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Saturday, May 15, 2010
The screenplay of Victor Victoria was adapted by Blake Edwards (Andrews' husband) and Hans Hoemburg from the 1933 German film Viktor und Viktoria by Reinhold Schünzel. According to Blake Edwards, the screenplay took only one month to write. There was also a 1935 remake named First a Girl, made in the United Kingdom and directed by Victor Saville, about a woman who stands in for a female impersonator and becomes a hit. Julie Andrews watched the 1933 version to prepare for her role.
In 1930s Paris. Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews), a struggling soprano, is unable to find work. She bombs an audition at Chez Lui, a tawdry night club where Carroll "Toddy" Todd (played by Robert Preston) also works. In the evening of that day Toddy starts a fight at Chez Lui after finding out that his boyfriend was dating a woman and is subsequently fired. Later that night Victoria runs into Toddy at a Paris restaurant where she is scheming to plant a cockroach in her food in order to get her meal for free, trying to foil the waiter (Graham Stark). The plan goes awry after the cockroach goes missing and ends up on a woman's leg, starting a riot in the restaurant, which Victoria and Toddy use to escape. They spend the night at his apartment. The next day Toddy's boyfriend shows up to pick up his things and when he insults Toddy Victoria breaks his nose and takes his spare clothes, as hers were ruined by the previous night's rain. At the sight of Victoria dressed as a man Toddy hits upon a plan to help both her and himself: Victoria will pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman, and get a job as a female impersonator in a nightclub. In order to enhance the ruse, Toddy will pretend to be her gay lover.
Soon Victoria's new persona, "Count Victor Grazinski", becomes the toast of Paris. As money and fame start to turn her (and Toddy's) lives around, an additional complication arises. King Marchand (James Garner), a gangster and nightclub-owner from Chicago, finds himself at first attracted to Victoria and repelled by "Victor". This encourages his burly bodyguard, "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras), to come out of the closet, but it enrages Marchand's whiny-voiced, peroxide-blonde spitfire girlfriend Norma (Lesley Ann Warren).
Marchand starts to investigate Victor, sure that a man like himself could never fall for another man but in the end declares that he does not care if Victoria is a man. Norma becomes more annoying and tawdry, in contrast to the classy Victoria, and King finally has Squash send her home to Chicago so that he is free to pursue Victoria, and has to live up to the image that he is living with a man. 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.
In a subplot of the film, the owner of the Chez Lui club also is trying to investigate Victor, since he suspects that "he" is the soprano whom he rejected from his club.
The vocal numbers in the film are presented as nightclub acts. However, 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 later reinterpreted by Toddy for diversionary purposes in the plot. And the cozy relationship of Toddy and Victoria is promoted by the song You and Me, which is sung before the audience at the nightclub.
The movie won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert Preston), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Julie Andrews), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lesley Ann Warren), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Rodger Maus, Tim Hutchinson, William Craig Smith, Harry Cordwell), Best Costume Design and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
American Film Institute recognition
2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs #76
Julie Andrews as Victoria Grant
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 Waiter
Peter Arne as Labisse
Herb Tanney as Charles Bovin
Michael Robbins as Manager of Victoria's hotel
Norman Chancer as Sal Andratti
David Gant as Restaurant Manager
Maria Charles as Madame President
Malcolm Jamieson as Richard DiNardo
John Cassady as Juke
Glen Murphy as boxer