Victor/Victoria (1982): Blake Edwards Top Farce

Tribute to James Garner, who died yesterday at age 86

Victor/Victoria was one of Garner’s most popular and critically acclaimed films.

Driven by a stunning lead turn from Oscar-winner Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria, Blake Edwards’ funny and highly entertaining gender-bender musical, is one of the director’s most critically acclaimed movie, though in commercial popularity it does not match his Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers.

Blake Edwards borrowed most of the plot of his winning musical farce from a 1930s German comedy, which was also made into a British movie, and transformed it into a classic and uniquely American movie in tone and execution.

 

victor_victoria_2_garner_andrewsSet in 1934, during the Great Depression, in Paris, tale revolves around a down-on-her-luck actress (played by Julie Andrews, who happens to be Edwards’ real wife) masquerading as a female impersonator to make a living. She thus becomes a woman playing a man playing a woman.

The film is very well-cast. In one of his best big-screen roles, James Garner plays the tough Chicago hood and owner of nightclub, who falls for Victoria and is perplexed by the endlessly changing situations and genders.

Robert Preston plays Victoria’s homosexual mentor, who comes up with the original idea to save her from starvation. In a flamboyant turn, Preston excels in his campy drag scenes, and he is also good, when Garner’s bodyguard (Alex Karras) begins to court him in serious.  With some justice and luck, his performance that should receive recognition from the Academy.

Perhaps best of all is Lesley Anne Warren, who’s cast as Norma, the hood’s shabbily-treated perpetually horny floozie.

One of the few successful musical farces,”Victor/Victoria” found an appreciate audience, though not like that of Edwards “Pink Panther pictures.” The Academy voters responded favorably, too, showering on the film seven Oscar nominations, more than what some of the five Best Picture contenders received.

 

Detailed Plot

victor_victoria_5_garnerThe story begins with Richard Di Nardo, a young hustler getting from the bed of middle-aged Carroll Todd (Robert Preston), aka Toddy. Richard takes money from Toddy’s wallet and leaves Toddy’s apartment. Going about his day, Toddy, a performer at Chez Lui in Paris, sees Labisse, the club owner, auditioning a frail and poor singer, Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews). After the audition, Labisse drily writes her off. She sustains a pitch to shatter his wine glass.

victor_victoria_3_garner_andrewsThat night, Richard comes to Chez Lui as part of a straight foursome and Toddy incites a brawl by insulting Richard and his female entourage. Labisse fires Toddy and bans him from the club. Walking home, he spots Victoria at a restaurant, and she invites him to join her. She dumps a cockroach in her salad to avoid paying their check, but it escapes and the whole place breaks out in chaos.

Toddy invites her to stay, when the rain has shrunk her cheap clothes. The next morning Richard shows up to collect his things. Victoria, who is wearing his clothes, hides in Toddy’s closet. Thinking that Richard might harm Toddy, she kicks him out. Toddy is struck with the inspiration of passing Victoria off as a man, and presents her to Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies), a successful agent, as a female impersonator.

Cassell accepts her as Count Victor Grazinski, a gay Polish female impersonator and Toddy’s new boyfriend. Cassell gets her a nightclub show and invites some club owners to the opening. Among the guests is King Marchand (James Garner), an owner of multiple clubs in Chicago, who is in league with the mob. King attends with his ditzy moll Norma Cassidy (Lesley Ann Warren) and burly bodyguard Bernstein (Alex Karras), aka Squash. King is smitten, but is devastated when she is “revealed” as a man at the end of her act.

victor_victoria_4_garnerAfter a quarrel with Norma, King sends her back to America. Determined to reveal Victor’s real gender, King sneaks into Victoria and Toddy’s suite and confirms his suspicion when he spies her taking a bath. He keeps his knowledge secret and invites Victoria, Toddy, and Cassell to Chez Lui, where Toddy is welcomed due to Victor’s stardom.

Another fight breaks out with the same foursome, and Squash and Toddy are arrested but King and Victoria escape. King kisses Victoria pretending that he does not care about gender (though he knows she is a woman).

Squash returns to the suite and catches King with Victoria in bed. King tries to explain, but he’s soon shocked, when Squash comes out. Meanwhile, Labisse hires a P.I., Charles Bovin, to investigate Victor. Victoria and King live together, but Victoria’s secret creates tension in the relationship and King ends it.

