By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Fanny’s rise to stardom.
Barbra Streisand, in her film debut, plays Fanny Brice in this loose biography about the Jewish comedian’s rise to stardom in the Ziegfield Follies during the 20’s and 30’s. The story examines how she uses her homely looks to her advantage by honing in her comedic skills to allow her to stand-out. The second half of the film examines her romance and eventual marriage to professional gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif).
Streisand recreates her Broadway role in grand style and deserved her Oscar win in which she famously tied Katherine Hepburn that year for Best Actress. I’ve always liked her best when she is doing comedy and she has always shown a good knack for timing and delivery. Although stories abound how she was very difficult during the production and showed a tremendous ego, which culminated in the film going through two directors and cinematographers she still plays the very insecure Brice effectively and it’s this appealing ingredient the carries the film and character.
William Wyler’s direction is also outstanding and helps make up for a story that at times seems pretty light. He replaced Sidney Lumet early on and gives the film an added flair with lavish sets. I loved the French-style restaurant and expansive old fashioned New York train station. There is some excellent dance numbers in which Wyler takes full advantage of the visual element including a nifty ballet segment. The recreation of the period is authentic and there are even a few moments of dazzling camera work including the shot showing Fanny singing on top of a tugboat all alone in the New York harbor while the camera circles above her and then careens down.
Kay Medford adds good support as Fanny’s mother and it earned her an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress. Sharif is always solid, but the character seemed poorly fleshed-out and more of a personal background needed to be explored to help explain why he was so infatuated with the extremely insecure and awkward Brice when he could have easily attracted any girl. Walter Pidgeon lacks the commanding presence needed in the part of Florenz Ziegfield and instead comes off as a tired old man getting badly upstaged by Streisand in every scene he has with her.
The songs are pleasing and you may find yourself humming some of them for days afterwards, but I was surprised how few of them there really were with long dramatic intervals in-between. The story itself is placid as Brice’s rise to the top happens too quickly and too much time is spent on the romantic angle making the film seem unbalanced but it manages to be entertaining anyways due mainly to the high production values.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: September 18, 1968
Runtime: 2Hours 30Minutes
Director: William Wyler
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video