Funny Girl (film)
|Directed by||William Wyler|
|Screenplay by||Isobel Lennart|
|Produced by||Ray Stark|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling, Sr.|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$58.5 million|
Funny Girl is a 1968 American biographical musical comedy-drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Isobel Lennart was adapted from her book for the stage musical of the same title. It is loosely based on the life and career of Broadway and film star and comedian Fanny Brice and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nicky Arnstein.
Produced by Brice's son-in-law, Ray Stark, with music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, the film stars Barbra Streisand (in her film debut reprising her Broadway role) as Brice and Omar Sharif as Arnstein, with a supporting cast featuring Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Allen, and Mae Questel. It was the first film by Stark's company Rastar.
A major critical and commercial success, Funny Girl became the highest-grossing film of 1968 in the United States and received eight Academy Award nominations. Streisand won the award for Best Actress for her performance, tying with Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter). In 2006, the American Film Institute ranked the film #16 on its list commemorating AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals. Previously it had ranked the film #41 in its 2002 list of 100 Years ... 100 Passions, the songs "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" at #13 and #46, respectively, in its 2004 list of 100 Years ... 100 Songs, and the line "Hello, gorgeous" at #81 in its 2005 list of 100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes. Funny Girl is considered one of the greatest musical films ever made.
Set in and around New York City just prior to and following World War I, the story opens with Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice awaiting the return of husband Nicky Arnstein from prison, and then moves into an extended flashback focusing on their meeting and marriage.
Fanny is a stage-struck teen who gets her first job in vaudeville. Her mother and her friend Mrs. Strakosh try to dissuade her from show business because Fanny is not the typical beauty ("If a Girl Isn't Pretty"). While rehearsing at a vaudeville theater, boss complains about Fanny's unsynchronized performance and her marking appearance. Upon his decision to sack her, she perseveres ("I'm the Greatest Star"). With Kevin's help and encouragement, Fanny gets a part in a roller-skating act despite lacking roller-skating skills. Although the act turns into a big mess, the audience find it to be hilarious and cheer her up ("Rollerskate Rag"). That is also when Fanny has her first performance "I'd Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Happy With Somebody Else)". Six months later, Fanny gets hired to become a member of the Ziegfeld Follies – something she has always dreamt of. In the debut performance, she put a comic twist to the supposedly romantic number, ending the number as a pregnant bride ("His Love Makes Me Beautiful"). Following the debut, she met the suave Arnstein, who accompanied her to the celebration at her home on Henry Street ("People").
One year later, Fanny is now the rising star of Broadway. She and Arnstein met again when she went to Baltimore as a part of her tour. They have a romantic dinner at a swanky restaurant and declare their feelings ("You Are Woman, I Am Man"). The pair becomes romantically involved. Instead of going to Chicago with the Follies, Fanny decides to take another train to New York in order to be with Arnstein ("Don't Rain On My Parade").
While traveling aboard the RMS Berengaria, Nicky promises that if he could win a fortune by playing poker then they can get marry, which eventually comes true. They move to a mansion and have a daughter ("Sadie, Sadie"), meanwhile Fanny also returns to Ziegfeld and the Follies. Nick's various business ventures fail, causing him to lose a lot of money. Nick being busy gambling and not showing up to Fanny's new play premiere ("Swan") made her upset and the two have an argument. Refusing financial support from his wife, he becomes involved in a bonds scam and is imprisoned for embezzlement for eighteen months. At the moment of the farewell, Nick calling her "funny girl" left her feeling bitter and piteous ("Funny Girl"). Following Nick's release from prison, they agree to separate. She is heartbroken and claims that "I am his forever more" ("My Man").
- Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice
- Omar Sharif as Nicky Arnstein
- Kay Medford as Rose Brice
- Anne Francis as Georgia James
- Walter Pidgeon as Florenz Ziegfeld
- Lee Allen as Eddie Ryan
- Mae Questel as Mrs. Strakosh
- Gerald Mohr as Branca
- Frank Faylen as Keeney
- Mittie Lawrence as Emma
- Gertrude Flynn as Mrs. O'Malley
- Penny Santon as Mrs. Meeker
- John Harmon as Company Manager
- Ruth Clifford as Maid (uncredited)
- "If a Girl Isn't Pretty" – Fanny, Rose, and Mrs. Strakosh
- "I'm the Greatest Star" – Fanny
- "Rollerskate Rag" – Fanny and Rollerskate Girls
- "I'd Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Happy With Somebody Else)" – Fanny
- "Second Hand Rose" – Fanny
- "His Love Makes Me Beautiful" – Fanny and Follies Ensemble
- "People" – Fanny
- "You Are Woman, I Am Man" – Nicky and Fanny
- "Don't Rain on My Parade" – Fanny
- "Sadie, Sadie" – Fanny and Nicky
- "The Swan" – Fanny
- "Funny Girl" – Fanny
- "My Man" – Fanny
- "Exit Music"
Funny Girl originally had 18 musical numbers in 160 minutes of film, 60 minutes of which are tuned. Nick Arnstein used to have a solo called "Temporary Arrangement". Some numbers from the original musical were removed; "Rollerskate Rag", "The Swan" and "Funny Girl" are composed specifically for Streisand instead and are not related to Fanny Brice.
In the 1985 book Barbra Streisand: The Woman, the Myth, the Music by Shaun Considine, composer Styne revealed he was unhappy with the orchestrations for the film. "They were going for pop arrangements," he recalled. "They dropped eight songs from the Broadway show and we were asked to write some new ones. They didn't want to go with success. It was the old-fashioned MGM Hollywood way of doing a musical. They always change things to their way of vision, and they always do it wrong. But, of all my musicals they screwed up, Funny Girl came out the best."
Because the songs "My Man", "Second Hand Rose", and "I'd Rather Be Blue" frequently were performed by the real Brice during her career, they were interpolated into the Styne-Merrill score.
Isobel Lennart originally wrote Funny Girl as a screenplay for a drama film entitled My Man for producer Ray Stark (whose mother-in-law was Fanny Brice). No studio was interested in the project, except for Vincent Donhue, who suggested turning it into a stage musical. Lennart consequently adapted her script for what eventually became a successful Broadway production starring Barbra Streisand.
Although she had not made any films, Streisand was Stark's first and only choice to portray Brice onscreen. "I just felt she was too much a part of Fanny, and Fanny was too much a part of Barbra to have it go to someone else," he said, but Columbia Pictures executives wanted Shirley MacLaine in the role instead. MacLaine and Streisand were good friends and shared a birthday; both actresses rolled their eyes at the idea. Stark insisted if Streisand were not cast, he would not allow a film to be made, and the studio agreed to his demand.
Mike Nichols, George Roy Hill, and Gene Kelly were considered to direct the film before Sidney Lumet was signed. After working on pre-production for six months, he left the project due to "creative differences" and was replaced by William Wyler, whose long and illustrious award-winning career never had included a musical film; he originally was assigned to direct The Sound of Music. Wyler initially declined Stark's offer because he was concerned his significant hearing loss would affect his ability to work on a musical. After giving it some thought, he told Stark, "If Beethoven could write his Eroica Symphony, then William Wyler can do a musical."
Streisand had never heard of Wyler, and when she was told he had won the Academy Award for Best Director for Ben-Hur, she commented, "Chariots! How is he with people, like women? Is he any good with actresses?" In fact Wyler had directed Roman Holiday (1953) which won 3 Academy Awards including the Best Actress award for Audrey Hepburn who had been chosen by Wyler despite her relative obscurity at that time. As for Wyler, he said, "I wouldn't have done the picture without her." Her enthusiasm reminded him of Bette Davis, and he felt she "represented a challenge for me because she's never been in films, and she's not the usual glamour girl".
