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Victor/Victoria

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Victor/Victoria (1982)

     I have never been a Julia Andrews fan and have avoided her movies because of a certain grudge I hold*, so Victor/Victoria has never been given any attention before now. As I am discovering an overt love for Director Blake Edwards, however, I decided now was the time to sit down with the gender-bending musical.

     Going in I was oblivious of the year in which this flick was made, and so from the opening scene on I was taken aback by the sexual taboos featured therein that are absolutely alien to the classics I am used to. And given the movie was released in 1982, it really does not fit my definition of a classic, but I have always given TCM the benefit of the doubt. The opening sequence to which I refer involves two men waking together in bed. From there forward, the open discussion of gay lifestyles and terms such as “queer” and “faggot” work their way throughout the plot. I am anything but trying to imply a personal discomfort on the subject, but given the extent to which classic films make up my movie knowledge, I was a bit surprised to find the subject in what I thought was a classic film.

     Homosexuality and cross dressing are the central theme of Victor/Victoria, which was based on a 1933 German film, Viktor/Viktoria. When Andrew’s Victoria is unable to use her awesome voice to secure singing jobs in 1930s Paris, a chance meeting with equally poor, gay cabaret singer Toddy (Robert Preston) sparks the idea to have Victoria market herself as a man who impersonates women. Victoria, now Victor, instantly lands an agent and job at a major club where he is the toast of the town. He also makes an impression on Chicago mobster King Marchan, played by James Garner, who finds it hard to believe the female impersonator is not actually a woman.

     Some snooping by King allows him to discover Victor is indeed female, so he later puts the moves on the manly dressed Victoria at which point she reveals to him alone her true identity. What ensues are some complications with King having to endure the appearance of being gay, which causes some upset among his fellow mobsters.

     Victor/Victoria is one of several films Edwards did with wife, Andrews, during his career. The flick certainly has bits of the director’s typical physical and dry, dialogue humor, but none of that is perpetrated by Andrews. Instead a private detective bears the brunt of physical abuse –umbrella struck by lightning, “you should be careful…that stool is broken”, etc.– while Lesley Ann Warren, who plays King’s moll, silently argues to herself while on a train before flashing her undergarments off the rear of the observation car. I suppose the recurring joke of Victoria being able to break glass with her high notes could be attributed to Andrews, but I did not find the joke that funny. Certainly not as humorous as some of the repeated gimmicks used in the Pink Panther films.

     This movie is funny, but it is not quite as absurd as the other Blake work I have seen, which tends to tickle my funny bone. Being a musical, however, Victor/Victoria does not really need to leave the audience in constant stitches. The songs, with music by Blake standby Henry Mancini, are wonderful and the acting is great. I did, however, find it a bit sad to see Preston, whom I loved in The Music Man, at such an advanced age. I also appreciated that the plot very quickly established the cross-dressing ruse so that the subsequent fun could occupy the majority of the film (contrary to the approach in other gender-switching movies, such as Mrs. Doubtfire). Victor/Victoria is truly enjoyable and probably a must for musical lovers. 

  • Victor/Victoria is set for 2:15 a.m. ET Feb. 14 on TCM.

*Julie Andrews played Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway version of My Fair Lady. When they made the movie, Andrews was considered too unknown to take the major role, so it was given to Audrey Hepburn (my favorite). Come Oscar time 1964, Hepburn was snubbed for Best Actress with the award going to Andrews for Mary Poppins with many saying it was the Academy’s way of awarding the true Eliza Doolittle. Also it did not help that Marnie Nixon’s uncredited role as Audrey’s singing voice was leaked to the public, voice substitutes being a common practice but not one favored in award consideration.

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The Great Race

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The Great Race (1965)

     With the death of Blake Edwards last week, it was a lucky coincidence I had recorded The Great Race recently. What Edwards had hoped to be “the funniest movie ever” is a great example of the writer/director’s work and one that I imagine will continue to entertain audiences of all ages for decades to come. Edwards was best known for his comedies — The Pink Panther movies and Operation Petticoat — but also contributed significant dramatic films — Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses.

