Picks and Pans Review: Victor/victoria

updated 03/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

In last year's S.O.B., writer-director Blake Edwards had his wife Julie Andrews go topless. This year Edwards dresses Julie as if she were a man in drag (she looks a bit like David Bowie). Fans of the old chaste Julie may well shudder at the thought of what might be next, but others will find Victor/Victoria her strongest role in a decade. It is also Edwards' best work since the early Pink Panther films. Gone is the bilious spirit that marred S.O.B. Instead, Edwards has devised a good-natured burlesque of sexual confusion. The setting is Paris, circa 1934, where out-of-work opera singer Andrews hooks up with a homosexual cabaret performer (Robert Preston). His plan is to dress Julie as a man and promote her as the world's best female impersonator. The ruse works until Julie falls for a macho Chicago gangster (James Garner at his deadpan best), who believes she's a man and questions his own sexuality. Garner's chorus girl moll, played by Lesley Ann Warren in Jean Harlow style, is even more puzzled. Meanwhile Preston is enjoying an affair with Garner's beefy bodyguard, former Detroit Lions tackle Alex Karras. Despite the theme, the effect is more roguish Disney than R-rated decadence. Preston portrays a mature gay without lapsing into caricature or condescension. His friendship with Andrews is poignant, and an early restaurant scene in which they bilk a waiter out of two dinners is great film farce. There are faults: The film is over-long at two hours 13 minutes, plagued by a cloying Henry Mancini score and, as always, Edwards tends to beat his punch lines into the ground. But Victor/Victoria combines high and low comedy, without missing a laugh in between. (PG)

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