"A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?" "Ridiculous." "It's preposterous." So sayeth down-on-her-luck soprano Victoria Grant, and her newfound friend, entertainer Carroll Todd, upon the latter's suggestion that Victoria impersonate a male female Impersonator in order to win fame and fortune.
Implausible though it may seem, the scenario worked for these two characters as brilliantly as it served as the basis for Blake Edwards' 1982 comedic masterpiece, Victor/Victoria. As magnificently played out by the legendary Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, the scheme of Victoria and Toddy provided the basis for a musical comedy that instantly became a classic. It has only continued to beguile and charm audiences in the two decades since it first hit the big screen.
Based upon Reinhold Schürzel's 1933 German film, Viktor und Viktoria (which served as the basis for a 1935 British remake, starring Jessie Matthews, entitled First A Girl), Edwards' Victor/Victoria premiered on March 19, 1982, at three theaters in the U.S., Including New York's much-beloved Ziegfeld Theater. Esteemed New York Times film critic Vincent Canby greeted the opening by proclaiming, "Get ready, set and go-Immediately to the Ziegfeld Theater where Blake Edwards Today opens up his chef d'oeuvre, his cockeyed crowning achievement."
The film received virtually unanimous critical praise worldwide, and would earn seven Academy Award® nominations, resulting in an award for Best Song Score by composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse. Its warm reception was an out-and-out triumph for leading lady Julie Andrews, whose director-husband Edwards tailored the effort to showcase her multiple and highly underrated talents. The success was long overdue for Andrews, who suffered a series of box office disappointments in the late '60s and early '70s, after her superb turns in Mary Poppins and The Sound Of Music.
Edwards began planning Victor/Victoria as a vehicle for Julie as early as 1978, after he received the original UFA property from agent Martin Baum. Initial publicity leaks indicated that Edwards planned the picture as a teaming of Andrews and his longtime Pink Panther collaborator Peter Sellers.
However, this was not to be, as Sellers died of an untimely heart attack two years later, by which time Edwards (who was on a box office high, thanks to a string of new Pink Panther films and the Dudley Moore-Bo Derek hit, 10) had begun filming his paean to the evils of Tinseltown, entitled S.O.B. S.O.B. featured a stellar cast, including the magnificent Robert Preston, and Edwards began crafting his Victor/Victoria screenplay as a vehicle for Andrews and Preston, which would begin filming immediately after S.O.B. wrapped.
Andrews trusted her director-writer husband implicitly, despite the overwhelming task at hand: Portraying a woman who impersonates a gay female impersonator. She was concerned whether audiences would believe the shifts in persona the role demanded. Edwards assured her that as long as the film's characters believed what they were presented with, the audiences watching the film wouldn't doubt the proceedings for a moment, His instincts were dead on.
As for Preston, in 1982 he told Films in Review magazine, "After my experience of working with Blake on S.O.B., and watching the way he worked, and realizing that our taste was on exactly the same level, I didn't need to ask to see any script at all on Victor/Victoria. He told me the story on the set of S.O.B. He was just thinking about it, and he hadn't started writing it yet. About four months later, I was back in Greenwich (Preston's home in Connecticut), and Blake called and said, 'Do you remember the story I told you on the set? Well, it's a screenplay now, and you're Toddy. Pack your bags. We're going to London.' It was as simple as that. I didn't even see a script."
It was at Lorimar-primarily a television-production company that occasionally attempted to break into feature films (with little success)-that Edwards initially developed Victor/Victoria. But as S.O.B. was wrapping, and preproduction costs on Victor/Victoria were already nearing $1 million, Lorimar took a look at the estimated $20-million budget on the new film and decided to sell it to M-G-M.
At the time, M-G-M was trying to rebuild its film-production division after years of relative inertia. Spearheading that effort was studio chief David Begelman, the notorious former agent who had left Columbia Pictures under the dark cloud of an embezzlement scandal. Begelman was the latest in a series of executives brought in under M-G-M owner Kirk Kerkorian to revive the ailing company, and he believed in Victor/Victoria all the way, giving Edwards carte blanche to create his masterpiece.
A comedy challenging sexual mores-no less a comedy that was essentially a musical in a somewhat traditional Hollywood sense - seemed very risky at the time, but Begelman saw the excellence in Edwards' script and remained valiant in his support for the project. Although Edwards would often foil for months on his screenplays, he had such clear vision and enthusiasm for Victor/Victoria that he completed the first draft in just a month's time. With filming of S.O.B. completed in Hollywood, Edwards and his familial troupe of craftsmen travelled to Pinewood Studios in England, where production designer Rodger Maus would create a dreamlike version of Paris, circa 1934. The film's sets were incredibly detailed and constructed inside two huge adjoining Pinewood soundstages. The indoor re-creation of a bygone era only added to the film's warmth and intimacy.
Teaming two musical-comedy greats in Andrews and Preston the film offered obvious opportunities for song and dance. Yet Edwards was careful to keep the musical performances essentially "onstage." As with Bob Fosse's 1972 film Cabaret, the musical numbers could , indeed, comment on the action and remain perfectly acceptable within the scenario, as they were noted in performances that were part of the story line.
To portray King Marchand, the Chicago gangster who is beguiled by the beautiful onstage Victoria (only to question his sexual identity upon discovering that "she" is a female impersonator), Edwards cast his old friend James Garner. A Truly gifted screen performer in either drama or comedy, Garner was delighted to team once again with Julie Andrews, with whom he costarred in the brilliant 1964 satire
The Americanization Of Emily. At The time that Victor/Victoria opened, there was speculation that Edwards had wanted to cast Tom Selleck as Marchand. Selleck, then red-hot due to his new hit TV series, allegedly had to turn down the role due to his
Magnum, P.I. commitments. However, Edwards has subsequently stated that, from the beginning, he had only Garner in mind for the role.
