Tonight I finished my last revision of Chapter 7, and coincidentally Victor/Victoria was on PBS, and I happened to catch it right from the beginning. People will be surprised to hear that I’ve never seen it before. (Though no-one should be, I keep saying that I just don’t like movies, and I think I saw Chariots of Fire that year instead, because I really do see only a few a year.)

I can see how utterly shocking this movie must have seemed in 1982 when it was released. But I can’t see Julie Andrews passing at all; I mean she’s Julie Andrews! The hills are alive and all that.

But the romantic subplot (or is that the main plot?) with James Garner is – well, dumb. But at least it’s not one long homophobic joke… except it is. There’s also just something creepy about the way it’s all so ‘demimonde packaged for the suburbs’ too, which is beginning to tire me. The scenes of them trying to navigate public spaces as a gay couple are hurting my brain.

“I guess the problem is that we’re not really two guys.” UGH. My crazy bet is that she’s going to choose to drop the act and become properly gendered so they can be together. Am I right? (It’s not over yet, still on while I’m typing.)

And why a Polish count? Are Polish folks just considered genderqueer or something? I’m starting to think so. I have very little idea as to how this movie was received, and I’m sure most of you have seen it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, initial reactions, etc.

7 Replies to “Victor/Victoria”

  1. I haven’t seen it for a while. As I remember it, Lesley Anne Warren stole the show. The best scene though was Alex Karras as “Squash Bernstein,” the gay bodyguard to Garner’s mobster, King Marchand:

    King Marchand: [working out at a gym] Hey, Squash…
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Yeah?
    King Marchand: Can I ask you a… personal question?
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Go ahead.
    King Marchand: How long, I mean… exactly when did you know you…
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: How long have I been gay?
    King Marchand: Yeah.
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Oh, God, I can’t remember when I wasn’t!
    King Marchand: I’ve known you for fifteen years…
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: You know a lot of guys, boss, you’d be surprised.
    King Marchand: But, you were all-American! I never saw a rougher, tougher, meaner, sonofabitch football player in all my life.
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Boss, if you didn’t want the guys to call you queer, you became a rough tough sonofabitchin’ football player.
    King Marchand: [suddenly colliding with a large man and his companion] Why don’t you watch where you’re going, huh?
    Large Man’s Companion: [after translating to the Large Man in French] He says that it was your fault and suggests that you apologize.
    King Marchand: Oh, he does, does he?
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Come on, boss…
    King Marchand: No, no, no…
    [to Companion]
    King Marchand: Well, you tell him if he’d like an apology, he can just get him some gloves and I’ll see him in the ring.
    Large Man’s Companion: [translating] Just give him ten minutes. He will be delighted to oblige.
    [they walk off]
    King Marchand: “He’ll be delighted to oblige.” Who the hell does he think he is?
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: Guy Langois, the French middleweight boxing champion.
    [King freezes]
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: But don’t worry!
    ‘Squash’ Bernstein: He’s gay.

    I think “Toddy” made “Victor” a Polish count just to make “him” more exotic, to garner more publicity. I doubt he thought anyone would really believe it.

  2. Funny you should mention this. My wife and I caught it on PBS last week, completely by happenstance, right after we had had another in the long series of angst-ridden talks about how my gender issues were affecting her and the marriage. (It was particuarly angst-ridden because I’d just gotten back from a business trip, which meant she hadn’t had the reality of me around to balance out her fears.) That particular conversation was negotiating what level of “out” was workable for both of us — given that the current level of “no one must ever know” was strangling me. Given that context, the movie seemed really apropos, as it was addressing exactly the issues we had been discussing. As painful as the ‘two gay men around town’ scenes were — and I don’t disagree with that assessment at all — they were very helpful in illustrating the underlying tension. The wistfulness of not wanting to be in the shadows, and the strain that that puts on the ‘normal’ partner. We were able to internalise it thematically, but ignore the ridiculousness of the details.

    It was also really nice that it was FTM as that meant it was ‘close, but not too close’ and made it easier for us to mentally reverse roles. But I don’t want to overstate here, though; we generally do a good job of communicating and seeing each others viewpoint. It was just a very interesting, synchronous event.

