#140) Funny Girl (1968)
OR “The Streisand Effect”
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Isobel Lennart. Based on her play. Original Music by Jule Styne. Original Lyric by Bob Merrill.
Class of 2016
Sadly, no original theatrical trailer presently available. Here’s the trailer from the film’s 2001 reissue.
The Plot: Loosely based on real life events, “Funny Girl” is the story of Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) getting her big break in vaudeville performing comic numbers in the Follies, under the exasperated eye of Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon). Along the way she falls for Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif), a professional gambler whose natural charm covers up his shady dealings. And just as Fanny blossoms from an insecure newcomer to an independent star, so does Streisand from recording artist to unstoppable multi-hyphenate with her own basement mall.
Why It Matters: The NFR hails Streisand’s “impressive vocal talent and understated acting”, and calls the film “among the last of the successful big-budget musicals”.
But Does It Really?: Love her or hate her, this film’s success falls on Barbra Streisand. “Funny Girl” is one of those serendipitous movies with the right performer in the right role at the right time. Her acting chops are natural, her comic timing is perfect, and I guess she sings alright too. The rest of the film fares okay as a successful adaptation of a stage musical. The film’s iconic status secures its place in the NFR, and overall the film is enjoyable, but if you’re not here for Barbra, this ain’t your movie.
Everybody Gets One: Amazingly, the only major player to call this film their only NFR entry is Barbra Streisand herself.
Wow, That’s Dated: A little bit of late ‘60s optical effects going on (especially in the opening credits), and some of that New Wave style of editing. Also dated: You can’t convince me that Fanny’s outfits in Act II are period appropriate.
Title Track: We don’t get the title (or the title number) until almost the very end of the film. Strangely, there was no title number in the original stage version. It was written for the film.
Seriously, Oscars?: Second only to “2001” at the box office, “Funny Girl” received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The film lost in most of its categories to Columbia’s other big musical, “Oliver!”, but it won in the category that mattered most: Best Actress for Barbra Streisand. For her film debut, Streisand miraculously tied the legendary Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”.
- I’m a sucker for a Roadshow presentation.
- Much of this film occurs in silence, including most of the first scene. Similarly, very little of this film has underscore when no one is singing. Bold choice for a musical.
- That’s Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop, as Mrs. Strakosh. And she even sings! She’s still got it, Eddie!
- Speaking of, the film’s first number, “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”, abruptly ends mid-verse when Fanny leaves. Exhibit A that material was deleted from the final cut in favor of more Barbra.
- No offense to Kay Medford, but how did she get an Oscar nomination? She gets nothing to do but be a stereotypical Jewish mother. They even cut her songs!
- Babs may have called a lot of the shots, but she didn’t have complete control over William Wyler, as evidenced by her frequent lip-synching (a pet peeve of Barbra’s) and many shots of her so-called “bad side”.
- “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” is the kind of Ziegfeld extravaganza that “Springtime for Hitler” is parodying. Coincidentally, one of the dancers is Lee Meredith, aka Ulla.
- I never miss an Omar Sharif musical. Although I suspect that we are seeing the limits of Mr. Sharif’s singing abilities.
- Of this film’s score (or what’s left of it), “You Are Woman, I Am Man” is the only clunker.
- Wyler must have really enjoyed shooting the handful of scenes Barbara isn’t in.
- The final shot of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” gets my vote for “Best Opened Up Scene from a Play”.
- The child playing Fanny and Nick’s baby is 50 years old now!
- Nick caustically tells Fanny “you never lose”. I guess he missed the 1964 Tonys.
- This film reminded me that FAO Schwarz is no longer a thing and now I’m sad.
- Boy, they really gloss over Baby Snooks in this film. Wasn’t that Fanny Brice’s big thing?
- After watching this film, I now understand why Streisand wants to remake “Gypsy”. And Barbra, on the off-chance you’re reading this, if you want to ONLY DIRECT “GYPSY”, you have my blessing.
- Barbra Streisand spent the ‘70s being a movie star in addition to her status as a recording star. She’s incredibly miscast in the god-awful “Hello, Dolly!”, but I admit to enjoying her in “What’s Up, Doc?”
- Streisand reluctantly reprised the role of Fanny in 1975’s “Funny Lady”. The follow-up took liberties with Brice’s marriage to Billy Rose (James Caan), and was nowhere near as successful as the first film. But how about that synchronized swimming?
- A testament to Streisand’s performance (or perhaps to how shaky the original show is), the stage version of “Funny Girl” has never been revived on Broadway. An attempt to bring it back to New York with Lauren Ambrose and Bobby Cannavale fell through in 2011, but a more recent West End revival (with a completely overhauled book) found success, so who knows?
Listen to This: Take a listen to the real Fanny Brice in her two NRR recordings: “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose”.
Listen to This Too!: Barbra’s third album “People” gets its name from the famous “Funny Girl” song. The album was released just prior to the stage show’s out-of-town tryouts. The story goes that the album was so successful audiences applauded “People” when it appeared in the show’s overture.