Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that there have been more reviews tagged “queer” than usual lately. That’s intentional and in honor of Pride month! There are no pride parades or celebrations I feel comfortable attending this year, so it’s down to watching a bunch of gay movies. And it turns out others have the same idea! My local indie theater is participating in Pioneers of Queer Cinema, showing a trio of very old queer films this month, and that’s our theme this week. We start with Viktor und Viktoria, the 1933 German musical that inspired the 1982 Mrs. Julie Andrews classic, Victor/Victoria.
Viktor is a dramatic actor who takes his roles so seriously he’s a parody of himself. He meets Susanne, an actress also unable to find work. The two come together when it’s revealed that Viktor sometimes does drag performances, but due to a cold he can’t perform. So Susanne pretends to be Viktor playing the character of Viktoria. She’s a hit, gets signed to do shows around the world, and together the duo are making bank. We then meet Ellinor, her two paramours Robert and Douglas, and actress Lilian. This is where it becomes a screwball comedy, so hold on to your butts…
Robert finds out Viktoria is really Susanne, but because he’s chaotic neutral he keeps that to himself. Susanne/Viktoria has fallen in love with Robert (in an amazingly short time, as per romantic comedies of the era) but thinks he loves Ellinor. When Robert has Viktoria help him pick out flowers for the woman he loves–secretly Susanne–she gets upset thinking he’s going to propose to Ellinor. When Ellinor calls Viktoria, Susanne decides to try and play Mr. Steal Your Girl. But Douglas buys the exact same flowers for Ellinor, so when they’re delivered Susanne thinks this is confirmation that Robert doesn’t love her. But her flowers do get delivered and she and Robert get together. Meanwhile, Viktor tells Lilian the truth about Viktoria, which she immediately spreads, summoning the vice squad. But Susanne and Robert coming together means she can’t perform, so Viktor steps up as Viktoria, getting caught by vice, is revealed to actually be a man (as expected), and gets a new deal to keep performing as Viktoria. There’s also a duel to the death that Viktor and Douglas think they have to be in, because again, Robert is chaotic neutral with a sense of humor. Phew! Got all that?
One one hand this is an adorable musical about drag performances where even much of the spoken lines are said in rhyme. On this other, this came out right as Weimar Republic was collapsing and Hitler was rising to power. So how did our main characters handle such political upheaval? Susanne’s actress, Renate Müller, died 4 years later when she fell from a window at the age of 31, a death speculated to be either suicide or possibly murder for not wanting to be in Nazi propaganda films. Robert’s actor, Anton Walbrook, is a real champ: born Adolf Wohlbrück and being a gay Jewish man, he fled Germany, changed his name, and became a noteworthy actor in Britain, having roles in The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and the original Gaslight (not the one 4 years later starring Ingrid Bergman). His performance in this is a treat, with him on the verge of giggling at his own antics multiple times, and from what I can tell he was just a great person all around. So don’t be surprised if you see one of those films I mentioned show up on this site in the future!
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