Blake Edwards’ 1982 musical comedy Victor Victoria may just be the high point of his career — the characters and performances are warm, the treatment of potentially controversial subject matter is handled forthrightly, the musical numbers are wonderfully staged and there’s even room for a few Pink Panther-esque gags that delight rather than enervate as they do so often in Edwards’ entries into that franchise.
With Victor Victoria, Edwards gave his wife, Julie Andrews, one of her greatest showcases as Victoria Grant, a down-on-her-luck soprano in 1930s Paris. Despite a voice with a range that can shatter crystal, Victoria can’t book a gig to save her life, and she’s so hungry, she’s ready to resort to theft or selling her body — maybe both.
In the midst of an attempted free meal scam at a restaurant, Victoria meets Carole “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston, thoroughly charming), a similarly impoverished performer, and he’s struck with the idea of passing her off as a male female impersonator. A haircut and wardrobe change later, Victoria is transformed into Victor Grazinski, a Polish count and Toddy’s new boyfriend who performs as “Victoria” on stage.
Despite the fact that Andrews’ delicate features make it hard to believe she could ever pass as a man, the film makes it easy enough to suspend disbelief with its charming Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse numbers. Club-owning mobster King Marchand (James Garner) has a hard time believing as well, and he begins to fall for Victoria despite her alleged y chromosome. His loud-mouthed moll (Lesley Ann Warren, nailing the fine line between hilariously obnoxious and tiresomely obnoxious) thinks King’s little infatuation is hysterical at first, but not so much when he acts on his feelings.
Edwards does kill the dramatic tension and eliminates nearly all interesting motivation for King (already the stiffest lead character) by allowing him to discover Victoria’s true sex early on. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor misstep, as the affectionate friendship between Victoria and Toddy is far more compelling than the romance at the film’s ostensible center.
Although its satiric and slapstick elements are intermittently prominent — Preston’s finale number is a masterwork of physical comedy — Victor Victoria is primarily a warm-hearted character piece, suffused with well-integrated musical numbers and a committed gender-bending plotline.
The greatness of the film makes it all the more frustrating that Warner has opted to re-release the film on DVD-R via Warner Archive, downgrading the original 2002 DVD release, which has been out-of-print for some time. Here’s a film that should absolutely be granted a Blu-ray upgrade, but all we get is the same disc transferred to an inferior format.
It appears that the Archive release is a direct port of the original DVD, retaining identical menus and even the “Cast & Crew” and “Awards” special features that are a throwback to the early days of DVD. At least the disc includes some real extras — Edwards and Andrews’ commentary track and the theatrical trailer — but one can’t be happy with Warner’s increasing reliance on the Archive for well-known films like this.