Friday, January 29, 2010

Film On Friday: Victor Victoria

Brigid Coady is talking about one of her favourite films and cross dressing (as you do)

When I was a young child I always wanted to grow up to be a boy. Boys, I thought, seemed to have a better deal, more fun and definitely better toys. I think it was spending too much time reading Enid Blyton's Famous FIve books where one of the main characters Georgina or rather George dressed as a boy and generally had more fun than the girlie drip that was Anne. I'd like to say I've grown out of it but there is still a part of me that is that tom boy and I have always wondered what it might be like to dress up as a man one day and see what the world is like in the other half's shoes. I did do it for an evening at University when I won 'Best Woman Dressed As A Man' during our hall of residences Drag Night. I was impressed considering my very female shape.

Why am I talking about cross dressing you ask? Well because one of my favourite films of all time is 'Victor Victoria'. Directed in 1982 by Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame) and starring Julie Andrews and James Garner it is a delight from start to finish.

Set in 1930s Paris, Victoria (Julie Andrews) is an out of work opera singer so down on her luck she is willing to swap her virtue for a meatball. Instead she traps a cockroach and takes herself to a nearby restaurant. There she meets Carroll "Toddy" Todd, an entertainer recently fired from a nightclub for starting a fight having seen his boyfriend was dating a woman. Victoria confides to him that although she has eaten dinner she can't afford to pay for it but will be putting a cockroach in her salad. Mayhem in true Blake Edwards' style ensues and Toddy and Victoria make off without paying the bill.

They spend the night at Toddy's apartment, the next day Toddy's boyfriend shows up to pick up his things and finds Victoria using his clothes. He has been nasty to Toddy and enraged Victoria breaks his nose. At the sight of Victoria dressed as a man Toddy hits upon a plan to help both her and himself: Victoria will pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman, and get a job as a female impersonator in a nightclub. In order to enhance the ruse, Toddy will pretend to be her gay lover.

Soon Victoria's new persona, "Count Victor Grazinski", becomes the toast of Paris. As money and fame start to turn her (and Toddy's) lives around, an additional complication arises. King Marchand (James Garner), a gangster and nightclub-owner from Chicago, finds himself at first attracted to Victoria and repelled by "Victor". This encourages his burly bodyguard, "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras), to come out of the closet, but it enrages Marchand's whiny-voiced, peroxide-blonde spitfire girlfriend Norma (played brilliantly by the scene stealing Lesley Ann Warren).

Marchand starts to investigate Victor, sure that a man like himself could never fall for another man but in the end declares that he does not care if Victoria is a man. Norma becomes more annoying and tawdry, in contrast to the classy Victoria, and King finally has Squash send her home to Chicago so that he is free to pursue Victoria, and has to live up to the image that he is living with a man. Victoria must come to terms with what she really wants out of life: to be true to herself by giving up her career and fame in Paris to be with the man who loves her and whom she loves, or to continue with her duplicitous profession and risk losing Marchand.

All in all it is a delight of a film, the musical numbers that fit perfectly as the entertainments of the clubs. Julie Andrews makes a delightful woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. James Garner plays an alpha male struggling with his image when love makes it seem he is in love with a man. Robert Preston is on top form as Toddy but Lesley Ann Warren steals every scene she is in.

And to quote from the film:
"If he's a Polish Count then I'm Greta Garbo!"
"Well Greta, I don't care who he is I just think he's divine"
And so do I, so I am awarding it a divine and camp nine out of ten.

And as an added bonus after watching it I keep thinking 'what if'… why aren't there more cross dressing romances these days? I mean it was standard dramatic fare in the past and Georgette Heyer produced some fabulous romances with heroine's dressed as men. What do you think?

Brigid is currently working on her YA book and wondering whether she can get any cross dressing into it. Her short story 'The Great Leap Forward' will be published in 'Even More Tonto Short Stories' on 6th May 2010


  1. Its been awhile since Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire. I don't think there have really been any with women crossdressing.

    There were so many historicals where the heroine tried to dress like a stable boy etc though that it does make you wonder.

  2. My favourite of the historicals is Georgette Heyer's 'The Masqueraders'there you had both men and women crossdressing (and all found love).

  3. According to a source on Twitter (@janetravers) who did her Masters thesis on cross dressing in film, "male-to-female always comedic & ridiculous, female-to-male brave, escaping, etc. Think yentyl."

    See I had forgotten Yentl! Sheesh!

  4. Oh, I loved Victor/Victoria - haven't seen it in an age.

    I always wanted to be a boy, too. Always took the male sword fencing part in adventure games I dreamed up in the playgroup. I wanted to play cricket, too.

  5. Oh geeze, I forgot Yentl too! And I've seen that one so many times!

  6. Ahh so you're a fellow tomboy Biddy. I read The Outsiders and decided I was Sodapop Curtis! took me years to get over it... But I did love Victor Victoria and now I know why.

  7. Talking of Enid Blyton, I am glad to inform you that i have published a book on the writer, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
    Stephen Isabirye