No Surprises

Victor Victoria Directed by Blake Edwards At the Sack Cheri

THE COMMERCIAL SUCCESS of La Cage Aux Folles guaranteed an American imitation. Blake Edwards' attempt--Victor Victoria, a light, romantic comedy set around a decadent 1930's Paris nightclub which featured acts by male impersonators--transcends the dubious spinoff genre Barely. Somehow Victor Victoria, which stars Julie Andrews pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman, works; Blake Edwards has made another slick, funny film.

This expensive, technically proficient remake of a 1933 German movie focuses on the adventures of a starving singer. Victoria (Julie Andrews) who is befriended by a failing gay nightclub entertainer. Toddy (Robert Preston). He appreciates her vocal talents and realizes how to market her. She becomes Victor, a delicate, unknown member of the Eastern European nobility who is Paris's greatest female impersonator. Enter King (James Garner), a Chicago gangster who becomes Victoria's love interest but refuses to accept the label of homosexuality his low-life companions attach to him because of his association with "Victor." Complications ensue.

Stylistically, the film is a cultural hodge-podge filled with misplaced Americanisms and out of context references. Andrews and Garner discuss "relationships" as only post-1960's lovers would, and her career versus marriage conflict seems equally anachronistic. Henry Mancini's lavish musical numbers are supposedly the main attraction for a decadent nightclub, but his pieces are hardly very risque Yet the plot and competent acting hold Victor Victoria together.

This is an American comedy with few pretensions of "commentary" on pre-war Paris, and Edwards does not hesitate to steal devices from his earlier films to make Victor Victoria enjoyable. With a flimsy excuse, Edwards sets a Clouseau-style private investigator on Victoria's trail. A bumbling French detective, transplanted entirely intact from the Pink Panther films, discovers the truth about Victoria's gender, but not before several broadly comic mishaps. The detective shares Inspector Clouseau's inescapable fate, as his opponents discredit him without much trouble before the film ends; his brief appearance is purposeless but amusing.

Sinking to the lowest common denominator that made 10 a box-office success. Edwards stages one nightclub scene starring Norma (Lesley Ann Warren). King's old girlfriend a Chicago chorus girl with a Brooklyn accent. Singing a paean to the Windy City. Norma struts her stuff and the camera zooms in close enough to count hairs. Slapstick routines, the inevitable waiter with a large cream pie, also form a backdrop for the main action. A few yuks fall flat but most of the jokes sustain a low chuckle coming from the audience.

WITH A LITTLE IMAGINATION Julie Andrews almost appears masculine, although her delicate features and slim jaw make David Bowie resemble some of the heftier Hasty Pudding hoofers by comparison. But the premise and the setting render nothing unbelievable and Ms. Andrews. Edward's wife, is a fine comedienne. With Garner as her straight man. Andrews jumps elegantly from wicked, flirtatious girl to mock-elegant Victor. Her more serious moments, played with her friend and protector Toddy, portray a woman getting toughened by necessity and occur infrequently. Sadness and loneliness have no place in light comedy, but these occasional exhausted or despairing lapses provide a rare touch of credibility. Nothing in Victor Victoria appears too taxing for Andrew's cohorts either. Unfortunately, Garner's lead appears less warm and less interesting that Preston's Today. Victoria, Toddy's equal, ends up attached to a man her inferior in spirit and spunk because of Hollywood's romantic conventions.

From the start an audience must realize that no Blake Edwards comedy could end with a woman leaving her man for her career, or especially for a gay friend. Not that Edwards obviously condemns homosexuality or the independence of a single woman, but he know-tows to a vital ingredient in any movie musical comedy: boy-gets-girl. Thus an otherwise fun movie reaches an unsatisfactory conclusion. Victoria must abandon her career and reveal herself in the club as a woman, while Toddy takes over her act. Contractual obligations and her relationship with Toddy are tossed aside, and Toddy's future is left uncertain. This not-so-subtle affirmation of middle America values comes as a disappointment after an enjoyable film, although everyone except Norma leaves the screen plenty happy with Victoria's decision.