Monday, March 10, 2008

Victor Victoria

In 1930s Paris, starving opera singer Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is aided by gay cabaret performer Carroll Todd "Toddy" (Robert Preston) at a Paris restaurant as she is scheming to plant a cockroach in her food in order to get her meal for free. When Victoria dons Toddy's ex's clothes and then sends the abusive ex flying with a booming shout and an equally booming right hook, Toddy is hit with inspiration: he'll pass her off as a female impersonator. A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?

Soon Victoria's new persona, "Count Victor Grezinski", becomes the toast of Paris. As money and fame start to turn her (and Toddy's) lives around. It all goes well until Chicago "businessman" King Marchand (James Garner), starts to investigate, sure that a man like himself could never fall for another man! He finds himself at first repelled by and then strangely attracted to "Victor". This encourages his burly bodyguard, "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras), to come out of the closet, but it enrages Marchand's dim-witted girlfriend, Norma Cassady (brilliantly acted by Leslie Ann Warren). As Marchand tries to get to the source of his attraction to the entertainer, trying to uncover the truth behind the rhinestone headdress, the farce commences, and the meaning of gender and sexual preference comes into question for all the characters.

Victoria must come to terms with what she really wants out of life: to be true to herself by giving up her career and fame in Paris to be with the man who loves her and whom she loves, or to continue with her duplicitous profession and risk losing Marchand.
Interwoven throughout the comedy and musical numbers are some surprisingly astute observations about gender perceptions, discrimination and the battle of the sexes.

The vocal numbers in the film are presented as real-life scenes or entertainments that involve singers; this explains why neither Toddy nor Marchand sings a duet with Victoria as part of some sort of private scene. Nevertheless, the lyrics or situations of some of the songs are calculated to relate to the unfolding drama. Thus, the two staged numbers "Le Jazz Hot" and "The Shady Dame from Seville" help to present Victoria as a female impersonator. The latter number is hilariously reinterpreted by Toddy for diversionary purposes in the plot.

The cozy relationship of Toddy and Victoria is promoted by the song "You and Me," which is sung before the audience at the nightclub.

In any case, perhaps the most beautiful number is Victoria's slowish waltz-song entitled "Crazy World," the lyrics of which allude to her confused status.

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