Based on a 1933 German film by Rheinhold Schuenzel called Viktor und Viktoria, this bloated farce cashes in on the transvestite popularity of La Cage aux Folies by dressing Julie Andrews in drag and trying desperately to milk some laughs out of stylised homosexuality.
There is something decidedly unattractive about Julie Andrews in drag (she looks neither male nor female, merely androgynous and sickly pale), as she plays a starving opera singer in 1934 Paris who is so hungry, that she offers her body to the landlord for a meatball.
Robert Preston plays Toddy, an ageing drag queen who has just been fired from his job at a gay cabaret, called Chez Lui, for insulting the customers and causing a riot.
The pair meet in the rain, cheat a café out of dinner by pretending there are cockroaches in the food, and become friends, roommates, and business partners, in a fraudulent scheme to pass Mary Poppins off as a Polish count who sings and dances as a woman.
Dressed in Preston’s old lover’s clothes, she becomes the transvestite rage of Paris, looking like a grotesque Berlin cartoon from the Nazi era.
Enter James Garner, a Chicago gangster so shocked at his attraction to a man that he goes out and beats up a few waterfront toughs. What a mess – a swarm of clichés masquerading as comic perversion.
Andrews is a woman pretending to be a man who is impersonating a woman. Garner, playing his own stereotype, is a Neanderthal who has to keep proving his manhood with violence to cover the truth that he’s a macho man in love with a female impersonator, who is really a woman.
Preston is a man who really wants to be a woman. To complicate things further, there is Garner’s peroxide tramp of a girlfriend (Lesley Ann Warren) who thinks she can turn a gay man straight, and Garner’s burly bodyguard (Alex Karras) who falls in love with Preston.
The boys find they enjoy being girls, the girls find they enjoy being boys, and one expects a chorus from Rodgers and Hammerstein at any moment.
Instead, we get abominable musical numbers by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse, with chorus boys in boy-girl masks dripping with sequins and mascara, women impersonating men, men impersonating women, and not a shred of conviction from anybody.
Heavy-handed direction and bone-headed performances don’t help, and there’s no comic tension. Garner wears more makeup than Andrews, so the confusion is heightened beyond all intentions and for all the wrong reasons.
The art deco bedroom Preston and Andrews share as platonic friends drowns in homosexual interior decorating, while Garner’s room chokes on its own sterility. Both in the same hotel? It’s as though the manager looked over the reservation list and shrieked: “The queens are coming – get out the pink satin sheets!”.
Every gender joke imaginable gushes forth, but there are few genuine laughs. The only real comic moment comes when Andrews moans about strapping her bosom to look flat-chested in a man’s suit . . . What bosom?!
Poor Preston is relegated to bitch lines that must have been amusing to Edwards when he wrote them. “There’s nothing more inconvenient than an old queen with a head cold,” says Preston, and the line is not only unfunny, it doesn’t even make sense. It’s all very trashy and offensive, not to mention sophomoric.
The best that can be said of Victor/Victoria is that it is an improvement over S.O.B. (1981) – but that is not meant as an endorsement.
Carroll “Toddy” Todd
Lesley Ann Warren