Oscar Blindspots: Victor/Victoria

It might be 40 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1982 through the month of July

An absolute delight from the first frame to the last, Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria features a group of highly gifted actors delivering uproarious lines and having a blast doing so.

Julie Andrews stars as Victoria Grant, an impoverished and frail singer with talent, but no money or prospects. She encounters gay performer Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston) at a diner. Due to a misunderstanding between one of Toddy’s romantic partners, Victoria is mistaken for a man, giving Toddy the idea to present Victoria as a male female impersonator.

Performing as Count Victor Grazinski, the show is an immediate success. In the audience is Chicago gangster King Marchand (James Garner), his ditzy girlfiend Norma (Lesley Ann Warren) and his bodyguard Squash (Alex Karras). King is immediately taken with Victoria, but is conflicted when he assumes she is actually Victor, a man.

For a film in the thick of Reagan-era politics, the film is incredibly transgressive. Multiple characters are openly gay and no one really seems to care. Gay characters are shown in bed and Victor/Victoria’s sexuality and her relationship to King has a gender fluidity to it. There were some opportunities to be truly ground-breaking, but I can’t fault the film too much for what it acheives.

Despite the lavish settings of fancy hotels and ballrooms, the stakes are relatively low. The worst thing that can happen to Victoria and Toddy is a fraud charge. There are no brash villains to point any anger towards. Each character is their own brand of delightful. Having relatively no villains makes for an utterly charming experience.

Andrews fits the part like a glove. Her handsome features make it somewhat believable that people would think she is a man, but she comfortably switches facades with ease and grace. Each character has flawless chemistry with Andrews, be it Garner, Preston, or any other supporting character. Her famous singing voice is also well on display.

Preston was the biggest surprise. Effortlessly charming, he wears his experience with a quick with and smooth delivery. Each one-liner and punchline flows from his mouth like it came directly from his own brain. Despite being perceived as a supporting performance, he is in the film as prominently as Andrews. Garner gets to do his usual Garner-like things, which suits the role to a tee. His performance could have gone the most off the rails, but he smartly keeps his worst impulses insulated.

Warren is rip-roaringly hilarious at anything she does. She is a firecracker of horniness and complaint, but never wears. Again, charm wins the day. Warren might be the most lasting performance at the film’s conclusion. Karras also adds nice layers to an underwritten character.

Edwards doesn’t overcomplicate what he has in his cast and script. Most camera setups are unpretentious and patient, allowing the natural humor of the cast and the setting do the work. There’s a measure of greatness in not over-directing and Edwards puts on a masterclass here.

The songs by Henry Mancini are as fun and as memorable as the cast and dialogue. My personal favorite was “Gay Paree” by Preston near the film’s opening. Though “The Shady Dame from Seville” at the film’s conclusion may garner the biggest laughs.

Utterly delightful and funny, any accolades the film received isn’t enough. Despite a flawless cast and pitch-perfect dialogue, Victor/Victoria has turned underrated after all these years. It should be lauded as the classic it is.

Next week: A pair of classic actors get lead Oscar nominations for their VERY different films with Frances and My Favorite Year

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