Blake Edwards tones down the broadly farcical style that is his signature with this sly musical comedy starring Julie Andrews as British entertainer Victoria Grant. She and an older friend, gay impresario Toddy (Robert Preston), are close to starvation in 1930s Paris. Desperate for work, he changes her image, introducing her to the cabaret world as Polish female impersonator Victor/Victoria. Victoria, now a woman pretending to be a man in drag, becomes a huge success in the nightclub world. Chicago gangster King Marchan (James Garner) becomes especially intrigued by Victor/Victoria while visiting Paris with his dim-witted girlfriend, Norma (Lesley Anne Warren), and his ever-faithful bodyguard, Squash (Alex Karras), who's more than a little concerned by his boss's interest in a transvestite. As Marchan tries to get to the source of his attraction to the entertainer, trying to uncover the truth behind the rhinestone headdress, the farce commences, and the meaning of gender and sexual preference comes into question for all the characters. A director who often shows a willingness to let the seams in his work show for comic effect, Edwards has opted for stylish smoothness here while opening himself to questions of gender that his earlier films had anxiously mocked. Robert Preston steals the film as Victoria's graceful Svengali.
Blake Edwards's delightful Victor/Victoria may be one of the last of the great, old-style movie musical comedies--it is so good, it was turned into a hit Broadway stage musical years later. And both versions starred Edwards's wife Julie Andrews (the former Mary Poppins) in the title role--as Victor and Victoria. She's a down-and-out singer who hooks up with a flamboyantly gay theatrical veteran (Robert Preston), and together they become the toast of 1934 Paris by dreaming up a provocative nightclub act in which Victoria assumes the identity of a man in drag. So, in other words, Andrews plays a woman playing a man playing a woman ... and that's only the beginning of the sexual identity confusions that provide the fuel for this splendidly classy slapstick musical farce. (Yes, it's all those things.) James Garner, as a Chicago club owner, finds himself strangely besotted with this stylish, androgynous creature--even though he thinks Victor/Victoria is a man. Legendary Hollywood composer Henry Mancini (a longtime collaborator with Edwards) won his last Oscar for the score; Andrews, Preston, and Lesley Ann Warren, as Garner's cheeky girlfriend, were also nominated. Musical highlights include Victor/Victoria's sizzling "Le Jazz Hot" (in which Andrews shows off her incredible vocal range); another showstopper for Victor/Victoria, "The Shady Dame from Seville"; Preston's witty ode to "Gay Paree"; Warren's hilarious burlesque number, "King's Can-Can"; and a charmingly casual yet elegant side-by-side number, "You and Me," done in a small club by Preston and Andrews in tuxedos. --Jim Emerson