The life of comedienne Fannie Brice, from her early days in the Jewish slums of the Lower East Side, to the height of her career with the Ziegfeld Follies, including her marriage to and eventual divorce from her first husband, Nick Arnstein.
Barbra Streisand ... Fanny Brice
Omar Sharif ... Nick Arnstein
Kay Medford ... Rose Brice
Anne Francis ... Georgia James
Walter Pidgeon ... Florenz Ziegfeld
Lee Allen ... Eddie Ryan
Mae Questel ... Mrs. Strakosh
Gerald Mohr ... Tom Branca
Frank Faylen ... Keeney
Mittie Lawrence ... Emma
Gertrude Flynn ... Mrs. O'Malley
Director: William Wyler
Codecs: XVid / MP3
There are not enough superlatives in the world to bestow on Barbra Streisand for her rags-to-riches portrayal of 20s Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice. To say she gives the single most triumphant musical performance ever showcased on the silver screen could be close. I am constantly bowled over with each viewing at how the 26-year-old Brooklyn novice ever pulled off this incredible stunt. Cinderella playing Cinderella. Even the finicky Hollywood powers-that-be, who NEVER use untried screen talent for such a weighty role (Julie Andrews and "My Fair Lady" come to mind), knew that nobody but Barbra could inhabit this part. She won the Oscar, naturally, and it was befitting that the newcomer should share this honor with perhaps the greatest screen legend ever, Katharine Hepburn.
Barbra's Fanny Brice first conquered Broadway where she lost the Tony award to another irrepressible talent, Carol Channing, for "Hello Dolly!" She got her revenge of sorts years later when she won the coveted screen role of Dolly due strictly to her auspicious debut in "Funny Girl." Transferred to celluloid, the movie loosens its bustles quite a bit and grants more breathing room for Barbra to expand her natural comic and dramatic talents both keenly and intimately amid the elaborate sets and costumes.
The timing of this film couldn't have been better for Streisand. The late 60s ushered in a new legion of stars. The rash of talent coming to the forefront purposely lacked the super-model good looks and incredibly-sculpted physiques of their predecessors. Audiences now clamored for realism...human imperfection. What less attractive guys like Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino did for the men, Barbra did for the distaff side. She dragged out her own Cinderella version, making a virtue of her odd looks and gawky gait while laying out her two big trump cards -- she was a supreme song stylist and a gifted, self-deprecating cut-up.
Hardly ever off screen, Streisand totally immerses herself in the role of chorus clown-turned-Ziegfeld headliner, weaving a spell around each and every song she touches. From the stubbornly optimistic "I'm the Greatest Star" to the profoundly touching "My Man", the actress matures Brice into the glowing swan of her own dreams, while exposing a deep, personal vulnerability she never recaptured (or allowed) again on screen -- to her detriment.
Despite heavy critical lambasting, I still say exotically handsome Omar Sharif was indeed the consummate choice to play wanderlust husband and card shark Nicky Arnstein. Polished, prideful and totally in his element as the global-gambling playboy, one can believe the ungainly Fanny (or Streisand, for that matter) placing this glossy god on a pedestal. It may not appear to be much of a stretch (in real life, Sharif was a world-class bridge player), but he owns the part as much as delightful Kay Medford does as Brice's droll Jewish mama. Everyone else, however, is pretty expendable. It's been said that Anne Francis blamed Streisand for her supposedly top featured role being butchered. If it's true, she has an open-and-shut case. Francis was left with a nothing part.
Highly fictionalized and weak as biography, Streisand champions above the sometimes grandiose material from the moment she utters her first classic words: "Hello, gorgeous!" And so she is.
In one sense, "Funny Girl" is a little hokey, but it's really good nonetheless. In an Oscar-winning role, Barbra Streisand makes her film debut as Fanny Brice, who wanted dearly to be a Ziegfield Folly. Brice wasn't particularly good-looking, but she was sassy enough to have what it took (as certain scenes show). Accompanying her was gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), whose habits eventually went too far for his own good.
Both Streisand and Sharif do a great job, as does director William Wyler. As someone who doesn't usually like musicals, I have to speak positively of this one. It's a real treat in every sense. This is what classics are all about.
Consider the year the movie was made: 1968. A time of upheaval, a change of society, emancipation of women, homosexuals, sexuality, a complete break with the traditions.
With that in mind, it's almost unbelievable that something old fashioned like this movie was even considered to be made. Director William Wyler, who helped shaping stars like Bette Davis, directed, what would be one of his last movies. And you can see, that the director had to be old, the whole look, atmosphere and composition of the story is Hollywood in it's better days. Especially the music sections between and at the end were and are outdated. The length of the movie is another problem.
But Wyler did one smart move, that saved the movie and made it enjoyable. He cut and reduced all characters but the main one, giving Barbra Streisand the possibility to display all her marvelous talents, creating a one woman show. Few actors were allowed so much space in a much for themselves and Streisand uses every second of it, filling the screen with her enigmatic personality. She's like a machine, moving the whole movie, winning a deserving Oscar for her show.
