November 29, 2010

Queer Review: Victor Victoria

Victor Victoria is notable for being one of the first American movies to show a gay character in a positive light. The movie is an absurdest quasi-musical, that relies on a fair amount of slapstick to keep the plot moving. It came out in 1982 - the same year as Tootsie, another picture about cross dressing.

The setting is 1930's Paris. Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a high-class singer who can't find a job because all the clubs are not looking for the kind of act she's offering. She becomes so desperate that she tries to scam her way out of paying a restaurant bill by sneaking a cockroach into the salad. This allows her to meet Toddy (Robert Preston), a flaming, yet gentle queen. The day after the two meet, Toddy becomes inspired to try a different kind of scam. Dress Victoria up as a man and have her play a male-to-female impersonator. At it were, female impersonation was a well respected form of entertainment at the time Victor Victoria was set, as it was considered very difficult for a man to pull off such an illusion.

In any event, Victoria - now Count Victor Grazinski - is introduced by Toddy to a talent scout, and soon her/his opening night is a smashing success. This is when she catches the eye of Chicago mobster King Marchland, who immediately sees right through Victor to see Victoria. Naturally all sorts of complications arise, as the other Chicago mobsters now think Marchland is gay, which they don't like. Meanwhile, his burly body guard "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras) is also inspired to come out of the closet and the owner of another night club who has a beef with Toddy and suspecting that all is not as it appears, hires a private investigator to look into the matter.

The movie features a fair amount of low brow slapstick (such at the misfortunes that befall the private investigator), some nicely choreographed song and dance numbers by "Count Victor", and suitably witty dialog. The acting jobs are all well done, with Alex Karras's performance being my favorite, despite his character being secondary. Julie Andrews is fun to watch, ethier when she's playing Victor and Victoria. Even though it's pretty obvious to the audience watching that Victor is really a woman, Andrews carries herself with enough of a swagger to make the ploy seem plausible. On the production side, Blake Edwards provides the sort of low key direction needed for the movie to work.

Thematically, Victoria's cross dressing allows the movie to address a variety of feminist topics. At one point, Victoria openly confesses that she has many more doors open to her, now that she's playing a man, than when she was a woman. The movie doesn't belabor too many points, but they are there for those who want to look for them.

Victor Victoria was made in the 80's, but feels more like a well aged classic thanks to the historical setting and high caliber production values. In the end, this is simply a fun and very enjoyable movie.

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