     By re-teaming the duo seen in the wildly successful Some Like it Hot from 1959 (not his film), Edwards might not have made THE funniest movie of all time, but he sure crammed a load of laughs into this nearly three-hour saga. The relationship between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in The Great Race, however, is quite different from the pals who sought Marilyn Monroe‘s affection in their previous on-screen pairing. Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a stunt man of sorts who arranges an automobile race from New York to Paris (moving westward). Lemmon plays Professor Fate, the villain who seeks to foil Leslie’s stunts and to defeat him in the race. Natalie Wood is the suffragette who in this early 20th century time period seeks equality for women. She wrangles herself a test job as a reporter who will participate in and cover the race.

     The story is just a device by which Edwards was able to insert gag after hijink and slapstick galore onto the big screen. Wood is beautiful if not utterly annoying, Curtis is his usual dry, handsome, not-contributing-a-whole-lot sort; and Lemmon steals the show with sidekick Peter Falk as Max. Lemmon is almost unrecognizable with black hair and mustache, hunched back and smarmy villanous laugh. What he is recognizable as, however, is the bad guy from the Wacky Races cartoons that Hanna-Barbera premiered not long after this movie. Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley (who really does resemble Falk) starred in the race-based cartoons that I remember watching as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. This would be yet another example of when Edwards managed to create such absurd and memorable characters that they were equally suited to the world of animation as they were in live-action (the other being Pink Panther, of course).

Max & Prof. Fate/Dick Dastardly & Muttley

     I regret that I only became aware of Edwards over the course of the past months through the Pink Panther movies. Even as an Audrey Hepburn fan, I was not aware he was the brains behind possibly her most famous role. His sort of comedy is the type that really appeals to me — it is stupid, easy laughs over which a person of any age or intelligence level can crack up. Although it is long, The Great Race is the sort of movie you can pick up and leave off anywhere in the film because, as I mentioned, it is not about the story or the climax but rather is important for the fun one has along the way.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

A Shot in the Dark

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A Shot in the Dark (1964)

     Unlike The Thin Man movies, the series of films following the bumbling French detective Jacques Clouseau opted not to fashion the titles of the sequels off the first. The Pink Panther title refers to a priceless gem featured only in the initial film, similar to how the “thin man” is only sought in the primary movie of the set, which also happens to follow a detective.

     Just as with the first Clouseau appearance, A Shot in the Dark is a roaring good time of dialogue and physical comedy. Peter Sellers hams up the French accent even more in this endeavor giving us words such as “bemp” (bump) and “meths” (moths). Some of the writing (“The telephone is for Inspector Clouseau,” the butler says. “Ah, that will be for me,” Clouseau responds) had me thinking these films might have inspired gags in films like Airplane! and other Jim Abrahams work. The sight gags come one after another. My favorite repeated joke is Clouseau’s various arrests in his attempts to go under cover. The action quickly cuts to a paddy wagon, siren blazing, zooming toward the camera, always with an additional joke on the back of the vehicle. I would follow that with Clouseau’s houseman who repeatedly tricks us into thinking he is actually trying to assassinate the inspector. No worries, Clouseau is just trying to keep on his toes.

     The plot starts with Clouseau investigating a murder at the large home of Benjamin Ballon, played by an old and tired-looking George Sanders. Clouseau surmises the woman found with a gun in her hand, Maria Gambrelli (played by German actress Elke Sommer), cannot possibly be the murder and so repeatedly releases her from jail, each time with another murder to follow. In the second half of the picture the murders come absurdly one after another. Oddly, the riddle of who killed whom acts as a MacGuffin. Various side characters rattle off what happened, but the confusion is so great, the viewer is left not caring about the truth. It does not really matter anyway; we are just here for the laughs.

     The score is again composed by a favorite of mine, Henry Mancini, who is responsible for “Moon River” and the Charade score. The man has 168 movies to his credit for musical score or a single song with participation even as recently as last year. Mancini should be worshiped for creating some of the most memorable scores in history, which of course includes the Pink Panther theme that carried over into the cartoon.

     Much like The Thin Man  movies, one does not need to have seen The Pink Panther to enjoy A Shot in the Dark. I highly recommend it.

  • A Shot in the Dark is set for 1:30 p.m. April 20 on TCM.
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