Of course there are always losers, in this case it's the supporting players, most prominently Omar Sharif, who unlike in "Doctor Shivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia" is reduced to feed Streisand her lines.
Of course the story is only loosely based on Fanny Brices life. But do we really care. The music is great, the sets and costumes lavish and exquisite, one of the last rear ups before the old Hollywood musical vanished forever.
Few have been able to wake up one day and discover they are famous overnight. Lord Byron was one - he discovered that his poetry opened the floodgates to fame that his title had never opened (Byron's family was prominent, but not of the aristocratic elite of the early 19th Century). For our purposes it was Barbara Streisand. She had worked hard in productions, most notably in I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, where she sang "Miss Marblestein". Then she got the role of Fanny Brice, the great Ziegfeld Follies comedienne and star of the turn of the century, and she was a star on Broadway. She got the role in the movies, and won (in the only tie vote for "Best Actress" in Academy Award History) the "Best Actress" Oscar with the same role. I may add, although she has won another Oscar for "Love Soft as an Easy Chair" in her version of A STAR IS BORN, she has never been the recipient of another Oscar for an acting award since then, nor has she been nominated for her three directing jobs (YENTL, THE PRINCE OF TIDES, and THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES). Despite that she did become "the greatest star".
Streisand's insistence on doing her films her way has become legendary, and has built up a negative image legend of egomania gone amok. That her ideas have worked out to be successful more frequently than not is overlooked. It shouldn't be.
FUNNY GIRL was directed by William Wyler, and Wyler was notorious for doing his films his way until they were gotten right. He would do and redo a scene for the closest thing to perfection he could get. It is notable that he and Streisand did not end up at loggerheads on the set but worked pretty nicely together. It is as though they understood precisely what would work for the film in the same way.
Streisand is quite gifted in comedy as well as singing, so that her performance as Fanny is quite on target (such as the sudden dropping into "Yiddish" sch tick - like referring to her "schwans" instead of "swans" in the mock ballet in the Follies). She happens to be better looking than Fanny, but that is not unexpected in any movie. For that matter the handsome Omar Shariff is far better looking than Nicky Arnstein was. Shariff, by the way, is given sufficient time on screen to fill out his character - a good natured man driven by humiliation and desperation to commit fraud. Kay Medford (as Fanny's mother) and Walter Pigeon (as Flo Ziegfeld) give very effective performances in the film as well.
Not all the songs from the show are in the movie. "Cornet Man" is replaced by "I Want to be Blue". The song "Find Yourself A Man" is reduced to a dance tune at Mrs. Brice's saloon. A song sung by Fanny's mother and her friend Eddie, "Who Taught Her Everything She Knows" was dropped (one wonders if it was ever shot). And (as pointed out on this thread) "The Swan" replaced the World War I spoof "Rat-a-tat-tat" ("I'm Private Schwartz bin Rockavay!").
I only have one little comment to make. Nicky Arnstein was a professional gambler, and had worked closely with Arnold Rothstein on several jobs. Rothstein (renamed Peterman here) was responsible for the fraud that snared Nicky. But Nicky was fully aware of the fraud in the sale of the bonds. He was also aware that the powerful Rothstein was someone you did not threaten in a law court by blaming for a fraud. Rothstein would have retaliated - against Fanny and their daughter Frances. So it makes plenty of sense that Nicky took the blame for the fraud. Two years in prison versus potential physical danger to his loved ones - well I can fully appreciate why he made his choice in court.
* "The Swan" was written especially for this movie. The original number, "Rat-a-Tat-Tat", was deemed too dated (though appropriate for the setting of the show).
* Frank Sinatra was seriously considered for the role of Nicky Arnstein but Barbra Streisand vetoed this as she didn't like him.
* Several co-stars publicly blasted Barbra Streisand and director William Wyler for much of their scenes being cut in favor of focusing almost entirely on Streisand.
* The final musical number, "My Man", was filmed "live" both to maximize Barbra Streisand's dramatic rendition and because she hated the lip-syncing process.
* Barbra Streisand was, at the time of the film's release, a voting member of AMPAS. When she found she was nominated, she, like any member nominated, voted for herself. If she hadn't, she wouldn't have tied with Katharine Hepburn for the year's Best Actress Oscar.
* William Wyler was hired to replace Sidney Lumet as director. Lumet left the picture over differences with producer Ray Stark and star Barbra Streisand. Wyler originally declined the offer, because he was deaf in one ear and said he couldn't do a musical, but reconsidered after meeting Streisand.
* Columbia wanted to cast Shirley MacLaine as Fanny Brice. However, producer Ray Stark, who also produced the Broadway show and was Brice's son-in-law, insisted on Barbra Streisand repeating her Broadway role.
* Final film of Frank Faylen.
* The highest-grossing film of 1968.
* Originally a musical on Broadway (03/1964 - 07/1967), based on the real life story of Fanny Brice.
* The movie's line "Hello, gorgeous" was voted as the #81 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).