps a nod in the direction of the Pink Panther films), but the real narrative plot is drawn along by the stylish comedy of Julie Andrews (Victoria Grant/Victor) and Robert Preston (Carroll Todd), in one of his last films.
The film is actually based on a much older piece, from 1933, written by Reinhold Schünzel, a German actor and writing, known in Europe primarily from the 1920s to the 1950s (perhaps English-speaking audiences would know him best from his role in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Notorius'). This was not the first, nor the last remake of this piece.
Preston plays an aging, gay, musical theatre man-about-town, who we take it is various a performer, talent scout, and director. Through a strange set of circumstances, he happens to be in a restaurant with a down-on-her-luck singer, who has just flopped at her last audition, and was willing to sell her virtue to the hotel manager for a meatball. She has captured a cockroach, and intends to plant the bug in the salad, thus avoiding payment of the bill - Carroll Todd ('Toddy' to his friends) and Victoria escape the restaurant, and come to share a room together while figuring out what to do.
Toddy comes up with the idea of dressing up Victoria as a man to then present her as the greatest drag queen, with the absurd name of Count Victor Grezhinski, a gay Polish count. 'Who would ever believe it?' Victoria protests. 'A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be woman.'
'It's perfect!' Toddy insists.
'Everyone will know he's a phony,' Victoria insists.
'Exactly! Everyone will know HE's a phony.'
Victoria as Victor auditions for Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies), the greatest talent and booking agent in Paris. He schedules Victor to open in a grand venue, and the deception seems complete. That is, until King Marchand (James Garner), a Chicago gangster and nightclub owner, arrives, complete with bodyguard (Alex Karras) and moll in tow (Leslie Ann Warren). He doesn't believe the act, and is determined to discover the truth.
While Victor/Victoria is not a musical in the sense of 'Cats' or 'Showboat', it does have some really stunning musical numbers, as one would expect from a Julie Andrews production. 'Le Hot Jazz' and 'The Shady Dame from Seville' are excellent numbers (Preston does his own reprise of 'The Shady Dame' for the big finale), and other numbers are fun; Leslie Ann Warren does her own over-the-top tribute to Chicago. The original music is done by Henry Mancini, and thus another Pink Panther connection.
The costumes (done by Patricia Norris, a very experienced and wide-ranging costumer) are perfect, both for the stage production numbers (dramatic and with flair, as might befit a drag queen, then or now), and off the stage - the period setting of inter-war Paris, with the genteel poverty of some and the opulence of others side-by-side is very well done.
This is the first film in which I recall major gay figures - it was a popular film in part because the primary actors were well know, and the issue of gay life was presented both in a distant and a non-controversial manner. If there are politics in it at all, it is that sex shouldn't be a political issue. King Marchand, a bit upset at being identified as someone who might date a man (Victor) has one scene in which he re-affirms his masculinity (by going to a seedy bar and picking a fight), only to discover that people aren't always what he thought they were.
This could be a theme throughout the whole film - people are never what you think they are, and life never turns out as expected. The tone of the film is rather lighthearted throughout, and the situations play very well. Does King Marchand get the girl/guy? Does Carroll Toddy become the toast of Paris? Does Chicago get an airport?? See the film and find out.