Victor Victoria, starring Julie Andrews, Robert Preston and James Garner, was released in 1982. It’s hard to believe this film is nearly 30 years old. All the main characters are expats in Paris during the difficult years following the great stock market crash of 1929 in the US.
Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is an out-of-work English soprano in Paris in 1934. Abandoned by her husband, left jobless when the director of the Bath Touring Light Opera Company absconded with the company’s funds, she is starving, penniless and alone.
Victoria auditions for a nightclub owner, but doesn’t get hired because the owner wants a performer who is “a little more illegitimate.” Afterwards, she wends her way slowly, on wobbly legs. A diner in a cafe window catches her eye, and she watches hungrily as a very large man slowly devours an eclair, leaking the creme filling all over his mouth and chin. Then passers-by are picking her up from the pavement where she has fainted. In her hotel, a sordid place with a nasty little manager, she faints again.
Then, unexpectedly, we see her in the restaurant eating a huge meal. In fact, she eats two huge meals!
American entertainer Carroll Todd, “Toddy” to all his friends, was present at her earlier audition and introduces himself. She invites him to have dinner with her and tells him she has a cockroach — as big as his thumb — and nothing else in her purse. At the appropriate moment, she will release the bug into her salad, and not have to pay for her dinner.
Her plan backfires, but hilariously so, and she and Toddy make their escape in the pouring rain. They dry off in his apartment nearby, discussing hypochondria, her divorce and his homosexuality. Then, calamity! Victoria’s dress, which was guaranteed not to shrink, wouldn’t fit an emaciated 10-year old, and her coat has shrunk as well. She can’t possibly go out in public, so Toddy invites her to stay the night, and volunteers to go to her hotel in the morning to collect her luggage for her.
In the morning, Toddy has a brainstorm. Victoria will pose as a female impersonator, and they will make their fortunes. “A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?” Victoria asks him. “It’ll never work.”
Surprisingly, they pull it off and “Victor” becomes the toast of Paris.
Throw in some complications like a love interest between Victoria and Chicago nightclub owner King Marchand (James Garner), stir in wonderful acting by Alex Karras, Lesley Anne Warren and John Rhys-Davies, and add direction by Blake Edwards, and you have a wonderful, hysterically funny film. Graham Starke (I think he’s been in every film Blake Edwards ever directed) plays an obnoxious French waiter to comedic perfection. The restaurant cockroach scene described above has to be one of the all-time funniest movie sequences ever filmed.
Almost all the characters in this movie are out of their native elements and comfort zones in some way. The expat motif is obvious, with English and Americans meeting in Paris. Beyond that, however, the film is about stereotypes and what we expect of ourselves and each other.
If you haven’t seen Victor Victoria, don’t wait! Make sure you get the original movie release, however, as the movie of the Broadway remake can’t hold a candle to the original.
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