Monday, June 17, 2024


Suzanne is an aspiring singer who can't get a job. At her last failed audition, she meets up with Victor, a hammy comic actor who is always underemployed, though he shows Suzanne many pictures of himself in famous roles. Currently, he does a drag act under the name Victoria, but he's suffering mightily from a head cold, so he convinces Suzanne to go on in his place—a woman pretending to be a man dressing up and performing as a woman. Suzanne does a comic number as Victoria, then pulls off her wig and drops her voice to a low growl to show that she's a man. An agent signs her to a contract and a success montage follows as she performs and splits her take with Victor. In London, Suzanne (as Victor/Victoria) impresses three friends at a nightclub: handsome playboy Robert, the older Lord Douglas, and Elinor, the woman both men flirt with, though technically she's with Lord Douglas. Robert is taken with Victoria and overhears a private conversation in which it becomes clear that Victor/Suzanne is actually a woman, but he decides to play along with the charade for a while. Meanwhile Elinor seeks out Victor/Suzanne for a date. There is a bar brawl, a proposal for a duel (which is resolved in song), and the threat of Suzanne's trick being discovered, but all is righted in the end.

This German film was the inspiration for 1983's Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews as the cross-cross dressing title character. As that is one of my favorite comedies, it's difficult not to compare the two versions. Not only are the plots similar, but both feature a song by Victoria about a Spanish lady (from Seville in 1983, from Madrid in 1933) and both end with an incident in which the female barely avoids discovery of her trickery. The later film is far queerer in feel than this one. In 1983, the male mentor (played by Robert Preston) is openly gay and his relationships with men are part of the narrative arc. Also, for a brief time, Victoria's male pursuer (James Garner) is a bit unsettled when he thinks he is attracted to a man. Here, the male mentor (Hermann Thimig) is straight, though he is a drag performer, and the male pursuer (Anton Walbrook) finds out quickly that Victor is a woman so there's no real ambiguity about his feelings. Renate Muller (Suzanne) passes as a man much more realistically than Julie Andrews did, but Andrews is, of course, more fabulous than Muller. This film is more of a traditional musical in that characters pop out in song, and often in rhyming dialogue, during the action of the film, whereas in the 1983 film, all the songs are sung as stage performances. This will never eclipse the Julie Andrews film, and it's got less to think about thematically, but it’s a fun watch. Aka VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA. There is also a British version from 1935, FIRST A GIRL, which is worth seeing. Pictured are Muller and Walbrook. [Criterion Channel; also on Kino Lorber DVD]

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