Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) has hit hard times in the wintry Paris of 1934, and has not been paid for a job for two whole weeks. She is a singer, and today was auditioning for a nightclub but was turned down for being too wholesome for their clientele, not something that regular performer there Carole Todd (Robert Preston) has ever had a problem with. If anything, he's too risqué, and liberal with the waspish putdowns to the extent that he kicks off a full scale brawl in the club that evening and is banned. Meanwhile, Victoria cannot pay her rent or buy food - so what's the solution?
Pretend to be a man, apparently, in this Blake Edwards version of the old story, first adapted for the screen back in the Germany of the 1930s. Edwards wanted to make this a racier comedy than what had gone before, however, and to that end included some saucy humour that at the time left him accused of vulgarity by those unable to get along with the themes and the jokes that this production brought up. Watching it now, aside from a few scenes of men kissing that might shock your maiden aunt, this doesn't seem as near the knuckle as it once did; if anything it's almost tame compared to what they get away with in current mainstream comedy.
How odd that a film thought to be so edgy should be so quaint to modern eyes, but in a way that's perfectly acceptable, and shows how far society has progressed to become as inclusive as it is; well, some parts of society anyway. Some cite Victoria as Andrews' best role aside from the obvious ones in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and she is ideal here, not only in the dressing up she gets to do, but also the warmth of her humour and attractiveness of her personality - you can see why James Garner's shady businessman falls for her. This in spite of him wondering if she is really a man being a female impersonator.
That's the premise, that Victoria becomes Victor when she teams up with the similarly impoverished Toddy (Preston obviously thoroughly enjoying himself) when they meet again in a restaurant where she has no money to pay for her meal, and has devised a scheme to put a cockroach in the salad once she's sated her appetite so she can get away without paying. Surprisingly this works - er, sort of - and they both become firm friends, especially when the notion of dressing her up as a Polish Count springs into their minds as the perfect novelty act for the jaded Parisien palate. With the backing of John-Rhys Davies' angel, they're a roaring success, but there are those who have their suspicions, including Garner's King Marchand.
He cannot believe that she's a man because he's never found a man attractive before, so a homosexual panic grips him underneath that cool, calm and collected exterior. Part of this film is to reassure viewers that there's nothing to be feared from being gay, whether in others or in yourself, so it's little wonder it was a story embraced by certain audiences both in the movie form and as its hit stage musical version. But don't avoid this one thinking you're in for a lecture as in the main this was about delivering the sophisticated - but not too sophisticated - tunes of Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse along with the gags, with a dose of romance thrown in as Marchand finds out he was right all along and he and Victoria struggle with their most peculiar relationship. If there was a problem, it was that this tended to be a little too pleased with itself, and Edwards' love of slapstick was out of place at times, but this was a bright and pleasingly artificial bauble from a point when film musicals were fading, proof there was life in the old dog yet.