    But really, the main thing I take away from movies like this is how much the world has changed in the last 24 years. Because I’m sure many of the things that seem the most ridiculous now rang the truest at the time.

    Honestly, I think my favorite part of the movie, was the last scene, where Robert Preston performs one of the Julie Andrews numbers. You know he had way too much fun filming that. (I should also say that, in general, I hated all of the songs in the movie, so having him butcher that was doubly fun.)

  3. Ok…I was a month run community theater production of the musical, but I’ve always loved the film for several little things:

    1.) The camera work at the beginning when the restaraunt dissolves in chaos from right to left….the camera pulling back to take in the scene as it develops rather than pulling in close to emphaisze some sight gag. Wonderful.

    2. The faux music-hall song “You and Me”, that Victor and Toddy sing before another scene of slapstick chaos. The full version in the musical is even better than I remember the cut version in the film.

    Victor and Toddy
    You and me,
    We’re the kind of people other people
    Would like to be.

    A little strolling?

    Why not!

    Wand’ring free,
    We present the kind of picture
    People are glad to see.
    And we don’t care that tomorrow
    Comes with no guarantee;
    We’ve each other for company.
    And come what may,
    You and me, we’ll stay together
    Year after year,
    Won’t we, my dear?
    “That’s why we’re you and…


    Walk this way


    I taught him everything he knows

    And that’s why he has so little left, oh!

    I’ll get you for that


    Oh, I love this guy!


    Careful now!




    I can fool you…

    No, you can’t!
    Watch, Toddy!
    Dah dam dah dah!

    You’re on your own, kid!

    What! What! Oh, Toddy!

    And come what may,
    You and me, we’ll stay together
    Year after year,
    Won’t we my dear?
    We’ll always be you and me.
    We’ll always be you …and…

    And I always loved the way Leslie Ann Warren stole the show with the delightfully trashy T&A “Chicago Illinois”, set up as a contrast to Andrew’s sophisticated Paris nightclub routines.

    Oh, I’m not sure why you’re stuck on the implausibility of Victor being Polish. HE wasn’t a count either. It was a double diversion.

    Random Bitchy Character: “I don’t think he’s a count, I think he’s a phony” (or something similar)
    Victoria: “Toddy…..they know”
    Toddy: “Yes, “HE’s a phony”.

    What I wish I could see was the original that V/V was based on. Yes, just as “Some Like it Hot” was based on the German “Fanfares of Love” which I reviewed here:

    Victor/Victoria was based on a German film “Viktor/Victoria”. It did get shown locally once, but I missed it.


  4. Helen, I don’t think it was “shocking” at all in 1982. Remember, this was after the “La Cage aux Folles” movie (the Broadway show came about a year later). In terms of how it was received, here’s Roger Ebert’s review:


    BY ROGER EBERT / January 1, 1982

    I’ve always felt this way about female impersonators: They may not be as pretty as women, or sing as well, or wear a dress as well, but you’ve got to hand it to them; they sure look great and sing pretty–for men. There are no doubt, of course, female impersonators who practice their art so skillfully that they cannot be told apart from real women–but that, of course, misses the point. A drag queen should be maybe 90 percent convincing as a woman, tops, so you can applaud while still knowing it’s an act.

    Insights like these are crucial to Blake Edwards’s VICTOR/VICTORIA, in which Julie Andrews plays a woman playing a man playing a woman. It’s a complicated challenge. If she just comes out as Julie Andrews, then of course she looks just like a woman, because she is one. So when she comes onstage as “Victoria,” said to be “Victor” but really (we know) actually Victoria, she has to be an ever-so-slightly imperfect woman, to sell the premise that she’s a man. Whether she succeeds is the source of a lot of comedy in this movie, which is a lighthearted meditation on how ridiculous we can sometimes become when we take sex too seriously.

