Though this movie came out in 1968, I had never seen it — possibly it has never made it to TV? That seems odd, because I think it would be pretty well suited to that medium. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it on the big screen. It was, of course, one of my local theater’s Big Screen Classics. And a classic American movie spectacular it was.
My theater’s promotional text:
“Barbra Streisand, in her first and most iconic role ever!
Fanny Brice (Streisand) begins her career in vaudeville; but only she could have expected it to end on Broadway. Omar Sharif plays her long-time friend, eventual husband, and entrepreneur Nicky Arnstein. The film follows their long careers through the ups and downs of love, stardom and failure. Based upon the true story of Broadway star Fanny Brice, this award-winning film was directed by four-time Academy Award winner William Wyler (Ben-Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday) from the Broadway musical of the same name.”
I didn’t remember that the movie was based on a Broadway show, so I guess it did not demonstrate the shortcomings of other conversions from stage to screen, or I might have noticed. The story was very simplistic — even for a Hollywood movie of its era (and it did seem more like a product of the previous decade — by 1968 the youth movement was in full swing, but there is no evidence here. By this time, audiences were getting edgier fare, and the story certainly could have supported some. But nope, it apparently did not deviate — pun! — from the stage version).
The plot was so simplified from Fanny Brice’s actual life that they apparently couldn’t ground the story in time — I was not sure when things were supposed to be happening. What a surprise to find that it took place before and after World War I — it wasn’t mentioned. Nor the Depression, which I think was going on toward the end, nor Prohibition. All in all, a pretty flat story with some bits that were pretty hard to swallow.
But the costumes!! They were lush, colorful, luxurious — unrealistic but great on the screen. That does seem like a vestige of the Broadway show, come to think of it — the costumes would have to project more than is needed in a movie. Also, the sets were nice — I did like the over-the-top luxe decor. And, Barbra Streisand did a good job, though her wisecracking might have been a bit on the anachronistic side (yes, Fanny Brice had that reputation, but I believe she would not have executed her witticisms quite the same way). And man, that girl (she looked so young! but she was in her mid-thirties; I just looked it up) could sing. Even if it was dubbed in later, it was great.
Omar Sharif, though, was a little problematic. His accent, for one thing — it was not believable that he would talk that way, and no attempt at explanation was made (though I was expecting something). He was not a full realized character, meddle as they did with Nick Arnstein’s actual life story, which wasn’t the actor’s fault, so maybe I can’t fault him for being stiff in the role. He did look good for being 10 years older than Streisand, and he sure did look nice in his evening clothes. The supporting cast was pretty bad, unfortunately — like that of “I Love Lucy,” so broadly (and annoyingly) drawn.
Wikipedia has some interesting info about the casting. The studio had wanted Shirley MacLaine in the lead, but the producer — Brice’s son-in-law! — put his foot down. A lot of men were considered for the male lead — Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, David Janssen, James Garner — and though I have appreciated all these actors in one role or another, they would have been worse choices for the role than Omar Sharif. (If I come up with someone who would have been better, I will add such a mention to this post.)
Reading the Wikipedia entry made me remember that Anne Francis was also in the movie — barely. She got big-name billing in the credits but her role was pretty pointless (apparently it was cut back to a shadow of the original character) and her time onscreen very brief.
And one more Wikipedia observation: “When Barbra Streisand appeared in Funny Girl in 1968, for the first time, a Jewish woman was on screen with Jewish features, a Jewish name and Jewish mannerisms. In this role the Jewish woman was presented as smart, comedic, beautiful and talented.” [Boldface added.] Perhaps I might have noticed this at the time, but it certainly didn’t strike me last week: times have changed! For moviegoers in 1968, this might have been the dash of edginess that was coming to be expected in popular culture of the time.