As for writing the film's music and songs, it was inconceivable that that task would go to anyone but Henry Mancini. The Edwards-Mancini partnership stretched back to the gold rush that was the late-'50s TV series Peter Gunn, and with only a handful of exceptions, Mancini scored all of Edwards' films. To write the lyrics to Mancini's songs, Edwards chose veteran Leslie Bricusse (Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory; Goodbye, Mr Chips; Doctor Dolittle). Mancini and Bricusse collaborated on a period score that generated several excellent tunes that perfectly suited Edwards' screenplay.
Being a close friend of both, the leading lady and her husband, Mancini well knew the kind of voice for which he was writing. In creating the ballad "Crazy World," he wrote a melody that took advantage of Julie Andrews' incredible range, covering more than one-and-a-half octaves. Bricusse created a lyric for the melody that not only suited its beauty but also provided an apt evocation of Victoria's emotions, even Within the confines of an "onstage" performance.
Mancini and Bricusse also provided Andrews with the show-stopping "Le Jazz Hot," which made for a sensational production number, as well as the delightful "You And Me," which provided a magical screen moment as a duet for the characters of Victoria and Toddy.
With cast and crew in place, filming began on March 3, 1981, at Pinewood. The story's unique plot was veiled in any M-G-M press releases issued during production, and filming went smoothly, albeit at a rather large expense for the always-struggling Culver City home studio.
All at the cast and crew involved both at the time and subsequently have referred to the filming of Victor/Victoria as one of the most pleasing and fulfilling experiences of their careers. They must have known they were in the midst of creating a classic. There were reportedly no squabbles or snags, everyone got along famously, and the film was completed on schedule-and even slightly under budget, although, at $18.5 million, it was still quite expensive for its time.
Still, every dollar spent was well worth it, for here was a motion picture appropriately elegant-one performed and produced with true excellence. The results earned critical raves and initially strong box office response in large cities. However, Edwards' brave, forthright approach to challenging sexuality likely withheld the film from gaining as wide an audience as if deserved.
It was almost a year after its theatrical release that Victor/Victoria earned its seven Oscar ® nominations. M-G-M tried to reissue the film based on its Oscar potential, but the age of videocassettes and cable TV had already precluded such a foray from becoming a goldmine, and in the ensuing years Victor/Victoria found its huge audiences and devoted following through ancillary markets.
Shortly after the film's opening, there was talk of adapting it to the Broadway stage. In 1984 the translation seemed tangible, as the Great White Way began buzzing about the potential return of Julie Andrews to the New York stage for the first time since Camelot nearly a quarter-century earlier. And it was unthinkable that the project would move forward without Andrews being joined by Robert Preston, who, after becoming a Broadway legend in The Music Man, costarred with Mary Martin in 1966's I Do! I Do! Although his starring role as Mack Sennett opposite Bernadette Peters in Jerry Herman's Mack And Mabel (1974) earned critical plaudits, reviews were mixed, and its producer David Merrick, closed the show before it had a chance to catch on. For fans of both Andrews and Preston, a stage version of Victor/Victoria would be a dream come true. And hopes ran high in June of '84, when Preston and Andrews cohosted that year's Tony Awards ceremony.
But, alas, if was not to be. Edwards' film commitments consistently derailed the Victor/Victoria stage production, and three years later, Preston tragically died of cancer at the age of 68.
Yet for the next several years, rumors of the production persisted. Those rumors became a reality when, in 1995, nearly 15 years after the film went before the cameras, Julie Andrews returned to Broadway, after a 35-year absence, to reprise her role as Victor/Victoria, under the direction of Blake Edwards. Composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse had begun to write additional songs for the stage version when Mancini was struck with inoperable cancer, from which he passed away in 1994. Frank Wildhorn was inducted to complete additional melodies, and after 25 previews the show opened at The Marquis Theatre on October 25, 1995, to one of the largest advance-sale crowds in theater history-a feat based solely on the strength of Julie Andrews' return to Broadway.
Critics were not kind to the stage translation, but there was no denying the magic of Andrews on the stage, and audiences who attended the show loved it. Eventually, the production toured all over the world, with various performers, but those who got to see Andrews onstage in New York treasured the experience.
As of this writing Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews had just revisited Victor/Victoria for an afternoon. They sat down and recorded their reminiscences and thoughts, providing a commentary track for Warner Home Video's new DVD release of the film. At times Edwards found it difficult to talk about the film as he watched it - he became too drawn in as a viewer. It's clear from their comments that the couple are very proud of their creation. And rightly so: It is a film whose virtues only seem to grow stronger as time goes by.
This Turner Classic Movies Music/Rhino Movie Music release presents the first issue of Henry Mancini's entire score as written for the picture. Although an LP and subsequently expanded-CD reissue of the film's music were both previously released, this collection contains a slew of additional tracks never before available, all derived from the original 24-track master-session tapes as recorded in England. As additional bonus tracks, we've included the Andrews-Preston duet "You And Me" featured on the original 1982 soundtrack LP (as the song is not sung to completion in the film, an alternate album version was created during production). Lastly, we present a previously unissued and very amusing "rehearsal" track of Preston's "Shady Dame" performance, wherein his antics clearly broke up everyone in the studio.
- George Feltenstein
by Stefan Huber. Thanks !
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