Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Forgotten '30s movies: Viktor Und Viktoria, 1933

Back in 1990 the London BFI ran a season on "Cross-Dressing in the Cinema" (cover, left, with Louise Brooks in BEGGARS OF LIFE, 1928). Looking at the booklet now, they ran the usual suspects (QUEEN CHRISTINA, SYLVIA SCARLETT, Old Mother Riley) as well as a lot of rarities including those two earlier versions of VICTOR/VICTORIA: the 1935 British FIRST A GIRL with Jessie Matthews (reviewed here recently, 1930s, gay interest labels), and the rare 1933 German VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA.

This is the original version of the thrice-filmed story about a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to be a woman, with Renate Muller in the role later assumed by Matthews and Julie Andrews. She plays an aspiring (if rather chubby by today's standards) actress who meets a cabaret performer (Hermann Thimig) who does a comedy drag act (as he cannot succeed playing Shakespeare roles) and then substitutes for him when he falls ill, only to be discovered by an eminent producer, and made a star. 
The usual plot complications follow, but its interesting to compare with the later versions. Nobody here is starving (to force them into drag) or having to put cockroaches in their restaurant meals! There is also nothing homosexual or gay going on - doing a drag act seems a perfectly reasonable trade for someone in showbusiness; female and male impersonation were simply accepted theatrical forms and the drag is played for comedy - not glamour. The British 1935 version followed this 1933 one fairly closely. It must have been only in the '80s they decided the material had to be 'gayed up' to make sense, with Victoria's mentor now a full-time gay (as marvellously played by Robert Preston) and 'Victoria' so hungry she had to play along.

This early German production,directed by Reinhold Schunzel, is a fascinating curio now (there is even an atuomat, and the musical numbers are the height of kitsch) - from the Weimar Republic, just as Germany was turning Nazi ... It is totally square of course but fun, as Renate falls for a young Anton Walbrook (yet to make his mark) while Hermann is dizzy about an annoyingly brassy chorus girl! Go figure ... As for cross-dressing in the cinema, I will stick with SOME LIKE IT HOT thanks very much. Now there's a classic.

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