This is definitely one of my all-time favorite feel-good movies. Going against all possibility of typecasting, it stars Julie Andrews as a struggling singer, Victoria, who, under the tutelage of a gay cabaret performer (Robert Preston) ends up making it as “Count Victor Grazinski,” a drag performer in a gay club. So basically, she is a woman, but everyone thinks she is a drag queen. Fabulous, right? I think so.
Essentially, this movie is an exploration of gender that both examines the position of gender in society and pokes fun at mistaken gender identity. In stark contrast to Some Like It Hot, which might be called the quintessential drag movie but was also a definite product of its time, Victor Victoria affords drag a good amount of dignity. It doesn’t regard the prospect of dressing as the opposite gender as inherently funny, nor does it mock either gender as Some Like It Hot tends to mock women. It treats drag as a respectable performing genre, and it is also worth noting that the venue at which Victor/Victoria performs is noticeably a high-end Paris club, and does not conform to any stereotype of what a gay club might be.
I think this movie is also a commentary on the times–Victor Victoria was made in 1982, right at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. With the increased fear of the disease, and the public perception of it as a “gay disease,” a movie like this seems an effort to show the often misguided prejudices in society, by showing the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and identity in an otherwise light, funny movie.
The songs are written by Henry Mancini, also Blake Edwards’ collaborator on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and are very memorable–especially the epic “Le Jazz Hot” sung by Julie Andrews as “Victor,” the drag queen:
Another of my favorites is this one, sung by Robert Preston as Toddy, the gay performer who becomes Victoria’s mentor. The first time I heard this song I was so thrilled I could barely stand it.
This movie is a very fun one to watch, is hilariously funny and I think makes some very good points about gender while it’s at it. I’m actually surprised at how many people, classic film fans included, haven’t seen this movie. It’s widely available and I recommend it to anyone looking for a light, funny and engaging romp with Julie Andrews.