Right up front, let me say that VICTOR/VICTORIA ($20) is one of my favorite films of the 1980s. It is also the highpoint of writer/director Blake Edwards’ output during that particular decade. Heck, VICTOR/VICTORIA even provided Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren with their best film roles of that entire decade. I would even venture to say that Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren were robbed on Oscar night, when their Academy Award nominated performances didn’t capture the gold statuette that they each richly deserved… but then again, that’s Hollywood for you. Anyway, in the twenty years since VICTOR/VICTORIA was released, the film has become something of a classic and even made the transition to the Broadway stage as a musical. So what makes the film version of VICTOR/VICTORIA so special? For this reviewer, there are three things- first, the movie is outright hilarious; second, the characters are amazing well drawn for a comedy; and third, the performances are uniformly outstanding.
In VICTOR/VICTORIA, Julie Andrews portrays Victoria Grant, a down on her luck singer trying to eek out a living in the Paris of 1934. As the film opens, Victoria has reached rock bottom and the starving soprano is seemingly ready to compromise her virtue for a single meatball off of her landlord’s plate. However, our heroine’s fortunes vastly improve when she meets Toddy (Robert Preston), a gay cabaret singer, who comes up with a preposterous plan that will take advantage of Victoria’s "legitimate" voice to make them both rich. In complete screwball fashion, Toddy proposes that Victoria pretend to be his lover- one Count Victor Grezhinski, who just happens to be Europe’s greatest female impersonator, yet completely unheard of in Paris.
After Toddy successfully gets this seemingly unbelievable ruse past noted theatrical producer Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies), Victoria finds herself headlining in one of Paris’ finest nightclubs. At first, Victoria has no problem of pulling off her charade of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman; however, things become complicated when she meets Chicago nightclub owner King Marchand (James Garner) and his dizzy blonde girlfriend Norma Cassady (Lesley Ann Warren). Victoria is immediately taken with the dashing Marchand, and while initially perplexed, he seems to be the only person in Paris that questions whether or not Count Victor Grezhinski is truly a man. When the sparks really begin to fly between Victoria and Marchand, Norma finds herself being shipped back to Chicago after discovering that her boyfriend is throwing her over for "another man." As you might expect, the situation comes to a head, thus forcing everyone to face the realities of the preposterous situation that they have created for themselves. The delightful cast VICTOR/VICTORIA also features Alex Karras, Graham Stark, Peter Arne, "Sherloque" Tanney, Michael Robbins, Norman Chancer, David Gant, Maria Charles and Malcolm Jamieson.
Warner Home Video has made VICTOR/VICTORIA available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is a really gorgeous transfer of a beautiful looking movie. VICTOR/VICTORIA benefits from the artifice of being completely filmed on soundstages in London, with every gorgeously lit frame of Dick Bush’s cinematography being a treat for the eyes. Additionally, the cinematography is exceedingly well served by the 16:9 enhanced transfer- looking far better than any previous video incarnation of the film- each of which this reviewer has been well acquainted.
The image is sharp and wonderfully well defined, with even tiny nuances in the sets and gorgeous production design registering cleanly. The film element used for the transfer is very clean, with only a handful of blemishes to remind one that the movie is two decades old. Colors are generally rich and vibrant, with even decidedly drab scenes rendering with appealing hues. Flesh tones occasionally appear a bit pale, but the effect is intentional. However, at all other times, the flesh tones come across as healthy and very appealing. Colors are almost always rendered with complete stability, but in a couple of shots, there are very hot reds on black backgrounds that have a bit of a shimmer. Still, I’d have to rate the color reproduction as excellent for this beautifully photographed film. Blacks have a rich, velvety quality, plus the picture has smooth contrast and impressive shadow detail for a twenty-year-old film. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed on this cleanly authored dual layer DVD.
VICTOR/VICTORIA is offered on DVD with a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Owing to the fact that VICTOR/VICTORIA is a comedy with musical numbers, much of the film is dialogue driven and not particularly showy. However, the musical numbers by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse do shine and benefit from the Dolby Digital encoding. Le Jazz Hot, The Shady Dame From Seville and Crazy World all sound quite wonderful and obviously were very well recorded two decades ago. On occasion, there are some sound effects in the mix that do make good use of the stereo and surround channels, but these are more of an exception than the rule. However, the sound mix does have breath and depth thanks to a lot of little ambient sounds and the musical fill contained in the soundtrack. Dialogue is crisply rendered and always completely understandable. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese subtitles.
A bit of animation and music serve to enhance the DVD’s nicely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplements. Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews are featured on a running audio commentary track. The participants sometime get wrapped up in watching the movie, so their comments sometimes get a bit sparse, but they do impart some good information on the making of the film and those involved with its production. However, I feel that a third party with specific questions about the film might have helped get more detail out of Edwards and Andrews during their talk. The DVD also includes a theatrical trailer, an awards listing and some cast & crew filmographies.
As I stated above, VICTOR/VICTORIA is one of my favorite films of the1980s. The audio and video presentation on DVD is quite wonderful, making the disc a must have for any fan of this delightful movie.
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