Funny Face (1957): Oscar-Nominated Musical, Starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn

One of Fred Astaire’s very best musicals, Funny Face, is also a triumph for director Stanley Donen and star Audrey Hepburn. This light, amusing, stylishly made satire pokes fun at the fashion world as well as the bohemian beatnik life.

 

With a three-decade-age difference, Astaire may be too old to be Hepburn’s lover, but his dancing is so sublime and their chemistry as a couple so strong that you immediately disregard issues of credibility. 

 

As a Madison Avenue fashion photographer, Dick Avery (Astaire) discovers a young, sweet naïve girl, Jo Stockton (Hepburn), who works as a bookseller in Greenwich Village. What follows is a May-December romance and yet another version of “Pygmalion,” with Dick as Professor Higgins and Jo as his Eliza. (Interestingly, Audrey Hepburn played the title role in the Oscar-winning screen version,” My Fair Lady,” in 1964).

 

But, like most of Donen’s films before and after (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “Charade,” again with Hepburn, among them), “Funny Face” is not about plot or characters, but rather a celebration of lavish life styles through glamorous visual style.  Add to it a splendid musical score by George and Ira Gershwin, Roger Edens, and Leonard Gershe, whose unproduced libretto, “Wedding Day,” served as basis for the light, whimsical narrative, and gorgeous dancing choreographed by Astaire and Eugene Loring, and you have one of the last grand musicals to have come out of the studio system.

 

Astaire always had the talent to elevate his female dancing partners, and here he does the same for Hepburn, who is not trained as a professional.  In some numbers, such as the one set in the forest, her limitations are obvious.  However, what Hepburn lacks as a ballerina, she more than makes up as a screen persona, with her elegant stature, long neck, huge brown eyes, and gamine appeal. Flaunting Givenchy’s wardrobe to perfection, she is particularly gorgeous to look at in a scene in which she descends a staircase, while wearing a long red gown (see photo) that almost sets the screen on fire.

 

Hepburn sings better than she dances, and her rendition of “How Long Has This Been Going On” is quite touching. (It’s too bad that Hepburn, who sang in several of her other films, was not allowed to sing in My Fair Lady,” where she is terribly, incongruously dubbed by Marnie Nixon).  Other memorable songs include “Bonjour Paris” and “He Loves and She Loves.”

 

The film contains a number of brilliant dance sequences courtesy of Astaire as co-choreographer and dancer.  Watch, for example, the standout solo number of Astaire dressed in a raincoat and holding an umbrella (instead of his signature can).


The secondary cast includes the fabulous songwriter-performer Kay Thompson as Maggie Prescott, the fashion editor.  Her rendition of “Think Pink,” sung in a set that’s defined by pink furniture, pink toothpaste, and even pink pets, is one of the film’s many highlights.

 

Real-life models Suzy Parker (who would become a Hollywood actress a year later) and Dovima make a brief but impressive appearance.

 

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 4

 

Screenplay (Original): Leonard Gershe

Cinematography (color): Ray June

Art Direction-Set Decoration (color): Hal Pereira, George W. Davis; Sam Comer, Ray Moyer

Costume Design: Edith Head, Hubert De Givenchy

 

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

 

In 1957, “Bridge on the River Kwai” swept the Oscars but was not the most nominated picture.  That honored belonged to “Sayonara,” with 10 nominations, and “Peyton Place,” with 9.  The other two nominees were courtroom dramas: Sidney Lumet’s brilliant feature debut, “Twelve Angry Men” and Billy Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution.”

 

Inexplicably, the Original Screenplay Oscar went to George Wells for Minnelli’s comedy “Designing Woman,” which was a loose remake of George Stevens’ “Woman of the Year.” The Cinematography Oscar went to Jack Hildyard for “Bridge,” and the Art Direction to “Sayonara.”  As is well known, Givenchy was Hepburn’s favorite designer after she became a star.  This is Givenchy’s only Oscar nod, who lost out to Orry-Kelly, designer of the wardrobe of Cukor’s musical “Les Girls.”

Commemorating Hepburn’s 80th birthday, the “Funny Face” DVD is presented in widescreen format enhanced for 16:9 televisions with Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround; English, French and Spanish Mono; and English, French and Spanish subtitles.

 

Bonus material includes:         

 

Disc One

o        Feature Film     

 

Disc Two

o        Kay Thompson: “Think Pink”            (new)                           

o        This is VistaVision (new)                                                               

o        Fashion Photographers Exposed (new)                                    

o        The Fashion Designer and His Muse   

o        Parisian Dreams                                                

o        Paramount in the ’50s – Retrospective Featurette        

o        Original Theatrical Trailer                          

o        Photo Galleries

·         The Movie

·         Production and Publicity

Cast

 

Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn)

Dick Avery (Fred Astaire)

Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson)

Professor Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair)

Paul Duval (Robert Flemyng)

Bas (Virginia Gibson)

 

Credits

 

Produced by Roger Edens

Directed by Stanley Donen

Edited by Frank Bracht

F/X John P. Fulton