Julie Andrews' much-publicized desire to escape a reputation for wholesomeness has resulted, this year, in her appearing as a transvestite in "Victor/Victoria." Last year she went topless for "S.O.B."; and while there is much teasing about revealing her bosom in the new film, this is not actually done, probably because any step backward might lead up the primrose path to the horrors of respectability.
In her quixotic quest, the plucky actress has the full support of her husband, Blake Edwards, who is responsible for both films. But the campaign isn't working. She was, indeed, foul, drunken, mean and vulgar in "S.O.B.," but such glories could not be sustained. In "Victor/Victoria," Julie Andrews is revealed as an appealing, cheerful, charming and, yes, wholesome transvestite.
It is, in sum, a sweet film, with the light- hearted theme of we-are-all-pretending-to- be-something-we're-not, and it's only gently naughty. Robert Preston prances about in the standard drag-queen routine that the vast audiences for "Cage aux Folles" seemed to find so comic, and then reveals a heart of gold by taking in a starving singer and launching her as a fake female impersonator. This person has a beau, a virile American gangster played by James Garner, who finds himself in the awkward position of escorting his mistress to white-tie evenings with her wearing white tie; the beau has an ex-mistress who is a female impersonating a moll -- and so on.
Taken from a 1933 film, "Viktor und Viktoria," the theme is an excuse for a touchingly amusing background of a Thirties Paris where it is always snowing on poor artists who keep their wits sharp by trying to outwit cynical waiters. It also has an original score by Henry Mancini, of pleasantly undistinguished nightclub numbers for Julie Andrews and a bouncy but irrelevant one for Lesley Ann Warren, who plays the moll.
But even in a stage Bohemia, anachronisms and other sloppinesses are distracting. The opening number is based on understanding the phrase "gay Paree" as referring to homosexuality, a sense of much later vintage. A major factor in the plot depends on the idea that there was some sort of truth- in-packaging law applying to Parisian nightclubs that would bring a police raid onto a performer who dared misrepresent his gender. The key love scene is a babble of dreary modernisms: "Are we communicating?... You should be able to relate to that... That's not a very good basis for a relationship..."
And, as in all films about performers, there is a convention that nightclub habitues suspend all drinking, eating and conversation to listen with rapt attention to the shows, and that any violation of their silence is treated as a shocking affront.
The film does go on a bit, too, with repetitive scenes -- a brawl is recreated at least three times, and the old joke about a high C that shatters glass appears four times.
But to make up for that, there is that wonderfully wholesome Julie Andrews, showing us that life needn't be sordid. No matter how hard you try to make it so.
VICTOR, VICTORIA -- At the Avalon, Old Town, Reston Cinema, Roth's Mt. Vernon, Roth's Quince Orchard, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Silver Spring West, Roth's Tysons Corner, Showcase Bradlick.