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Victor Victoria

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Rating: PG

Running Time: 133 minutes

Starring: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston

Directed by: Blake Edwards

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Audio Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews, Cast and Crew, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Mono, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Japanese Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (41 Scenes)

Released: June 4th, 2002

 

 

Upon its release in theaters in 1982, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "VITCOR/VICTORIA is so good, so exhilarating, that the only dedressing thing about it is the suspiscion that Edwards is going to have a terrible time trying to top it." Quite a prescient comment from Canby has proven to be true, sadly enough. Though the film touches upon subjects frequent to Edwards long and varied career, "Victor/Victoria" is highly original, quite complex for a comedy and for its time, very bold.

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews in an Oscar-nominated performance) is first seen as a penniless singer, starving through the winter of 1934 in Paris. Her desperation is shown as she lies her way through an audition at Chez Lui, a small gay cabaret run by the irascable Labisse. Her singing is heard by the club's resident entertainer, the very mature and tres gai, Toddy (Robert Preston in the second of the film's Oscar-nominated performances). Preston, as Toddy, is over-the-top, yet human; two sides of the same coin, so to speak. This is what "Victor/Victoria" is ultimately about: the duality of human nature. It is not, as most people would think, about the lives of homosexuals in a decade far removed from our own; but an intelligently written look at the private and the public masks we all wear. This point is accurately driven home in one of the film's musical interludes at Chez Lui. Aptly titled "Two-faced dance" (Chapter 24) by those clever liner writers at Warner, the number finds four dancers, whose gender we cannot identify due to the male and female masks which make up their costumes. As each one turns around, we are surprised to find that their backs are costumes, reflecting a different gender than the front of their body shows. It is a highly "theatrical" coup, as it takes the viewer quickly into the emotional position where the film's characters constantly stand.

Gender bending leads to confusion, as mobster King Marchand (James Garner in a role which forever changed everone's perceptions of him, yet failed to earn him an Oscar nomination) learns when he finds himself - strictly a "man's man" - sexually attracted to the theatrical image of Victoria Grant: Victor. For you see, Toddy has come up with a plan to ease Victoria's life of pennilessness: she will become 'Victor', the world's greatest female impersonator, whom no one has heard of, since 'he's' really a Polish Count whose family disowned him when they discovered 'he' was gay. A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman: think about it.

The film's musical numbers, "Le Jazz Hot" excepted, stress this dichotomy. The lengthiest number, "The Shady Dame from Seville," contains the telling line, "No one knows what became/of the shady dame/from Seville," sparking a mystery around the fate of a Carmen-like woman who has an affair with a matador. The song concludes, "Only two ears and a tail, did they find/on the blind/by her sill." Was she having an affair with a murderous matador? Did that shady dame also persue a career similar to Victoria Grant's? I used to think that this particular number was deletable, but, opinions change, and with each successive viewing of the film, I have discovered that what lies beneath the lyrics is every bit as important as the theatricality of the number. Besides, if it were cut, the finale would fall quite flat, to quote Victoria as Victor, "If i have to strap my bosoms down, they'll end up looking like two empty wallets." The film's only solo spot for Victor, "Crazy World," pretty much sums up the themes of the film with a lovely set of Leslie Bricusse lyrics. "Crazy world, full of crazy contradictions like a child/first you drive me wild/and then you win my heart with your wicked art/one minute tender/gentle/then tempermental as a summer storm." Is the "wicked art" that of theatricality? Oscar Hammerstien III and Noel Coward both warned in song about the life on the wicked stage. Although the song is sung by Victoria as Victor, the words reflect the confusion which King Marchand feels about his attraction to Victor, a point brought home with the toss of a rose in his direction. James Garner's reaction to catching the rose is priceless.

There is not one single bad performance in "Victor/Victoria." From the slapstick antics (a delightful holdover from "Darling Lili") of Sherloque Tanney as the detective hired by Labisse to prove that Victor is a woman to the scene-stealing, and quite deadpan droll quips of Graham Stark as a befuddled waiter, each actor imbues their characters completely bringing forth gales of laughter. I find the casting of Lesley Ann Warren interesting on many levels, primarily known as a dancer, but equally adept at musicals (she began her career on the Broadway musical stage) as her star-making performance in TV's second version of Rodgers & Hammerstien's "Cinderella" proved. It was the second time in which that particular vehicle created a star; the first time being in the 1950's with a young woman fresh from London, named Julie Andrews. Warren's skills had never been put to better use than in "Victor/Victoria," and her Jean Harlowesque Norma Cassidy justly earned her an Oscar nomination. Robert Preston gives a very brave performance in one of his last films, his Toddy is the glue which holds the film together. James Garner, as I have stated, SHOULD have rated a nomination, like Spencer tracy before him, he makes acting look easy; and his is the most difficult role. Football hero Alex Karras is nothing less than delightful as a man who finds romance and enlightenment in "The City of Lights." And then there is Miss Andrews. A practically perfect performance in every way, to paraphrase her Oscar winning role.