    The movie is made in the spirit of classic movie sex farces, and is in fact based on one (a 1933 German film named VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA, which I haven’t seen). Its more recent inspiration is probably LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, an enormous success that gave Hollywood courage to try this offbeat material. In the movie, Andrews is a starving singer, out of work, down to her last franc, when she meets a charming old fraud named Toddy, who is gay, and who is played by Robert Preston in the spirit of Ethel Mertz on “I Love Lucy.” Preston is kind, friendly, plucky, and comes up with the most outrageous schemes to solve problems that wouldn’t be half so complicated if he weren’t on the case. In this case, he has a brainstorm: Since there’s no market for girl singers, but a constant demand for female impersonators, why shouldn’t Andrews assume a false identity and pretend to be a drag queen? “But they’ll know I’m not a man!” she wails. “Of course!” Preston says triumphantly.

    The plot thickens when James Garner, as a Chicago nightclub operator, wanders into Victor/Victoria’s nightclub act and falls in love with him/her. Garner refuses to believe that lovely creature is a man. He’s right, but if Andrews admits it, she’s out of work. Meanwhile, Garner’s blond girlfriend (Lesley Ann Warren) is consumed by jealousy, and intrigue grows between Preston and Alex Karras, who plays Garner’s bodyguard. Edwards develops this situation as farce, with lots of gags depending on split-second timing and characters being in the wrong hotel rooms at the right time. He also throws in several nightclub brawls, which aren’t very funny, but which don’t much matter. What makes the material work is not only the fact that it is funny (which it is), but that it’s about likable people.

    The three most difficult roles belong to Preston, Garner, and Karras, who must walk a tightrope of uncertain sexual identity without even appearing to condescend to their material. They never do. Because they all seem to be people first and genders second, they see the humor in their bewildering situation as quickly as anyone, and their cheerful ability to rise to a series of implausible occasions makes VICTOR/VICTORIA not only a funny movie, but, unexpectedly, a warm and friendly one.

    And the New York Times review:


    Published: March 19, 1982, Friday

    GET ready, get set and go – immediately – to the Ziegfeld Theater, where Blake Edwards today opens his chef d’oeuvre, his cockeyed, crowning achievement, his ”Duck Soup,” his ”Charley’s Aunt,” his ”Hotel Paradisio,” his ”Some Like It Hot,” his urban ”As You Like It” and maybe even his ”Citizen Kane,” which his film resembles in no way whatsoever.

    It’s called ”Victor/Victoria,” and it stars Julie Andrews, Robert Preston and James Garner, each giving the performance of his and her career in a marvelous fable about mistaken identity, sexual roleplaying, love, innocence and sight gags, including one that illustrates the dangers of balancing yourself on a champagne bottle on one finger within the range of a singing voice that shatters glass.

    ”Victor/Victoria” is a farce – a splendid one with music – of a timeless tradition, though its sensibilities are strictly of the 1980’s and its own time is the far distant 1934. The setting is Paris, a magical, musical-comedy Paris. Its plot, much of which takes place in hotel rooms, in hotel beds, under them, in hotel closets and outside hotel-room windows, peering in, is of a kind of blissful madness that recalls the work of Georges Feydeau, which is seldom seen in this country in the style to which it is accustomed.

    It may be misleading, however, to associate ”Victor/Victoria” with the work of other masters of comedy. Mr. Edwards is his own comic genius, as he has been demonstrating for years, sometimes only in bits and pieces, in his near-classic ”Pink Panther” collaborations with the late Peter Sellers, in ”The Party,” ”Darling Lili” and more recently in ”10” and ”S.O.B.”

    ”Victor/Victoria” combines the sweetness of ”Darling Lili” with the unbridled hilarity of ”S.O.B.,” but without that comedy’s bitterness. It is an unqualified hit.

    Using as its inspiration Reinhold Schuenzel’s 1933 German musicalcomedy film, ”Viktor und Viktoria,” released in New York in 1935, Mr. Edwards’s screenplay is about a down-on-her-luck English actress (Miss Andrews) who finds herself starving in Depression Paris after her Gilbert and Sullivan troupe suddenly folds.

    When just on the point of following a cockroach-strewn primrose path, she meets Toddy (Mr. Preston), the American master of ceremonies at a nightclub featuring transvestite entertainment. Toddy, too, is at the end of his rope. His male lovers are faithless. His career is at a standstill. Life has lost its charms.