Styne wanted Frank Sinatra for the role of Nicky Arnstein, but the actor was willing to appear in the film only if the role was expanded and new songs were added for the character. Stark thought Sinatra was too old and preferred someone with more class like Cary Grant, even though Grant was eleven years older than Sinatra. Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, David Janssen, and James Garner were also considered. Egyptian Omar Sharif was cast to star opposite the Jewish Streisand after Wyler noticed him having lunch in the studio commissary. When the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out, studio executives considered replacing Sharif, but both Wyler and Streisand threatened to quit if they did. Later, the publication of a still depicting a love scene between Fanny and Nicky in the Egyptian press prompted a movement to revoke Sharif's citizenship. When asked about the controversy, Streisand replied, "You think Cairo got upset? You should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!" Anne Francis was cast in a new role as the lead chorine in the Ziegfeld Follies.
|It doesn't matter how much expensive gear you've got, you need to have not a little luck, a great deal of skill, and a telepathic relationship between pilot and cameraman to pull that off. And Nelson Tyler pulled all that off right back in the mid-sixties.|
|— Jerry Grayson talked about the helicopter shot for "Don't Rain on My Parade"|
Rehearsals and pre-recording of the songs began in July 1967. During pre-recording, Streisand had demanded extensive retakes until she was satisfied with them, and on the set she continued to display her perfectionist nature, frequently arguing with Wyler about costumes and photography.
Principal photography began in August 1967 and was completed by December. Streisand's first scene took place at an abandoned rail depot in New Jersey where she just got off from the train and posing for the photographers. Filming was more difficult for Barbra than she thought because she had to do a musical numbers multiple times for different camera angles. For the helicopter shot of "Don't Rain on My Parade", aerial photographer Nelson Tyler had to develop a special helicopter camera rig. Streisand allegedly had so many of her scenes with Anne Francis cut before the film's release that Francis sued to have her name removed from the credits, but lost. Streisand later claimed she never told Wyler to cut anything and the final film reflected his choices, not hers. Francis later said "I have no feud with Barbra. But doing that film was like Gaslight. What infuriated me was the way they did things—never telling me, never talking to me, just cutting. I think they were afraid that if they were nice to me, Barbra would have been upset." Shooting for the musical number "My Man", which the original Fanny Brice made famous, took place at the end of the shooting phase. Sharif was present to help Streisand get emotional and build up sadness. The crew did at least ten takes. Also in that shoot, Stark thought the film would cost $8 million, which he deemed to be "half as much as any other big musical [...] and it will be twice as big."
Funny Girl premiered on September 18th, 1968 at the Criterion Theatre in New York; whose ticket costed $100. It was Barbra Streisand's first premiere as a movie star, and she said she felt like a "kid with a plaything". A month later, on October 9th, the Hollywood Premiere was at the Egyptian Theatre. Having made $24.9 million, Funny Girl was the highest-grossing film of 1968 in the United States.
The film holds a 93% approval rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus states: "[Barbra] Streisand elevates this otherwise rote melodramatic musical with her ultra-memorable star turn as Fanny Brice." On Metacritic, the film has an 89 out of 100 rating, based on 7 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Streisand was widely praised by critics, with The New Yorker's Pauline Kael calling it "A bravura performance .... As Fanny Brice, she has the wittiest comic inflections since the comediennes of the 30s; she makes written dialogue sound like inspired improvisation. ... Streisand's triumphant talent rides right over the film's weaknesses." In his review in Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called Streisand "magnificent" and added, "She has the best timing since Mae West, and is more fun to watch than anyone since the young Katharine Hepburn. She doesn't actually sing a song at all; she acts it. She does things with her hands and face that are simply individual; that's the only way to describe them. They haven't been done before. She sings, and you're really happy you're there." But he thought "the film itself is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long. The second half drags badly. The supporting characters are generally wooden . . . That makes the movie itself kind of schizo. It is impossible to praise Miss Streisand too highly; hard to find much to praise about the rest of the film." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post agreed that the film was "overdone," writing that Streisand was "her first-rate self" during the musical numbers and "probably is capable of more variety than this," but "is so carefully presented and limited that she and the picture become a long, drippy bore." Renata Adler of The New York Times wrote that "Streisand's talent is very poignant and strong," but that the film had "something a little condescending about it," with Wyler "treating Barbra rather fondly, improbably and even patronizingly," and concluded that "Miss Streisand doesn't need any of this."