 

C'est magnifique! Vraiment! In other words, the anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation of "Victor/Victoria" is quite close to perfection. The film looks correct and accurate in nearly every scene, and we have been waiting a long time for this film to be seen in all its widescreen glory (2.35:1 - Panavision, to be precise) in the digital format. Detail is so strong that one could, if one had the urge to, count all the crags in the faces of Robert Preston and James Garner. On a more adult note, check out Paddy Stone's choreography for Norma's (Lesley Ann Warren) "Chicago, Illinois" (Chapter 22); bikini wax most certainly did not exist in 1934! Each and every one of Blake Edwards' delightful set pieces are finally intact again - to even think of watching the restaurant scene (Chapters 5 & 6) should be considered sinful. There is always something happing in each space of Edwards' film frame, and the final shot of the restaurant scene is one of Blake Edwards' finest moments. From rich, though deliberately subdued colors to the flash and flair of the various cabaret stages, each hue is rendered truly, with little sign of edge enhancement, and little or no aliasing. Contrast levels are dead on target. And for rich, solid blacks, one need only to check out "Crazy World" (Chapter 31) wherein a black tuxedo-clad Victor is placed in a solo spotlight against a black backdrop, the camera sweeps around in a 360 degree turn, maintaining a solid surface of black on black, black against red, black against pink, well, you get the idea: and there is no loss of the shimmering collar, the red rose atop the black baby grand piano and not a trace of grain! A job well done on the normally problematic Metrocolor.

 

Despite the hawking of the remastered soundtrack in Dolby 5.1, this is primarily a front-oriented track, but, nevertheless, it is quite good. The independent channel does kick in occasionally (Chapter 11's can-can boosts the bass), and the musical numbers seem to benefit most from the remastering. Surround activity seems to be basically ambient sound. The clarity of this track, however, is exciting in Victor's big numbers: "Le Jazz Hot" has never sounded so hot, and so "New Orleans" with the striking emphasis on the brass instruments. Julie Andrews has always possessed a crystaline tone, and the range that she demonstrates here, if I were counting, I'd say it was about four-and-a-half octaves, is quite kudo worthy. Dialogue is clean and concise, the better to savor each of Toddy's bon mots, as well as pick up on some very clever asides. A French mono track cleverly blends the inimitable laughter of Lesley Ann Warren with a breathy, smokily spoken and sultry voice - I wish that these "unsung" voice doublers were given credit somewhere - and the French voice for "Victor" is significantly lower than Julie Andrews' own speaking voice. Facing facts, this film is fun in any language! Not to mention the fact that Warner seems to be going the way of Columbia with their cornucopia of available subtitles: English, Francais, Espano, Portugues and Japanese, to quote the disc case.

 

Something that we've all been waiting for, and a delightful treat, is the first Audio Commentary from director Blake Edwards, and we're glad that he chose his 1982 classic to deliver the goods. Accompanied, actually guided, by his wife and star, Julie Andrews, Blake is more than up to the challenge of entertaining and educating. There are occasional gaps, but never long ones, both artists have plenty to say about "Victor/Victoria," and Blake doesn't mince words. The chat is not limited to the film either, tangental subjects include Julie's first musical for Blake ("Darling Lili") as well as the stage version of "Victor/Victoria" and its unfortunate outcome, as well as Edwards' career-long association with composer Henry Mancini. (I've often wondered what a Blake Edwards film would sound like without a Mancini score, since that is a very rare occurance). An Easter Egg confirms Blake's love and appreciation of his wife's infinite talents. A very classy Theatrical Trailer (widescreen; stereo) set to the strains of "Le Jazz Hot" emphasizes the slapstick, but never divulges the film's many punchlines. Text screens constitute the Cast & Crew Filmographies, and they are quite scant: only one page of text for James Garner?!?! or Robert Preston?!?!? Four text pages encompass the Awards that "Victor/Victoria" won, without mention of the many nominations.

 

This one is the real deal; it is nice to have a live theatrical version of "Victor/Victoria," BUT, now that the film, so much frothier, funnier and fulfilling than the stage adaptation, is on dvd, Image's disc will be relegated to the nether reaches of dvd libraries. Sophisticated. Entertaining. Hysterically funny. Refreshingly mature. Finely crafted. Blake Edwards rose to new heights with "Victor/Victoria," and aren't we lucky to be finally available, and at a nifty price, on DVD?