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DVD Review: Victor/Victoria

By Glenn Abel

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Victor/Victoria art "People will see what they want to see," a conspiratorial Robert Preston tells double-cross-dresser Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria." Indeed, the many admirers of Blake Edwards' 1982 musical will want to see this DVD to relive all the fun from the best seats in their house.

Part of a quartet of Edwards comedies just released on DVD, "Victor's" charms include handsome colors, slinky sound and a feel-good commentary from Edwards and Andrews, his wife and star.

Edwards ("The Pink Panther," "10") speaks with great pride of "Victor/Victoria" as his favorite Blake Edwards movie. "It's as good as I can do," the director says softly. "A well-made film in all departments. ... It was just perfect."

Warner Home Video wisely has released "Victor/Victoria" in widescreen only, working with a new transfer and a soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital. (All of the new Edwards DVDs retail for $19.98). Rhino and Turner Classic Movies get into the act with a new soundtrack CD featuring 11 previously unreleased Henry Mancini tracks.

The DVD has minor speckling throughout. Colors are especially vibrant during Andrews' musical numbers, with the stage bathed in randy rouges or sparkling blues. Cinematographer Dick Bush's warm color scheme for Paris of the early 1930s looks great, with subterranean blacks providing plenty of contrast for the browns, amber yellows, pinks and off-whites. Bush ("Sorcerer") had a fine eye for widescreen composition, and his is work displayed to full effect here.

The music man, of course, was longtime Edwards collaborator Henry Mancini, who worked with lyricist Leslie Bricusse to create numbers like "Le Jazz Hot." Andrews' glass-shattering high end comes through pure and strong via Dolby Digital. Voices are clear. Musical numbers swing, as they must.

"Victor/Victoria," based on a German film from 1933, tells the story of a starving "legitimate" singer (Andrews) who falls in with a charming "old queen" (Preston) who has a plan to lift them out of poverty. Soon she's a musical sensation in the gay-friendly clubs of Paris, pretending to be a male singer in drag.

The real Paris had too many TV antennas, so Edwards shot his musical on two adjoining soundstages at England's Pinewood Studios. The close cast and crew "felt we were living in our own world," Andrews says. Edwards and Andrews clearly regard the shoot as one of the best times of their lives.

They have kind words for the actors, especially their pal Preston ("greatest head of hair in the business"), James Garner ("a great reactor") and Leslie Ann Warren (a "delicious" actress who should have worked in silents). Edwards has some interesting things to say about the disappearance of great character actors.

The couple sometimes pause in their commentary for no apparent reason, until you realize they're caught up in the movie. (Edwards explains that he hasn't seen it for 20 years.)

The director credits David Begelman, then the studio chief at MGM (after his dark days at Columbia), with saving the musical, which was seen as too expensive and risky. The gamble paid off: "Victor/Victoria" received seven Oscar nominations and found a loyal audience in theaters and on cable and video.

Edwards says the film's casual and accepting view of gays added to its appeal, as did the decision to have the musical numbers work as part of the story -- "not breaking into song for no reason."

Andrews says the role was one of her most difficult. "There were days when I was thinking like a woman and being a man but then pretending to be a woman. ... It was like rubbing my stomach and patting my head." She notes that men seem to move around a lot less than women, so she used stillness in her illusion.

The couple's talk should be required listening for those who belittle Hollywood marriages. The commentary is truly heartwarming -- filled with affection, wit, insight and appreciation for their friends and collaborators. It's as though you're watching a film with the couple in their living room, and when it's over you wish for a double feature.

The year before their trip to gay Paree, Edwards, Andrews and Preston swam with the sharks in Hollywood for the industry satire "S.O.B." Warner released the DVD without a director's commentary, a major lost opportunity. The video has some speckling; audio is just OK. Most remember "S.O.B." as the film in which Andrews spoofed her goody-goody image, baring her breasts in a hilarious soundstage scene. Writer-director Edwards finds little to like in his film industry characters, bestowing a dog with the only decency found in the movie. "S.O.B." hasn't lost any of its bite.

Edwards' slapstick "The Great Race" (1965) gets an assertive makeover for its DVD debut. The film, released two years after the quite similar "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," reunites Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon of "Some Like It Hot." Natalie Wood provides the glamour and sex appeal. The restoration brings to life the film's tropical colors and bleach-ad whites. An interesting studio featurette follows Edwards and company to Vienna, Salzburg and Paris while a round-mouthed announcer talks up the film.

The 1989 sex comedy "Skin Deep" completes the package. A hoped-for commentary with star John Ritter and Edwards didn't materialize.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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