Variety said Streisand makes "a marked impact" and continued, "The saga of the tragi-comedienne Fanny Brice of the ungainly mien and manner, charmed by the suave card-sharp Nicky Arnstein, is perhaps of familiar pattern, but it is to the credit of all concerned that it plays so convincingly."
Jan Dawson of The Monthly Film Bulletin in the UK wrote, "The story of the actress whose dramatic rise from rags to riches is accompanied by the discovery that suffering lies on the flip-side of success has provided the basis of many an American musical. But William Wyler manages to transcend the clichés of the genre and create—largely through Barbra Streisand's characterisation of Fanny Brice—a dramatic comedy in which the musical numbers illustrate the public aspect of the star's life without once interrupting the narrative."
David Parkinson of Empire rated the film four out of five stars in a retrospective review and called it "one of those films where it doesn't really matter what gets written here – you will have made your mind up about Babs one way or the other, but for the rare uninitiated, this is a fine introduction to her talents." It is Funny Girl that made Streisand a movie star, although it also gave her the reputation for being perfectionist and 'difficult'. According to film historian Jeanine Basinger, this film helped Streisand to be regarded as a "funny girl" in her own way, and not another actress who played Fanny Brice.
Awards and nominations
Funny Girl garnered 8 Academy Award nominations and ultimately won one – Barbra Streisand won an Oscar as Best Actress for her film debut. Along with Columbia Pictures' other Best Picture nominee and eventual winner Oliver!, that studio secured a combined total of 19 Academy Award nominations, the most nominations for musicals from one studio in a year. At the Golden Globe Award, Funny Girl received 3 nominations and won one – Best Actress for Barbra Streisand.
The film was released on Region 1 DVD on October 23, 2001. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Georgian, Chinese, and Thai. Bonus features include Barbra in Movieland and This Is Streisand, production information, and cast filmographies. The Blu-ray edition made its world debut on April 30, 2013 with the same bonus material as the DVD release. The Blu-ray release was also concurrent with Streisand's most recent film, The Guilt Trip.
In her book Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture, Joyce Antler writes that Streisand has created several rich images of a Jewish woman within film, Funny Girl being one of them. In Funny Girl, Antler writes, Streisand is able to portray a character that is obviously Jewish, and in this role she creates a space for the intelligent Jewish woman to be depicted. In this role the Jewish woman was presented as smart, comedic, beautiful and talented. During the time this film was made, Jewish women had the stereotype of being dependent upon men. Yet Streisand tends to defy this stereotype.
"Hello, gorgeous" are the first words uttered by Streisand in the film. After winning the Academy Award for Best Actress, Streisand's first comment when handed the Oscar statuette was to look at the Oscar and say "Hello, gorgeous."
Since the release of the film, "Hello, gorgeous" has been referenced in several films. The line appeared as the name of the salon where Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer's character) worked in Married to the Mob. The line was also uttered by the character Max Bialystock in the 1967 film The Producers and its Broadway adaptation, but the inflection used by Zero Mostel in the film is different from that used by Streisand. The line is also regularly peppered through popular culture.
Sean Harris may be known for playing darker characters in series such as "Southcliffe" or "The Borgias," but he says that he was inspired to become an actor when he saw Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl."
In 1975, Streisand reprised her role of Brice opposite James Caan as Brice's third husband, impresario Billy Rose, in a sequel entitled Funny Lady. Production began in April 1974, the movie first premiered in March 1975.
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