    It is Toddy who has the brilliant idea of presenting the actress as Victor, a Polish-born count and female impersonator known professionally as Victoria. With Toddy as her manager, Victor/Victoria becomes the toast of Paris, attracting particularly the attention of King Marchan (Mr. Garner), a Chicago mobster on a holiday in Paris with his peroxided mistress Norma (Lesley Ann Warren) and his taciturn bodyguard Squash (Alex Karras).

    As happens in farce, everyone falls in love with everyone else, and because this is a liberated farce, the possible combinations are more than doubled – they’re squared. Both Victor/ Victoria and Toddy concede they have ”feelings” for King Marchan, and the mobster is mortified to find himself drawn to the immaculately turned-out transvestite named Victor.

    Norma, who sleeps with King, has one eye on Victor and another on Toddy, and would do anything within her considerable sexual powers to ”cure” both of them. Squash, who never says very much, also becomes involved in a fashion that may not be an immense surprise, though it is immensely funny.

    This is only the general outline of ”Victor/Victoria.” However, I suspect it’s more than enough to prompt a lot of lugubrious analyses designed to take the fun out of a film that, although it is more sexually outspoken than ”Charley’s Aunt,” is no less innocent. Just in passing, it should be noted that ”Victor/Victoria” makes the two ”Cage aux Folles” films look like failed television situation comedies.

    Though ”Victor/Victoria” preaches tolerance and understanding of homosexuality, and though it uses the word ”gay” in a way that I doubt was much used in 1934 Paris, even in the demimonde portrayed in this film, the roots of the comedy are as ancient as the use of masks and disguises in the theater.

    Far more indicative of what ”Victor/Victoria” is all about are the wit and style of the performances and the production, which manages to be both romantic and bone-crushingly funny, frequently at the same time.

    Mr. Edwards has never before treated Miss Andrews, his wife, with such confidence, admiration and generosity. She looks absolutely great and is at peak form both as a comedian and as a singer. Nothing she has done before, on the stage or on the screen, probably can match the exuberant charm of her switches between Victoria and Victor.

    If she’s not totally convincing as Victor, whose suits appear to have been carefully tailored to be a couple of sizes too big, that also is as it should be. She isn’t meant to convince the movie audience she’s a boy, only the characters within the film. The slightly eerie, androgynous purity of her singing voice also underscores the comedy of her masquerade. Her production numbers are knockouts, especially one called ”Le Jazz Hot” and another, a sort of flamenco thing, which has been inserted, I suspect, for the principal purpose of allowing Mr. Preston to parody it at the film’s finale.

    If Mr. Preston doesn’t get an Oscar for this film, he never will. His Toddy is the richest, wisest, most rambunctious performance he’s given since his triumph in ”The Music Man.” Most refreshing is the way he embraces the character without condescending to it. This is definitely not a camp turn. He also has three show-stopping songs, ”Gay Paree”; a duet with Miss Andrews called – I think – ”You and Me,” and the flamenco-drag number. The music is by Henry Mancini and the lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

    Mr. Garner’s role is not as flamboyant as Mr. Preston’s, but he makes a splendid straight man for the others. Miss Warren’s squeakyvoiced Norma is enchantingly self-possessed and very comic in her one production number.

  5. One of my favorite all time movies, never fails to get me smiling and laughing. It’s not ment to be accurate, or serious or anything but entertaining and funny… Robert Preston is a gem, so sad to have lost him.

  6. Donna has already pointed out that this film was not in the slightest ‘shocking’. It came out the same year as ‘Tootsie’ which caused more controversy and resulted in Dustin Hoffman giving interviews to many mainstream women’s magazines and, incidentally, stating that he loved his mother and that he had a much better understanding of women and that he had dedicated the film to his ‘mom’. All very Robert Stoller.

    Incidentally I am surprised that in your background reading you have not mentioned Robert Stoller’s Impact on sexology and his works on female and male ‘transsexualism’ not the work of John Money in ‘Gay Straight and In Between’ and the seminal ‘Lovemaps’. Neither do you seem to have read Ekins and King whose vast library of articles and books and the founding of a library/department for Gender Studies in (I Think) Trinity College Dublin. The autogynephilia theory is just a ‘cross dresser’s alibi.’ (as one trenchant observer put it.

    Best Wishes.

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