Back in Chicago, Norma tells King’s club partner Sal Andretti (Norman Chancer), that King is having an affair with Victor. Victoria decides to give up Victor’s persona in order to be with King.  Sal demands that King transfer his share of the empire. Victoria interrupts the paperwork, showing Norma that she is really a woman, thus preventing King from losing his stake.

victor_victoria_1_garner_andrewsCassell tells Toddy and Victoria that Labisse has lodged a complaint against him and “Victor” for fraud. The Inspector confirms to Labisse that the performer is a man and Labisse is an idiot. In the end, Victoria joins King in the club as her real self. King is stunned, as the announcer had announced that Victor is going to perform. It’s revealed that Toddy is masquerading as Victor. After a disastrous but hilarious show, Toddy claims it’s his last performance. The film ends with applause by King, Squash, Victoria, and Cassell.

 

Oscar Alert:

Oscar Nominations: 7

Actress: Julie Andrews

Supporting Actor: Robert Preston

Supporting Actress: Lesley Ann Warren

Screenplay (Adapted): Blake Edwards

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Rodger Maus, Tim Hutchinson, William Craig Smith: Harry Cardwell

Costume Design: Patricia Norris

Score (Original or Adaptation): Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse; adaptation score Henry Mancini.

 

Oscar Awards: 1

Song Score

Oscar Context:

In 1982, “the historical biopicture “Gandhi” swept most of the Oscars, including Art Direction and Costumes for John Mollo and Bhanu Athalia. The Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart for the political thriller “Missing.”

The acting awards went to Meryl Streep, Best Actress for “Sophie’s Choice”; Jessica Lange, Supporting Actress for “Tootsie”; and Louis Gossett, Jr., Supporting Actor for “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

This was the fourth of Mancini’s Oscars, and the second of Leslie Bricusse.

 

Musical numbers

The production numbers in the film are presented as nightclub acts, choreographed by Paddy Stone.

The lyrics of some songs are related directly to the plot. The two numbers “Le Jazz Hot” and “The Shady Dame from Seville” present Victoria as a female impersonator. The latter number is reinterpreted by Toddy for diversion, and the cozy relationship of Toddy and Victoria is conveyed by the song “You and Me,” sung before the audience at the club.

“Gay Paree” – Toddy (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“Le Jazz Hot!” – Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“The Shady Dame from Seville” – Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“You and Me” – Toddy, Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“Chicago, Illinois” – Norma (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“Crazy World” – Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)

“Finale/Shady Dame from Seville (Reprise)” – Toddy (music composed by Henry Mancini)

Origins of the Story

The film’s screenplay was adapted by Blake Edwards and Hans Hoemburg from the 1933 German film, Viktor und Viktoria, by Reinhold Schünzel.

There was also a 1935 UK remake named First a Girl, directed by Victor Saville, about a woman who stands in for a female impersonator and becomes a hit.

The costume worn by Julie Andrews, in the number “The Shady Dame from Seville” is the same one worn by Robert Preston at the end. It was made to fit Preston, and then it was drawn in tight to fit Andrews’ shapely figure.

Intertextuality:

Julie Andrews and James Garner played romantic leads in two other films together, Paddy Chayevsky’s The Americanization of Emily (1964) and the TV movie One Special Night(1999).

Movie Impact

In 1995, it was adapted into a Broadway musical.

 

Cast

Julie Andrews  as Victoria Grant/Count Victor Grazinski

James Garner as King Marchand

Robert Preston as Carroll “Toddy” Todd

Lesley Ann Warren as Norma Cassidy

Alex Karras as “Squash” Bernstein

John Rhys-Davies as Andre Cassell

Graham Stark as the Waiter

Peter Arne as Labisse

Malcolm Jamieson as Richard Di Nardo

David Gant as the diner manager

Sherloque Tanney as Charles Bovin

Michael Robbins as Manager of Victoria’s hotel

Maria Charles as Madame President

Glen Murphy as Boxer

Geoffrey Beevers as Police Inspector

Norman Alden as Man in Hotel with Shoes (uncredited)

Neil Cunningham as the MC

 

Credits:

 

MGM/UA Release of an MGM Production

Running time: 133 Minutes