Viktor und Viktoria follows a cisgendered female who takes a job as a female impersonator. The act is a hit but she soon falls for a heterosexual man. Will she give up the charade to be with him? This German musical comedy was successful enough to inspire five remakes and a Broadway musical. It’s best remembered today for the delightful Blake Edwards / Julie Andrews film from 1982. I decided to look at the source material.
Renate Müller is great fun in the leading role. A triple threat with a cynical shell and a soft heart. Hermann Thimig grows obnoxious as her sidekick but he throws himself into his physical comedy. Love interest Adolf Wohlbrück arrives later in the story than I expected. The romance is rushed and takes a back seat to the drag shenanigans. The score mixes ballads and spoken singing (sprechgesang). There’s no song to rival 1982’s “Le Jazz Hot” but Müller sings them with aplomb.
The characters in the 1933 are defiantly heterosexual. People are fooled by Müller’s disguises but no one is asked to seriously consider same-sex desire. German cinema had featured LGBT characters in their films as far back as 1919. You-know-who would soon put a stop to it. The lack of queer representation here is disappointing, but the bones of a good story remain.
Learn more in my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Rags to Riches
Scene One: Talent Agency
SUSANNE (A timid soprano) (sings): I WANT TO BE A STAR!
VIKTOR (A has-been actor) (sings): I USED TO BE A STAR!
VIKTOR: (Coughs) I’m losing my voice and I have to perform tonight.
Scene Two: Variety Hall
SUSANNE: You’re a female impersonator? And you want me to cover for you? I’m s-s-scared.
VIKTOR: Come on. We all know you’re about to belt your face off.
SUSANNE: Classic sopranos do not belt. We warble.
(After some hijinks in the dressing room, “Viktoria” takes the stage.)
SUSANNE (as VIKTORIA) (sings): THIS IS A SEXY SPANISH SONG! BUT I KEEP TRIPPING OVER THINGS!
AUDIENCE: Ha Ha Ha! This guy is hilarious! We like the part where he trips over things!
AGENT: Viktoria’s a man? (sings) I’M GOING TO MAKE HIM A STAR!
Act Two: Heterosexual Romance
Scene Three: Big Theatre
SUSANNE (as VIKTORIA): I’M SINGING THE SPANISH SONG IN ENGLISH. I’M FINALLY A STAR!
ROBERT (male love interest): Viktoria’s terrific.
ROBERT’s MALE FRIEND: That is one sexy lady.
(Viktoria takes off her wig.)
ROBERT’s FEMALE FRIEND: Ha ha! Viktoria’s a man!
ROBERT’s MALE FRIEND: How embarrassing! It’s a good thing everyone in this movie is heterosexual!
Scene Four: Pranks
SUSANNE (in male disguise): You’re drunk again. Why are you still traveling with me?
VIKTOR: I’m sorry Susanne. The movie thinks it’s funny when I trip over things.
ROBERT: Susanne? Now that I know the truth, I shall play pranks on her. Hey “Mister?” Let’s go drink whisky, flirt with women and have a shave. While we’re at it, let me suggestively put a tobacco pipe in your mouth.
SUSANNE (still in male diguise): You’re a jerk. Yet I find you strangely attractive.
Act Three: A Shady Dame
Scene Five: Farce
ROBERT: I’m going to propose to someone. Wink wink. Nudge Nudge.
SUSANNE (in male disguise): It must be that female friend from Scene Three. I’ll seduce her first!
ROBERT’s FEMALE FRIEND: Too late. A man has already proposed to me.
SUSANNE: It was Robert! (sobs.)
ROBERT’s MALE FRIEND: No. It was me!
ROBERT: Susanne, this plot is spinning its wheels. Nobody cares about my friends. Let me just say that I know you’re a woman and I love you. Marry me.
Scene Six: The Grand Finale
VIKTOR: (Sings) I’M IN LOVE WITH A CHORUS GIRL, FOR I TOO AM A HETEROSEXUAL.
CHORUS GIRL: Too bad. I’m attracted to the man who plays “Viktoria.”
VIKTOR: Then I shall tell everyone a secret! “Viktoria” is played by a woman!
POLICE: Then “Viktoria” is not allowed to perform. For… reasons?
VIKTOR: Oh no! I’ll have to put on the dress and go on myself!
VIKTOR (as VIKTORIA) (sings): THIS IS A SEXY SPANISH SONG! BUT I KEEP TRIPPING OVER THINGS!
AGENT: Viktor? I like the part where you trip over things! Want to replace your friend in the show?
SUSANNE: Works for me. Now that I have a man my career means nothing. Congratulations!
First a Girl (1935)
I couldn’t find all of the remakes but I did watch 1935’s First a Girl. While the basic plot is the same the film ups the stakes by giving Robert a rude fiancé and a tinge of sexual confusion. The musical numbers are lavish, with wild dances and gaudy costumes. Jessie Matthews and her real-life husband Sonnie Hale played Victoria and her sidekick Victor. He’s her dance partner here, giving his character more reason to stick around.
Victor Victoria (1982)
The early films have given me greater appreciation for Blake Edwards’ 1982 remake. The songs are brassier, the cast is funnier, it’s a lot gayer and everyone has more agency. Julie Andrews shows her knack for comedy, Robert Preston brings class to his gay sidekick and Lesley Ann Warren makes a delightfully over the top antagonist. Julie’s romance with James Garner is a little bland but Preston is given a suitable match with Alex Karras’s closeted bodyguard. If you haven’t seen it, do so.
You may want to steer clear of the filmed production of the 1995 musical. Rachel York and Greg Jbara do well in the Warren and Karras roles but Julie Andrews and her leading men give flat performances. The new songs are dreadful. If you want an extra jolt of camp watch some footage of Liza Minnelli or Raquel Welch in the title role.
What gave this story such staying power? Have you seen the 1982 film? Who would you cast in a remake today?
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